Author Archives: kevinjstark

Time to Come Indoors

A little over 18 months ago, on April 1st 2014, I posted a blog explaining how I had spent a couple of days installing our pool and terrace. The more astute among you will have noticed that it was an April Fool’s, and that the tiny photo was badly doctored:

April Pool's Joke

In the passing 18 months, we’ve been toiling hard to build the pool and the surrounding terrace, and today – our last day working out in the garden before we transfer back to working indoors – we finished the last couple of tasks to complete it. After 1.3km of decking planks and 7000 screws, here is the final result:

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I’m sure Phill, Marion & Ian would like to join me in thanking everyone who gave some of their time and effort, and helped us along the way. Claude, our neighbour, for hours digging channels and test holes with his mini digger; Lionel, our friend in the village, who turned up on endless days to help, and who taught us an invaluable French phrase: Jamais Plus – Never Again; John, who dug out the initial hole for the pool, and persuaded Phill to spend an extortionate amount on “200 year-old Parisian” (yeah, right) iron railings to go around the terrace (but which were so worth it); Michel our electrician, and general pool advisor; Luke, our friend from London, who spent a couple of hours on his hands and knees, screwing; Boris, Ian’s brother-in-law, whose relaxing stay in the south of France meant wheeling barrow loads of concrete around the garden; Dave, Phill’s brother-in-law, who can turn his hand to anything! And to everyone else who supplied us with cups of tea, and meals, and bottles of beer at the end of the day.

As I mentioned, our attention now turns inside. It will be a busy winter converting the loft into 3 bedrooms. Next spring will see us return to finish off some of the walls near the pool, and build a summer kitchen.

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Categories: Living in France | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“I Think Every Home Should Have A Marmalade Day”

Unfortunately, we’re not southerly enough to be able to grow good oranges (NB  there’s a prize for the first reader to tell me where the quote’s from), so we’ve had to make do with making cherry jam instead . We’re also not lucky enough to have a massive 40 year old cherry tree in our garden, but we are lucky enough to live next door to Colette who does have a 40 year old cherry tree.

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While not her natural habitat, we spotted her on our walk today up a tree.

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We thanked her for our massive basket of cherries, informed her that we’d be making our first batch of cherry jam this very afternoon, and promised her a jar.

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We referred to the massive recipe book in the sky, found an easy one, and got down to business.

Pipping

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Cooking

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Jarring

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Delicious! Roll on the figs and plums. That’s Christmas presents sorted!

Categories: General posts | 3 Comments

Pool Installation Day

With the pool kit delivered yesterday, and it being such a nice week, I thought I’d crack on and give installing it a go.

The delivery was smooth, and the instruction manual was really just like painting by numbers.

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I worked late into the night last night, and started at the crack of dawn this morning. Luckily I had some decking boards left over from a previous project, so I was able to do a bit of landscaping too. I have to wait a few hours for the initial chlorine filtration to work, but then I’ll be testing it out!

Pool View From House

 

Categories: Living in France | 2 Comments

New Bookings Calendar

If anyone wants to visit us, we now have a direct link to our availability. Click on CALENDAR at the top of the page, and scroll through the months.

Categories: The business | Leave a comment

Busy Week Ahead

K: It’s Monday morning and I’m heading into Albi to try and get my car registration finally sorted. I was sure I had the system sussed, and was very pleased with myself, but there’s no way in France you only have to attempt a something like this once. It will keep coming back to bite you on the bottom until the town hall collective think you’ve realised who’s boss!

My next brush with officialdom will be this week too. We’re preparing our planning declaration in order to have velux windows put in the roof. The roof and guttering desperately need to started, but there’s no point fitting the windows at a later date, so this is holding up the whole process. Claude [The mayor], though, has offered me his help to make sure the application is complete, which is a huge relief. If we can get this completed this week, then hopefully we can appoint a contractor and get the roof started towards the end of December – clearly not the best time, but the contractors I’ve met have assured me they can work in patches according to forecast periods of good weather.

We also discovered we don’t need to apply for permission to change the windows, so we’ve started shopping around for double glazed units. I think we’re going to get a real shock when the temperatures plummet.

On the subject of lower temperatures outside, we’ve notice the start of what I have been assured is a yearly migration of field mice. One of the little blighters surprised me last week as I was about to have a shower. We’ve decided the best prevention will be to get a cat or two. Laurette [our estate agent and now good friend] has been on the lookout for a couple of kittens for us this weekend, so watch this space for a couple of new additions!

My 7 weeks off work are drawing to a close – I can’t believe it’s ending already! A week tomorrow, I will start my life as a flying commuter, on the 0830 TLS-LHR flight. I hope I manage to cope with it. Too late if I don’t!

Categories: Living in France | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

The Perfect Summer Weekend

K: After my mini-drama last week, losing my ID, and being sent to Madras, my summer bank holiday weekend started perfectly with a couple of glasses of Champagne in a comfy Club seat en route back from India.

We landed in glorious sunshine, and I dashed off the aircraft first, desperate to get home and enjoy what was left of the weekend in south east London. We had bought tickets to see the inaugural cabaret show at our local pub, the Bridge House, with our friends Paul & Jamie. As it was a beautiful day, we started with a little bottle of rose in the garden of the pub before the cabaret, then another one at the start of the interval, and then decided it would be foolish not to take another one into the second act of the cabaret too. The show itself was amazing (though the chairs were very hard for a 2-hour sit) – four musical theatre friends taking turns to chat and sing. There was a mixture of theatre classics and unknown witty ditties too.

We decided to have dinner in the garden of the pub, and were treated to more musical delights, this time in the form of vocalist Natalie and her guitarist, Mickael. We had the prime spot in the garden – her idyllic tones, and his perfect fingerwork both contributed (along with the scorching sunshine, delicious meals, and a couple more bottles of pinot grigio blush) to the perfect summer’s Sunday.

Over dinner we discussed the next day’s street farewell drinks party in our garden. I don’t know if it was a natural progression, or the wine, but something which started as a handful of neighbours with some drinks turned into an event in its own right. I’m fairly certain it was purely down to Jamie’s rose’-fuelled enthusiasm, but by the end of that night we had booked Natalie & Mickael for our garden the next day!

At 5am on Monday morning, the very first thing which went through my head when I opened my eyes was: Oh God, we’ve booked a live singer for the garden. The next thing was: Ouch, my head. I managed to drift off again, but by 9 we hit the ground running. Walk the dog. Get to the supermarket. Cut the grass. Clean the house. Set the garden up. I am amazed, but we even managed a half-hour snooze before the first guests arrived.

Other than a slightly chilly Atlantic wind (which really only hit when the occasional cloud covered the sun), the afternoon was a great success. Natalie and Mickael went down a treat., and I would highly recommend them to anyone wanting to add more than just a touch of class to a party (www.thedailyspecialsband.com).  They ended up being a lovely farewell gift from Jamie and Paul, so a huge thank-you to them. Everyone mingled and chatted well… only the occasional offence being taken (no… he is Australian!), and only one glass broken!

Having taken a couple of days to reflect on it, I have suffered the odd pang of terror – will we ever be in a position to enjoy something like that again? Are we completely foolish to wrench up our very-well established roots and search for a more fulfilling life? Isn’t the love and company of more-than-a-few good friends enough? Will people honestly make the effort to travel 700 miles to visit us? The realisation that never again will we have an afternoon like that in that location really got me down. To the extent that I almost wish I hadn’t the party – that way I wouldn’t feel like I do now. I lay last night actually calculating how much it would cost us to withdraw from our sale/purchase.

Two days have passed now, and the terror has subsided slightly. To anyone involved in our sale/purchase, fear not. We are continuing with our new adventure. These feelings are only natural. I read this in a shop in Cape Town last year, and I took a photo and sent it Phill, at a time we were still on the fence about what to do:

chalkboard

Categories: Last Few UK Months | 3 Comments

Downtime

K: After all the excitement of the past few weeks, everything feels like it’s just stopped. I know the agents are all doing their bit behind the scenes, and I’m hoping that we’re still on track for the beginning of July to receive the keys. We’ve pencilled in the last 10 days of July to make a start with the move – which is probably not the best time in the world… summer holidays and just before the whole of France shuts down for a month.

I’ve also been working on some practical stuff – bank accounts, cars and car insurance to be precise. When we move temporarily to Wales, then Bromley (so Phill can finish off his contracts in London), we’re going to need a second car for him to get about. So, it makes sense to buy a car which we can use when we move to France. Our investigations have highlighted that it is not easy or cheap to get a UK car registered in France, so our original idea  of taking our existing 4×4 over is not going to work.

We’re also going to try to spend at least one week a month in France between getting the keys and moving permanently (pencilled in for the second half of November), so it would also be quite handy to have a car in France that we can keep at the airport (one of my perks is heavily discounted airport parking at Toulouse airport) so we don’t have the cost of car hire for those week-long visits.

After initial internet searches suggested that it would be quite easy to get a left hand drive car, reality has started to hit.  As I mentioned, the process to re-register a car in France is very complicated. And I can only drive it in France on UK (or any other country) plates for 6 months. So, we thought we’d look for a French-registered car, and make sure it was taken out of the UK within 6 months (as the same rules apply here). BUT… we cannot get UK insurance for our French registered car, so cannot drive it here! The only solution is to get insurance in France, for the French car, currently based in UK, requiring a French bank account.

My learning curve for this bit was extremely steep – of course nothing is simple. After weeks of searching, the (practically) perfect car appeared last Thursday on eBay, which resulted in frantic calls to a French bank I’d been considering for a while, and scans of all the relevant documents whizzing across the channel by email. Fortunately, the nice people at Credit Agricole have realised about a sixth of the UK population actually lives in France and have set up an English speaking department and website! So, that made the frantic a little less so.

Factor into my stress levels this week my losing my work id, which prevented me from going to Johannesburg, and which necessitated a morning driving around Heathrow airport in an attempt to obtain a new one in the most ridiculously convoluted system, only for the id to turn up tucked inside a tissue box in my car a day later. I ended up flying off to Madras instead (which is where I write this), with the treat of a nice little return sector as a passenger (fingers crossed in Club!)

The packing begins in earnest on Tuesday, after our farewell drinks in the garden on Monday.

Categories: General posts | Leave a comment

Our new home – Photo Gallery May 2013

Categories: Our French House | 2 Comments

Let the Games begin!!

K: The prologue to our new book (so much bigger than a chapter, this) began this afternoon with our agent, Laurette’s sparkling words “I am thrilled to be able to tell you….”

After an excruciating week, the selling brothers and sisters finally accepted our second offer, which coincidentally was our maximum offer. We are soon to be the extraordinarily proud, excited and terrified owners of a former wine maker’s farm in Fayssac, in the south west of France.

Fayssac

I want to start off by giving a massive apology to several people around me (most of all my poor suffering mother) for being a major grumpy pain in the back side. I think I reached a new low this week, and it’s not somewhere I want to go again. The lack of direction and control was too much for me and I let a darkness win. I hope you’ll all be happy to know that it dispersed, and mum managed to snap me back in line with a well-deserved telling off email this morning.

It also looks like we’ve managed to sort out our temporary London accommodation problem. To the dog-hating agent at Conrad Fox, dog-owners can rent when they have a network of supportive friends (who know they’ll benefit from a week or two by a pool in the sunshine eventually!) Emily & Ed (of the distinguished building and decorating company edwardseago.com) are moving to north London in July & will rent their south London pad out – initially to us. And luckily, they love Barnaby!

We need a little bit of help now… What do we call our new home & enterprise? We are putting it out to all our lovely friends and readers – please send us some suggestions. Something French preferably, fitting, and elegant. Thinking caps on please! A week in one of our gites (when they’re done in 5 years!) for the winner.

Categories: House hunting | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

The Waiting Game

K: This week has been pretty stressful. We’ve been back and forth with offers and counter offers for our favourite house in Fayssac. We managed to get the sellers to show their hand and let us know what their minimum price would be, but the gulf between their minimum and our maximum was pretty huge at €14,000. The agents have also kindly reduced their fee in an attempt to try to get the house sold. Our final offer was our maximum, and I’ve not heard anything for a few days. I’m not holding out much hope – the sellers are a group of brothers and sisters and they all have to agree. The mayor in the house next door is one of the brothers, and he seems not to relish his role as a middle-man – he replied with a lovely message to my note introducing myself at the beginning of the week.

Add to that the slow progress of having to find temporary accommodation in London. On Wednesday I could have cried when one agent point blank told me that I’d never find a place, with a dog. She actually said “dog owners don’t rent!”

So, in 6 weeks, we’ll be homeless with nowhere to look forward to. What a fun game!

P: He’s so dramatic and I’m the thespian in the relationship hmm. I grant you it has been a frustrating week, they say that good things come to those who are prepared to wait. So lets wait and see what happens, I’m a great believer in fate I’ve lived my life by that and I’m not going to change now. So if we are meant to have this house it will be and if not then I’m sure there is another one just as fabulous out there, trouble is trying to find it.

So to keep our spirits up I’m posting a happy little ditty by one of the greats.

 

Categories: House hunting | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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