Everything Must Go

It’s symptomatic that our British neighbours are selling up after 20 years. That we shall now have French neighbours on either side of us seems somewhat appropriate.

‘Symptomatic’ because, over the course of the last five years or so – really, since our fragile and corrupt financial world imploded and since sterling took a nose-dive against a ‘basket of currencies’ – the influx of ex-pats from the U.K. seems to have been stemmed and even reversed. Just about everywhere, estate agents have the renovated properties of Brits on their books.

In the case of our departing neighbours, it was clearly not a financial issue. If you can imagine the trailer for the film of the Oscar-nominated drama: He was a retired chartered accountant who did quite well, thank you, in the City. She was a well-heeled heiress from solid Middle England stock. For 20 years, they lived half the year in England and half the year in France. But then one day… they found themselves grandparents. France seemed like a long way away from family life and their large garden was increasingly becoming a burden. There was nothing else for it, but to put their beautiful house on the market…

They’ve been here even longer than we have. Strangely, too, they made the same initial mistake – of buying in an apparent rural idyll where (it became increasingly clear) they shouldn’t really have settled. Like us, they moved further west and discovered a more cosmopolitan coin where they felt immediately at home. Nevertheless, they’ve somehow managed to avoid learning the language. Derek makes a valiant effort, but his phone message, for example, sounds like something that a man from the BBC Home Service might have recorded in wartime for our valiant French allies.

Their beautiful house-and-garden have always been high maintenance and, during the eight years or so that we have been neighbours – rarely actually seeing each other, but reassured by one another’s presence – they have spent less and less time here. So when Derek came round (in his charming thoroughbred fashion) to announce their decision to move back, we feigned surprise even though we’d long seen the writing on the wall.

After a little more than a year on the market, they’ve sold the house for near enough the asking price to another retired couple – from Lille, oop north. For the last month or so, they’ve taken time off from their grand-parental duties to come back and pack up. All through the recent tropical heat wave, they’ve been beavering away with boxes. Ever fastidious, Derek prepared a list of surplus items for sale, complete with French translations and precise dimensions. A kind of upper-middle-class yard sale.![](upload://uEEKJ7hRCij3v0BiaweZL5xLJxH.jpg)

Last week, I dropped round to check out their sole remaining rug – in the hope of finding something to replace the blue rug from Ikea in our sitting room, which has been systematically shredded by the dog’s claws. I found Derek ferrying stuff, reluctantly, from his immaculate cave to his trailer. He’d just misplaced his glasses, so I offered to help him look for them – only to be distracted by the contents of his trailer. I found an old wine box that I thought might come in useful for all those loose CDs that have lost their moorings and need to be re-shelved as and when.

Then his wife arrived and took me into the house to look at the sole remaining rug. I didn’t think that the colour scheme would quite go with ours, so I had to say ‘no’. Out of sheer curiosity, however, I checked out the two matching pine wardrobes and chests of drawers that represented great value and figured that, if I could just rationalise our recently re-organised our cave, perhaps with the help of our daughter, who’s currently living her own phoney war before the great adventure of higher education starts, then they might come in very useful. Thought bubble: I could store my work clothes, while Debs would have somewhere to hang the seasonal rejects from her everyday wardrobe.

She led me into the little maison des invités, the Wendy house that became our godsend for the winter months when we were constructing our new house here, and pretty soon I had said yes to a double duvet. Not that we really need a double duvet, but it looked far too good to chuck out and you never know when it might come in handy.

By the time we stepped outside again, Derek had found two unopened tins of some Cuprinol product for sealing wooden decking. Since I’d been looking at the startling prices of similar products in Brico Depot only the day before, I bit his hand off when he asked me whether I could use them. And what about that spray thing you bought for putting it on? his wife reminded him. So that, too, found its way into the pile of stuff I was amassing, like a lucky contestant in some game show, outside the door of their cave.

And then Derek invited me inside his holy of holies – and that’s when all the trouble started. I justified the badminton set, because it’s something that we had talked about for some time. As for the chapiteau… that sort of mini-marquee construction favoured by the rural French for al fresco bouffes: well, we’ve sometimes discussed the great notion of setting up a sound system on the front balcony for outdoor dance parties. It’s only really the possibility of rain that has held us back. And if the ants and badminton haven’t massacred our lawn completely, well we could always get hold of some old carpets and use them as a dance floor inside our new canvas disco inferno. So yes please, you never know when it might come in handy.

And this 12-volt battery charger? I don’t know if it still works, but it’s still in its box. Well, if it did work… you never know when it might come in handy. After all, I’ve already left the Berlingo’s headlights on at least three times since moving here. And on the floor of the cave was a whole array of old screw-top jars, containing carefully graded screws and nails and other handy nick-nacks. I’m coming down with screws and nails and assorted nick-nacks, but it seemed wrong to let Derek take them to the tip after all that hard work of grading and categorising.

And so it came to pass that I spurned a rug only to have to go back and fetch the car so I could bring back another consignment of stuff that may or may never get used. It’s the curse of the squirrel. May it never befall thee. My challenge now, should I choose to accept it, is to be sufficiently inspired by those assorted screw-top jars to organise my life and all its detritus more in the spirit of our departing British neighbours. They will be sadly missed.

PS The cave is now successfully rationalised - ready for the influx of the new clobber.

I'm yer man, Carol! Well, up to a point. But I'm watching, I'm watching...

Thanks Mark..if we find a buyer who doesnt want the place furnished...look out for our posting on SFN, everything must go!!! some lovely Tetrad sofas, chairs...and some prime pieces...watch this space!

I've just been listening to a great song by Eric Bibb, called 'Too Much Stuff'. I think I might adapt/adopt it as my theme song. But I'm heartened to know that I'm not the only one. Congratulations are due to Brian, Catherine and anyone else who can find stuff for the dechetterie. I'm planning to rationalise our cave tomorrow if the weather holds, and am faintly optimistic about a run to the dechetterie.

Ben, Carol - hope the move back goes well and I'm glad that you didn't regret the experience. There have been times... But not really since we moved into our straw house. I just couldn't manage living anywhere else for the first time in my whole life. Any road up, the best of British luck!

We're just back from the dechetterie with two empty cars and probably two loads more to go soon. My wife is like a magpie. As for Switzerland, she is Swiss and can smell where there is a sale on. When we emptied the Geneva flat she remembered almost to the date which 'vide greniers' everything was bought at and could define the best bargains by Romande, Tytsch or Ticinesi...

After living in Switzerland for five years I've amassed loads of stuff......yes, I too cannot resist a bargain. You're probably thinking 'Switzerland'.. 'Bargain'...two words that aren't normally heard in the same sentence, but we have our Brockenhaus over here too, and some of the things I've come across have been too good to resist. Anyway, now we're moving to France and I've found myself having to advertise furiously on our local ex-pat website trying to get rid of the 'junk' I seem to have acquired, so that our worldly goods will actually match up to the cubic meterage that I optimistically told our removal company to quote us for.

I'm looking forward to replacing this 'junk' with the french equivalent. (Husband is not quite SO enthusiastic!)

Catherine, guess where we are going tomorrow morning? Dechetterie! Two car loads already jammed in and we are priming ourselves for the 'not them again' look!

Have to admit to being much the same. Cannot resist a bargain.Luckily we have outbuildings which swallow up loads of stuff, but we are at the moment intending to do a dechetterie run to empty stuff which has been in them for ever. Just ready for the next Vide Grenier!!

After 17 years of being resident in France (we do have a small flat in England too) we are off as well. And as above (almost) everything must go as we don't imagine we'll be needing the chain saws, strimmer and 1,000s of books. As with Mark's writings above, it is not financial, it is the grandchildren. Of several friends of our advanced age around here, we are not alone in wanting too see more of our family and they are going back too. There is another reason, we don't want to be on our own here when the other one snuffs it. Sitting in a maison de retraite watching French game shows is not going to be my parting shot.

But it has all been very well worth it. We have had a lovely life in France and are now looking forward to another adventure going back to England. I hope it hasn't changed too much!

Brill Mark! I too suffer the curse of going to a vide maison and leaving with 4000 assorted nails and screws and the guest bed we had hoped to find has eluded us because I was distracted by my treasure trove.

This was fun to read! I think represents a part of all of us that we can relate to...the packrat...you never know when you can use it mindset!. It also reflects change and how sad it can be sometimes. You have to fight that off and and keep looking forward. I think we all hate to lose great friends. I have a couple who are moving across country. They have been great fun and will be missed.

Lovely piece...thoroughly enjoyed the tale. We like your neighbours are selling up...or at least..trying hard to! and I can see great similarities to our future packing...we have decided that once back in Blighty its going to be a minimalist house, clean lines...big windows....space....so all the 'stuff' will have to go. We were hoping to sell this place furnished...just take one or two pieces, our books and paintings...Im told its very freeing to do that...watch this space!