Time for a little celebration. Nineteen years ago today, we moved into our house, but we had arrived in France a few days earlier. The time has passed quickly, although much wine has flowed under the bridge since then. A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about the adventures we experienced during our search for a house in France. Today, I revisit our arrival.
I left my job one day and we moved to France the next. The removal men loaded our belongings into a gigantic pantechnicon and left us with an empty flat and two suitcases to our name. It only remained to leave the key with the estate agent before making our way to Waterloo Station, which was then the Eurostar terminal.
Moving house is said to be one of the most traumatic life experiences, but I didn’t feel that at all. It was hugely liberating to say goodbye to a well-paid but stressful job and finally to get rid of my London flat, which I had been trying to sell periodically for eight years.
Surviving a heatwave
After a night in Paris, we boarded the TGV to Montauban. The villages and fields flashed past and the sun became brighter and the sky bluer as we hurtled southwards. The doors hissed open and a burst of intense heat hit us. Southwest France was experiencing la canicule (a heatwave), just as it is right now.
Fortunately, our hotel was near the station and boasted a swimming pool. Not that there was much time for that. We needed to buy things for the house, including a cooker.
The next day we set off on foot for the shops in temperatures approaching 37 C. The sun beat down on our heads and heat radiated upwards from the pavements and outwards from the buildings. We were soon wilting and extremely tetchy. Then we realised we were the only pedestrians. Everyone else was either sitting at home behind closed shutters or in an air-conditioned car. First lesson.
A day or so later, we moved to the hotel in our village, since the vendor was still moving out of our house. We had picked up our shiny new car and were astonished that the concessionaire was prepared to hand it over in exchange for a cheque. A cheque? Things are different now, but then it was a serious matter to be overdrawn at the bank, hence his confidence in our bank balance. Second lesson.
At the hotel, the weather broke with a vengeance and we sat watching the rain sluicing over the hills and listening to the violent storm overhead. We have come to expect this finale to a period of grosse chaleur, but we weren’t used to it then. Third lesson.
Adopting French habits
We had learned the fourth lesson pretty quickly in Montauban, i.e. that everything shuts between midday and 2 pm, so you might as well enjoy a leisurely lunch. This wasn’t too much of a hardship and we had already become quite proficient at it. The removal men were supposed to arrive mid-afternoon on 26th August, so we had a laid-back lunch in the Place de la Halle, followed by an unhurried drive to our house.
The pantechnicon was already there. The removal men had arrived a couple of hours early and were strolling around smoking and looking less than chuffed. They had difficulty manoeuvring the van along our narrow and steep lane, where the low-hanging trees scraped its Perspex roof.
Looking around at the rural landscape they said, “Do you know anyone here?”
They shook their heads and went back to unloading our stuff. They couldn’t wait to get away. The van disappeared in a cloud of dust, the sound of scraping branches fading as it went. As we stood there, we learned the fifth lesson. A bookcase that I had placed in front of an open window crashed to the floor when the wind caught the casement. It’s nearly always windy here.
Nineteen years on, we have learned many more lessons and had quite a few surprises. Moving here was a huge leap in the dark, but je ne regrette rien.
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The series of four posts about our search for a house in France. Start here and click on the next post link at the top for the subsequent instalments.