Day Three Hundred & something in the house
Well it was never meant to end up being this many hundred and so days to start writing but here I am on day three hundred and something wondering where the last ten months have gone.
Let’s be honest, they went down a plughole of sunshine, wine, foie gras, cheese and too many nights out. I could blame my lack of ambition or general lack of not being bothered to do anything due to COVID19 but it wasn’t that at all, it was the general bonhomie of moving to France and just going “and relax…”
Now I could write an extremely long blog for the first but we would be here for about a week and a half (in French terms that is about 2.5 years) but instead I thought I would give you a fast track snap shot of the highlights since we moved here and then ease you into our laissez faire life here in France which is anything but.
1. Moving to the country and I mean “rural” France here when you are a city girl is a major “non!”. I spent a month last November chasing a family from the “Rescuers” round our house before my good friend Jo came for dinner. She was very lucky to say the least that there was no “mouse” in her Beef Bourguignon that Sunday afternoon. The last time I had to chase anything so nimble was the chippy owner on Leith Walk before closing…
2. Now I thought Mairie was a Scottish lass who had a big fat Scottish wedding back in the day. Apparently not. The Mairie is “ the man”. Every French town, commune, village and Hamlet has one. He tells us what we can and cannot do in our commune (we don’t live in some sort of strange Tom Cruise, Gwyneth Paltrow inspired sect btw) but he basically says what is what and if I want something from him I have to fill out a form ( the first of many in France so I have come to discover) – in triplicate, rubber stamped and notaired. I went to see our lovely Mairie last year to ask for permission to run my gite. Yep, you have to do that too. It doesn’t matter that you have let the authorities know your intentions, you need another rubber stamp from the guy up the hill. Seriously I have gone from a paperless office to having to buy 3 new filing cabinets for this French living malarkey.
3. The Gendarmerie (aka “The Polis”) Look, no one ever wants to get pulled over by the police let alone in a country you have just moved to but yes, we, "The Simpsons" have had our fair share. For all you Simmo fans, it wasn’t down to his usual antics of turning the wrong way down a busy Italian highway or even speeding in the Czech Republic. We actually made it round the Arc De Triomphe in one piece in November last year. Neil wasn’t even home when it happened, twice! Two smartly dressed officials appeared at our front door, guns in holsters and speaking at 100 kilometers per hour at me searching for some English bloke. My French is “comme ci comme ca” so trying to convince them that this gentleman did not abide in Grand Pailley Bas was challenging to say the least. I just knew the neighbours at the top of our hill had their curtains twitching as much as my pants during that exchange.
4. Bagpipes and Scotch Pies. Now this in itself is a whole other blog, but to thank our wonderful new ex pat-friends we had made since moving here we decided to throw a Burns Supper back in January. In true Simpson style, we did it with a big bang. A few friends ended up falling over in the garden, asleep at the table after way too much of the amber nectar and some stayed for a week. Having flown in a Piper from Bonnie Scotland, two tons of Haggis, oatcakes and Neil’s wonderful sister to head up the manufacturing line for 25 authentic Scotch Pies our wonderful friends are still talking about it. It was a roaring success and Burns Night 2021 is already in the diary (COVID19 permitting)
5. Cutting the grass – now those of you that know me, know that my husband is the Ex Station Warrant Officer at RAF Leuchars. A very prestigious role to behold, however when you buy a property with 2 acres of land that is a lot of grass cutting. To say he was obsessed was an understatement. And when all our other friends prayed for sunshine so they didn’t have to get the ride on mower out Neil was there with his tractor, strimmer and measuring tape. I have never seen a bush so well trimmed in my life. To be fair, I have fallen in love with the ride on mower and love nothing more than bombing round the orchard at top speed, plus it’s a great way to get the grass cut and top up your tan at the same time. Who said multi-tasking was dead?
6. In the words of that Girls Aloud song,“Can’t Speak French” that is exactly how I felt when we arrived in Lot et Garonne. I studied French at university, spoke it for my first job when I lived in Guernsey but fast forward 20 something years and the old phrase “Use it or lose it” comes to mind. I was just not prepared for the local butcher to say “Quoi?” when I asked for a rib of beef in my broken French. My first experience with a French hairdresser was certainly my last as he did not understand my google translate of “please just cut a small bit off the ends” Either I was really shit at the language or my 5th year teacher was telling us all lies. What had happened between 1980 something and 2020 that I had missed out on? Had Boris’s Brexshit shambles offended everyone so much that the French just didn’t want to converse with me or had I really got so bad? Even Neil’s vain attempts to phone the garage to get the car fixed or mine to speak to our energy supplier were falling flat. Every time I logged onto google translate it asked “What now Faith?”
7. Lockdown. When we were told we were going into lockdown back in March, Neil and I made a last dash to the Intermarche to stock up on Wine, Bread, Cheese and toilet roll (in that order). In true French style, we were only allowed out the house for one of four reasons: to go to the food shop, exercise (once a day), hospital or your job as a key worker and of course we had to fill out a form! Otherwise, if stopped, the Gendarmerie would dish out an instant fine. After my two previous run ins with them I did not want to face their wrath again. We were very blessed as we had land, large gardens and of course our pool. Plus, the weather was stunning. For the first few weeks, we just holed ourselves up in our wee slice of heaven, drinking wine, lying by the pool and having Zoom quiz nights with family and friends once a week. I came out of lockdown with a fabulous sun tan, I had taught Caley the toilet roll challenge and surprisingly ended up 14 pounds lighter!
8. Running a Gite. Finally, we opened for business in June and my inaugural guests arrived from Bordeaux and Toulouse for a long weekend. I had cleaned, prepped, scrubbed, ironed and painted for a few weeks to get the Gite looking pristine and ready for a great summer ahead. What I didn’t know then but do know now I shall save for a separate blog and the online group “Gossip for Gite Owners” has enlightened me with stories that would turn your hair grey (which mine was after four months of not going out). I am so happy when I see guests cooking on the BBQ, jumping on inflatable unicorns in the pool or playing with Caley in the garden. What I hadn’t foreseen or really thought about was same day changeovers in the height of the summer when its 41 degrees outside. Being on your hands and knees in your underwear as its too hot to wear anything else, cleaning floors, dirty grill pans, plugholes and chasing small lizards out the bedrooms with a broom was new to me. It’s a far cry from my old glamorous life in Scotland, turning up at the office with my Starbucks, in my six inch heels and power suit!
I could go on but that’s a brief summary of our first year in France. It has passed in a blaze of Sauvignon Blanc, cheese and a wonderful bunch of friends. I have missed my family and pals back in Scotland. I sometimes crave the buzz of Edinburgh and the Leith nightlife but what it has been replaced with has been worth all the tears and tantrums. I now live in a beautiful area of France, surrounded by peace and quiet, a short drive to a stunning village where we have become friends with the locals. Would I change it and go back to Scotland if I could? Absolutely not. Now, pass me the vino……