Courtney's Journal - This chapter sees Carol and Courtney in Malta.

  Links to chapters:


 
Vox Clamantis in Deserto - The Journal of Paul CourtnageLa République
Man's Flight Through Life is Sustained by the Power of his Learning


On this page: Sat or Sitting, Few or Fewer,         The Queen's Diamond Jubilee,  
                     Moving to France,

Lots of stuff to get on with in this chapter. But first a load of old bollocks that's been getting on my nerves.

Sat or Sitting?

It's time to get something straight. Something that's been going on too long and has to stop. That is the improper use of the word 'sat'. If you ever say, 'I was sat...' then you mark yourself out as a person not to be taken seriously. Here's why you are wrong.

The progressive form of a verb indicates something that was happening, is happening or will be happening. Used in the past, it suggests an activity that was left unfinished or still happening at the time in question. So 'I polished my shoes' suggests that it's done and over, whereas 'I was polishing my shoes' leads one think that in this context that shoe polishing wasn't finished and the sentence is about to move to something else that happened whilst the polishing was going on.

English active progressive verb forms are constructed with the present participle (-ing ending) and not the past participle (-ed ending). Now, the verb 'to sit' is irregular in that its past participle does not end in -ed, it is 'sat'. In other words, you say 'I sat' rather than 'I sitted'. But we use the present participle 'sitting' to construct a progressive verb - 'I was sitting', not 'I was sat'. Similarly, in the present tense don't say 'I am sat'. In the future don't say 'I'll be sat'.

'I was sat' doesn't even sound right, it's affected and it's wrong. What's even worse is that people that should know better are starting to do it, even people on the BBC. I shall be writing a stiff letter (see, a nice progressive verb).



Less or Fewer?

Oh, and another thing. This is a simple rule of English grammar. If you can count the number of items being referred to and there are not as many of them, you use 'fewer'. If you cannot count them, use 'less'. So, 'less water', but 'fewer drops of water'. Another way to look at it is less stuff, fewer things. The checkout in your local supermarket marked 'Ten Items or Less' is incorrect and is the Tesco way of telling you they don't care about you enough to communicate in proper English and that you should start shopping in Waitrose instead. Some say that the exceptions to this rule (it's English so there are always exceptions) refer to money, distance and time, where 'less' is, apparently, acceptable.



























Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
 

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

Queen Elizabeth II

Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth was born on 21st April 1926 in Mayfair, London. She was married to Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark on 20th November 1947 at Westminster Abbey. On On 6th February 1952, her father, King George VI, died and Elizabeth acceded the throne at the age of 25 and her coronation took place on 2nd June 1953.

So, 2012 marked the 60th anniversary (Diamond) of the accession of Queen Elizabeth II to the thrones of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Ceylon, and Pakistan, as well as taking on the role of Head of the Commonwealth and the constitutional titles of Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Defender of the Faith. In 2012 she became the second longest-serving British monarch, Victoria having reigned for 63 years. [Since 2015 she is the longest reigning monarch in the World.]

The first weekend in June 2012 was extended by a double bank holiday in the UK, filled with Diamond Jubilee celebrations. A truly wonderful time to commemorate the remarkable reign of a wonderful and dedicated monarch. Long may she reign!









France



Milton Keynes Concrete Cows The Milton Keynes concrete cows, not in their usual field.

 

























Istres le Tube Air Base
Istres le Tube Air Base, France
 

Moving to France

OK, it's high time we got on with the story. Just to be clear, we are now in 2013, Carol and I are living in Buckingham, I'm working at the Open University and Carol works for a major commercial law firm in Milton Keynes. Some of these are good things, some are not so good. Buckingham, for example, is very nice and we have good friends there. Our jobs, on the other hand, are starting to suck a bit. Milton Keynes has a lot going for it, but it doesnt really have a lot going for me. It feels like time for a change.

[LONG SENTENCE ALERT]Dear old Blighty, the Sceptred Isle, Albion, Limeyland was becoming a bit of a bore; too crowded, too busy, too many unpleasant people, too many benefits scroungers, politicians driven by appeasing minorities at the expense of 'Middle England', a society more concerned about voting on X Factor than at a general election, the cost of living (including the most expensive diesel in Europe), football (soccer) hooligans, an economy based on the speculative trading of fictional money, an ever-rising retirement age, the weather, uncontrolled immigration, a tax authority that has given me a negative tax code, unaffordable houses, a generation that is more interested in winning a football match on PlayStation than on a small piece of waste ground, a population that lives its life on Facebook or a mobile phone and that is more likely to shout about its 'Human Rights' than contribute to any semblance of communal or national improvement, some bloody dreadful newspapers, neo-liberal politics and weak leadership, the destruction of the state education system, the price of everything and the value of nothing, the apparent impossibility of finding anyone that can run a department properly (NHS and MoD are just two examples), a legal system that is so crippled by cost-cutting and political correctness that serious criminals are more likely to get a stiff bollocking or 'community service than a real sentence and is more likely to go after members of the Armed Forces for doing their job than a Somalian that has committed rape and murder, questions on Question Time that are now so dumb that I could almost tell you what will happen before the programme even starts and the daily trial of just getting to work on overcrowded roads with arrogant idiots that cut you up on really poorly maintained surfaces that make us both wonder why we even bother.[AT 306 WORDS THIS SENTENCE EXCEEDED THE EU MANDATED WORD LIMIT BY OVER 147% AND IS NOW THE SUBJECT OF AN INDEPENDENT ENQUIRY, BUT WHICH ALSO QUALIFIES FOR AN EU GRANT FOR LITERARY EXPANSIONISM]

We'd had enough and we are not the sort of folk that just complain about something and then do nothing about it. The idea of selling up and moving to somewhere nice had turned into a decision to go as soon as possible; the "somewhere nice" is France. The conversation went like this:

"Shall we go and live in France?"

"OK."

Initially we rather fancied Brittany on the grounds that it would be easy to stay in touch with family and friends and the fact that it looked rather nice.  Now, in all my fifty-something years, I had only ever been to France twice; once to land and refuel a Phantom FGR2 at Istres le Tube Air Base (just west of Marseille) in 1985 on my way back to the UK from Cyprus and once to land at Nice Airport for an overnight stop in a Hawk on my way back to the UK from Cyprus. So I thought it might be a good idea to go and see France before actually moving there to live. We booked ferry tickets from Poole to St Malo with Condor Ferries.  Our ship was called the Condor Express and very smart it looked too!  She’s an 86m high-speed catamaran, built in Australia in 1996, boasting electronic ride control, 34 knots, a Club Class lounge and all mod cons.  We were looking forward to a very comfortable crossing with full English breakfast and a couple of glasses of wine.

The English Channel is a fickle beast even in June and on the day of our crossing she was especially malicious.  Once beyond the Poole harbour wall the sea started to chop up a bit.  Then it started to chop up a lot. Half an hour into the crossing to Guernsey, we were in a massive storm.  The waves were so high that the bottom of the structure that connects the hulls was smashing into the water causing the most alarming jolt (it’s actually called bridgedeck slamming).  Did I say jolt?   Crash perhaps.  Crashes so hard that bottles were smashed in the bars, items thrown from shelves in the shops and large areas of ceiling slammed to the floor.  Apart from the crew and a dozen of us passengers, everyone was vomiting.  Over 700 people vomiting.  For five hours!  ‘Nuff said.

Condor Express


Carol Courtnage in Brittany
Carol in St Malo with a statue of Robert Surcouf (French privateer)



Phyllis Courtnage
Phyllis Courtnage



Nigel Kitson
Nigel Kitson
 

We rented a car and a small cottage for a couple of weeks and set about exploring and enjoying ourselves.  We fell in love with Brittany a decided that we would very much like to live there.

Carol's Dad, Nigel, living in Yorkshire, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. No one would even make an estimate of how long he had to live, or if they did, they certainly didn't share it with us. Whilst he was still in relatively good health, he was definitely slowing down a bit so Carol decided to go and look after him. A wonderful thing to do and genrously supported by her employers. I carried on at work and commuted up to Yorkshire at weekends to be with Carol and Nigel and to help out a bit there.

Around the same time, my Mum started to have her own health problems and was in and out of hospitals having treatment for another cancer; treatment that was doing a good job of keeping her in pretty good shape. Again, there were no promises how long that would go on, but things were looking reasonable at the time.

As Nigel's health started to deteriorate, we called in some health care professionals, and, Goodness, were they good. The local Council, the NHS, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Mary Curie Nursing Service were all outstanding; I cannot start to tell you how wonderful these people are. Thanks to them and Carol's care, Nigel was able to stay at home, but still receive the care, medication and pain relief he needed as well as a good deal of emotional and practical support for him and Carol.

Mum was well cared for in her retirement home, but in early October, she started to decline rapidly. I made my excuses from work and dashed down to Dorchester to see her. She was clearly fading and she passed away at 6:15 on 8th October 2013.

Obituary for Phyllis Dorothea Courtnage

Exactly one week to the minute after my Mum, Carol's Dad, Nigel, passed away peacefully in his own bed; I was by his side.

There followed the cremations and memorial services, all of which were beautifully done, but there was left behind a sense of emptiness and a realisation that there was much less to keep us in the UK now than there had been a few months before. Our last duty would be Nigel's interment, which was planned for March, to coincide with Carol's Mum's birthday. So we decided to start planning our exit.

Our very good friends in Buckingham, Chris and Laura, had decided to get married and wanted to move to a bigger house, but still in the same part of Buckingham. They decided, very enthusiastically, that they would be buying our house and that they had a requirement to complete the purchase of our place by 10th April 2014 so that, effectively, gave us our timeline. After that we would be homeless so we'd better be on our way.




Dr Soraia Pirfo BarrosoDr Soraia Pirfo Barroso


Paul Courtnage Open University
The Open University


The Lot and Tarne et Garonne
South of France showing The Lot and Tarn-et-Garonne
 

At this point I should cut a long story short, but I've chosen not to; not just yet because there are some rather interesting sub-plots to mention. Mainly, we have my work at the Open University. I was (and mostly remain) a great fan of the OU because of their excellent courses, superb course material and dedicated tutors. Although the place is best known for its distance learning, that is not all it does; it also does research, like any other good university, and takes on research students who work there to gain their PhDs. I was working in the Faculty of Maths, Computing and Technology and, more specifically, in the Department of Design, Development, Environment and Materials (DDEM for short, but later on "Engineering and Innovation" - branding, it seems, is everything). I was the Department's Research Secretary, responsible for the recruitment and administration of our research students from around the world - Japan, Brazil, USA, Mauritius, Iran, Iraq, Europe, India and Africa, to name but a few. This was good. However, I worked in the Department's support office (for want of a better name). This too was fine - I had some great colleagues and made some good friends. The problem was that the management in the place was appalling. Managers were simply secretaries that had been promoted and given titles such as 'Department Office Managers' who substituted bullying and shouting for proper management and leadership skills. For the most part this didn't really affect me too much, but after six years of this it did start to become very wearing and rather unpleasant. In fact, I have never worked nor seen a place where so many people were so discontented with the way a place is run. Fortunately, the academics that actually carry out the University's business of writing and running courses for distance-learners and those running the research and supervising the PhD students tended to be so engrossed in their work that they carried on regardless.

When I left work to race down to my dying mother, I explained that I would be away for a while, but I did not know how long, obviously. When I then had to rush straight to Yorkshire for Carol's Dad, I started getting very nasty texts from my "line manager" demanding to know when I would be back as she had a department to run. No support, no kindness, just plain mean.

After that my decision to leave was made.

News travels fast and it wasn't long before old friends got to hear about our plan to move to Brittany and wrote to us to talk us out of it. For example,

"We moved there, but after five years we couldn't stand the awful weather any longer so we had to sell up and move to the Lot. Why not miss that step out and come straight to the South of France?"

It actually sounded like good advice from those that know so we amended our plan, which then necessitated a visit to The Lot in order to see how we might like it. So, come late January (2014), we arrived in The Lot.  Perhaps I should explain that The Lot is a department in the south-western region of Midi Pyrenees. Like most departments down here, it is named for its main river, which, as we arrived, was in full flood.  It was in this state because it was raining; it had been raining for weeks and continued to do so throughout our stay – apart from just one day.  The area is very rural with lots of wooded hills and numerous, small farms producing wine, fruit and livestock and noted for its lovely, fortified medieval villages, known as Bastides. It is tranquil and irresistible.  English people seem to move here in droves, thankfully more so to The Dordogne next door, which we know as “Dordogneshire” for this very reason.  But we weren't here to find a Little England; what would be the point? If you want to mix exclusively with English people, go to England; the place is full of them - although maybe slightly less so than it used to be. Anyway, this part of France is known locally as Quercy, the name of the ancient department, which includes the Lot and parts of the surrounding departments.

We stayed in the most charming little gîte down by the river in Puy-l'Évêque, a stone’s throw from a fabulous auberge (pub/restaurant/bar/café), which we’ll come back to later.  Actually, we came back to it many times.  Before leaving the UK, we’d contacted an estate agent so that we could fix up a few days viewing houses; again I say we were definately not here to buy.  Our agent was a bit of a disaster and I rather took a dislike to her when she kindly came to our place to talk about what we wanted to see.  I deliberately used the term “came to our place to talk” because that’s what she did.  She most certainly did not listen to anything we might have to say about what we might like to see. And so the places she took us to were very much what she wanted to show us, not necessarily what we wanted to see.  So we quietly ditched her and found our own agent locally.  Her name is Natashja, a Belgian lady who allowed us to choose what we saw.

Puy-l'Eveque Puy-l'Eveque, The Lot

After five days of viewing we’d seen some great places in the Lot and reckoned we would easily find somewhere to buy in the summer.  Viewing over then.  Well, no, as it happened.  That evening Carol found a place for sale on our agent’s website, actually not in The Lot, but the next department south, Tarn et Garonne.  It looked rather special and so we called Natashja and asked if she could arrange a look the next day.  No problem.  We drove south in the morning and suddenly realised that Tarn et Garonne was even more beautiful than the Lot – rather more open and rolling with a more Mediterranean feel to it.
They say people make their minds up about a property within 30 seconds of arriving.  This was certainly true in our case.  And this is why:

    Our house in the South of France


Our house in the South of France
Our house in the South of France


Our house in the South of France

   

That evening over a glass or two of wine we resolved that we had to live there and if we didn’t put in an offer, we could lose the place and regret it forever.  So, we put our heads together, did some difficult sums on the back of an envelope and decided to put in an offer, which the sellers accepted. I should, at this point, explain how the French house buying system works. Buyers make an offer, sellers accept, diagnostics are done on the house, the Notaire draws up the contract (called the Compromis de Vente), everyone signs, the buyers handover a wadge of cash (sometimes called a depisit) and everyone is locked into the deal - there is no going back. So the wheels of French bureaucracy were set in motion and we were on our way to being French landowners. Exciting stuff.

Returning to the UK, Carol and I both handed in our notices at work stating that we would retire on 13th March. Handing in my notice went down like a bucket of cold sick with my "boss". But, hey, I had one month to go and it felt very liberating.

   

I'm thrilled to inform you that I'm resigning.

I have been waiting for what seems like forever to tell you this. I love the Open University, but since the day I was hired my life here has been poisoned by the incompetence and indifference of those whose role it should be to motivate and inspire. I don't like the mundane work, I don't like being talked down to, I don't like the lack of gratitude and respect and I don't like you.

I am tendering my resignation effective immediately and I'm heading for France. I'm buying a wonderful house there so that my lovely wife, Carol, and I are far enough away from here so that there is no risk of us ever bumping into you or any of your pathetic, box-ticking, bureaucratic imbeciles whilst we're living a real life.

I know you will have some pointless set of procedures that you will feel the need to go through for me to help you with the transition, but I won't.  So have fun figuring out the files on my computer; they are a complete mess (actually, you might as well know now that they are, in fact, a thoroughly INCOMPLETE mess) mainly because I've always felt so demotivated by your self-serving, pitiful attempt at leadership that I really couldn't be bothered to do any better.

Oh, speaking of computers, you'll need to guess the passwords to all our online resources and external accounts. I forgot to keep a list of them, so have fun with that.

As for our meeting next week to discuss my annual appraisal, I shan't be there.  I have pleasure in telling you now that I have been pulling the wool over your eyes for seven long years.  I have never even attempted to meet a single one of the objectives you have set me, I've simply been lying to you about my achievements, safe in the knowledge that you wouldn't even bother to check and that you wouldn't understand what it is I do even if you did.  If you take the trouble to look back, you will see that you actually set me the same 5 objectives every year – manipulating you into doing that was a pleasure.

I'm sure you'd like to organize a leaving function for me.  However, I'm not interested in the soulless gatherings and insincere speeches that pass as an appropriate farewell in this department.  Do you people not realize how cringingly naff these events are?  The only reason people turn up to them is the prospect of a free lunch; you really are a bunch of tight-fisted low-lifes. 

Don't worry about writing me a reference, even though I'm sure you'd be glad to recommend my work.  I neither need nor want one. I don't need accolades where I'm heading, so please consider our bridges burnt.

Au revoir,

Courtney

P.S.  I hope you don't mind, but I have also taken the liberty of writing to the Staffing people in the Faculty to report the massive over-manning in your department.  I'm sure that will be useful given the current, pressing need to save money and to find areas of waste to target for redundancies and other fun cutbacks.

I think the concept I was trying to convey is better described by the French term Va te faire foutre! Don't bother trying that one on Google Translate, it will lie to you as it usually does.
   

A couple of weeks later, the Compromis de Vente arrived from France, which we duly signed and dispatched back to our Notaire. We were committed now, no turning back. It would normally take a couple of months from signing the Compromis to signing the final Acte de Vente, the point at which the house becomes the legal property of the buyer - "completion" in English terms. In this instance, however, our sellers needed the house until September. We had already booked ourselves a place to rent for the summer (when we were actually supposed to be looking for and buying a house before we got all ahead of ourselves) so this presented no real problem, we'd just be on holiday for five months. So, we sold the house in Buckingham, all our stuff went into storage and we disappeared down to Dorset to spend a couple of weeks with our friends, Terence and Brian.  We even found a way to get a free lift to Heathrow Airport when time came to go to France; we gave our car to a friend on the grounds that he drove us to Terminal 5.  Clever, huh?

A few Random Pictures of our Last Days in England


   

Dave Moss and Carol CourtnageDave Moss and Carol Courtnage at Prego in Buckingham

Jeanne and Nigel Kitson

Carol Courtnage in DorsetCarol Courtnage in Dorset, whilst staying with Terence and Brian

Kenneth and Phyllis Courtnage Final Resting Place

Brian Ash and MillieBrian Ash and wonderful little Millie, East Morden, Dorset April 2014

A Thai meal in HarrogateHarrogate


Courtney in the Lot
Courtney in the Lot
 

Come 'migration day', we decided to treat ourselves to a pair of Club Class tickets to Toulouse, based on the feeble reasoning that the baggage allowance is better.  Well, you don’t move to France every day, do you?   In reality, as we both intended unreservedly to make full use of the various sources of complimentary drinks in the magnificent British Airways lounge and on board our flight, it was a sensible strategy to book into a hotel in Toulouse for the night rather than driving straight to our holiday pad.

Lots of people had warned us to expect all sorts of folk to want to come and stay once we located ourselves here in the South of France.  And they were right.  We arrived on 10th April, our first guests didn't arrive until 11th April!  Actually, this was a good thing as it was Carol’s brother, Peter, and his wife, Bridgett, who came to share our first couple of weeks in France.  Excellent fun.

Our summer in the Lot was wonderful.  We were staying just north of Catus, a charming little market town between Puy-l'Évêque and the department capital, Cahors.  We made some great friends there and really got into French living.  Everything was superb. Well, everything except the state of the place we were staying.  Lovely spot and everything, but the owners' lack of maintenance and interest in their customers' well-being led to one disaster after another.  Whilst I would love to vent my spleen by giving you a blow-by-blow account, we'd be here all day, so I shall content myself with a brief sentence of some examples.  The septic tank (fosse septique) stank and overflowed (for five months), the hot water heater stopped working so the owner had a local friend bypass the thermostat causing it to overheat and explode in the night, gas cooker leaked gas and supply pipe was found to be 14 years out of date, the showers poured water through the kitchen ceiling every morning and their log burner belched smoke into the room and kept setting of the carbon monoxide alarm in the night.  Our landlord lived in England and relied on calling local friends to patch things up; I doubt any of them were remotely qualified to do the work.

Still, we didn't let that spoil our summer and shared great times with friends and family who came to stay throughout the summer.

La Merigue, Thedirac, France
La Merigue, our home for the summer. Our cottage is the one at the left end. Photo by Courtney

One pressing job that needed doing was to buy a car. We decided to get something strong, room for stuff and a dog, capable of dealing with rough tracks, diesel, automatic and smart. We decided to go for a Land Rover Freelander. We visited our local Landy dealer in Montauban who was extremely helpful and pleasant and ordered our vehicle. That was on Friday.

On Monday they called me to explain, most apologetically that the exact model/colour/extras we wanted was no longer available because Land Rover no longer make them. However, no need to worry because he would find us the same model or better and it shouldn't take more than a few days.

After a few days we went to collect it and were presented with the next model up at the same price as the one we wanted. Cool. Once all the papers were signed (there are always lots of papers to sign in France) Carol is presented with a bouquet of roses and I get a special bottle of Champagne. Then our dealer insists that have our photo taken with the car (below) - perhaps he thought it was going to be last time it was ever going to be seen in that condition.

Land Rover Freelander



 

Even more important than buying a house and all that, we found ourselves a wonderful rescue dog to adopt.  We called him Jacques and he immediately became the centre of our family here in France. Jacques arrived with us just before his fifth birthday. He's an English Setter, Brittany cross and he is a lovely dog. He was rescued from gypsies by Poor Paws and hadn't had a terribly nice life. He had lived outside on the end of a chain, the pads on his paws were pink and soft through malnutrition, he was not trained and he was thin and nervous. But now he had a new home with much happiness for him and us. Given his past, he is an amazingly trusting, loving dog.

Jacques



 

Come September we needed to sign the final documents for the house and move in.  Now, in France the signing of the Acte de Vente is a big occasion; it's not like just collecting the keys in the UK. Everyone goes to the Notaire's office at the appointed hour and sits around the table for an hour or so and chats, produces paperwork, signs stuff (lots and lots of stuff) and the transfer of title magically occurs.

On this occasion the sellers (which we shall call Mr and Mrs Scott - because that's their name) met us at a lovely restaurant and bought us lunch. They had now become good friends of ours and they did so much to help us and to make sure the place was absolutely tip-top.  They even had the liner of the swimming pool replaced as they felt it was getting on a bit, redecorated the place and left us a few vital items (such as a fridge) to see us through our early days. Kind and lovely people who now live only a few kilometres away.

After lunch, accompanied by their son and his girlfriend, we followed the Scotts to Sarlat and the Notaire's office to be greeted by our agent - it has to be a gathering. The Notaire produced his pièce de résistance, the Acte de Vente itself - a massive 120 page document containing everything one could possibly imagine to do with the house. The Gallic reputation for bureaucracy is not without just cause. He placed it carefully in front of him with considerable pride and briefly turned a few pages to examine his masterpiece whilst we awaited coffee - small, strong and very sweet, of course. After a pause he looked up at us all and casually remarked that buying a house in France was such a complicated process. This seemed odd, because it had all seemed rather simple and easy to me, but he was the expert. Sensing my English miscomprehension he decided to elucidate and embarked on a 45 minute explanation of Napoleonic Law and its history, starting at the very beginning. Fascinating stuff and, fortunately, he speaks French without the local Quercy accent that is moderately incomprehensible without a bit of time to adjust to it. Determining that we now understood the gravity of la loi, he fixed me with a serious gaze.

"Does the house have lots of cracks?"

"Yes, plenty"

"Do you understand that it is a residential property on agricultural land?"

"I do now, why?"

"Well, if the house burns down completely it means you're not allowed to rebuild it. But if you ask the Maire he will give you permission. Now we must all sign the Acte de Vente."

Both sides of every single page of the document has to be signed by all parties. This takes a long time. Afterwards everyone shakes hands and kisses and we walk away as the very proud and excessively happy owners of our own piece of France.

A day later our removals people turned up with all our stuff from storage in the UK. There was quite a lot of stuff even though we had previously lived in a pretty small house and had tried to be quite determined in our attempt not to bring too much with us. This was compounded by the arrival of a truck load of white goods from Montauban and the delivery of two more beds, sofas, lamps, a tapestry (why wouldn't we?) and numerous pieces of bulky equipment for my new studio, which was going to be built on one of the lawns somewhere. The next few days are now a bit of a blur and, frankly, I'm happy to leave them that way.

We needed a wood burner for our sitting room and the only one to have in France is a Godin; they are old fashioned, but very highly regarded. We found the Godin shop and chose the model and colour we wanted, but being so popular you have to wait a while. It was only September and we certainly didn't need one for the few weeks we had to wait. It arrived one sunny morning accompanied by a slightly grumpy bloke who told us he had come to fit it. Now, pretty much everything that anyone does to your house here has to come with a certificate to say the work undertaken conforms to all the regulations. There are many regulations. So, our grumpy Frenchman cannot simply fit the Godin to the end of the existing flue where recently stood a near identical Godin only two months previously. Everything had to be measured and inspected to check for conformity. There followed an hour or so of muttering, measuring, examining, staring up the flue, climbing on the roof, more muttering and a fair number of french words that we had not yet learned - these were not good words.

He announced to us that the distance between the flue and a massive wooden beam was too small and that the flue would need to be replaced before he could install the Godin. I was now imagining weeks of work and expense and trying to find various tradesmen to get this all done before we could call Guillaume back to install the fire. Visions of English workmen that "Don't do brickwork", "Don't go on roofs", "Can't replace flues, that's John's department, Guvnor" and "You need a decorator to redo the plaster." No. Not at all. Pas du tout. Guillaume announced that he would now chisel the beam out of the wall, add some bricks and rebuild the mantelpiece before going to town to find the materials for the new flue, which he would fit, and would then install everything. And, "by the way, would you like me to remodel the top of the chimney while I'm up on the roof?"

"Er, how long will this all take?"

"Je vais finir vers quatre heures" - (I'll be finished by about 4 p.m.)

And he was good to his word. What a great job.



 

So, here we are. France, La République, The Hexagon or, to us, Home.

First impressions are great. Was this a courageous move? Not really; it's not what everyone would choose to do, I know. I think I'd been to France once before all this and that was to land at Orange Air Base in a Phantom to refuel on the way back to the UK from somewhere, but so far we know the following: rural here means rural, the weather is so much better than the UK without being just plain hot all year, we still have seasons, the people here are so friendly, the scenery is gorgeous and we love it.

Early days, but we ain't moving again.



 

 



 

Paul Courtnage
 


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Some of the images and videos in Vox Clamantis in Deserto have been obtained from openly available sources. In such cases it is our policy to make every reasonable effort to contact the copyright holder for permission to display the image or video. It has not been possible to do so in every case. All images and video on this site remain the copyright of their respective owners and no material on these pages has been used for profit or any commercial purpose. Under the conditions of the EU Copyright Directive (2001) if you wish us to remove an image or video for which you are the copyright holder, you may submit a Removal Request and we will investigate your request and take appropriate action. We would very much like to continue to use images and videos wherever possible and are very keen to give full credit to the copyright holders of all images and videos. If you wish to be acknowledged as the owner of an image or video, please submit an Acknowledgement Request.