The Long road to France, OR How we eventually got to Live in the Tarn et Garonne


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A chronicle of how we got here in many parts!!

The idea of living in France had always appealed. The practicalities however, were, to say the least daunting. Over the next few weeks I shall post here the trials, tests, temptations and tribulations that accompanied our arrival in Roquecor:

I love France. I love the climate, the way of life and the wide open spaces. I love the open, non congested roads, the slower pace of life and the feeling that somehow I belong here. I love people saying ‘Bonjour’ when you pass in the morning, and with very few exceptions, love the French habit of kissing women when you meet. In short, I am a Francophile. What better then to shut up shop and move to France, to live, with thousands of other ‘Brits’, ‘The French dream’.

It is 2004. A typical June day in Plymouth. Grey skies and rain. I am sitting in my back office looking out over the Cornish slate rooftops at a trio of screaming seagulls that are intent on waking my three-year-old daughter from her afternoon nap. The phone rings and I begin talking to a client wishing to move to France. I go through my usual explanations as to what we do and the client then asks me where we are physically located. This is not the first time that this has happened. Here, I should explain that I was trading as a Removals Broker. Putting people in touch with removal companies that would then move them to their dream homes in France, Spain and Italy, in fact anywhere other than the UK.

No matter how many times I explained, I would receive the

‘Oh I wanted someone local, and you are in Plymouth’ reply from the less enlightened clients. I decided to resolve this little problem by always replying to the question by giving a wide variety of replies. The most common I used was ‘New Delhi’, followed closely by Sydney Australia, and if I were feeling particularly fanciful I would give our location as Barbados. Little did I realize where this would lead. My wife, who helped in the office by keeping papers in files instead of piles, heard my flippant comments and in true female style linked my comments to our move to France.

‘Why not’ she said. ‘It really does not matter where we live as the business is all Internet and telephones anyway. As long as we are in the same time zone we can live virtually anywhere’. I was livid. Here was I, a confirmed Francophile, living in abject misery under leaden Plymouth skies, dreaming of sunny France, and my wife had in two sentences changed all of our lives for the better. Now just imagine what that did for my ego.

It took me all of half a nano second to digest the enormity of what Karina was saying to me and simultaneously work out a way to make it appear it had been my idea all along. I believe that readers of both sexes will be able to relate to this! I seem to recall saying something along the lines of ‘But I thought you wanted to stay here’. Which elicited the sort of stare that only a wife can give a husband. I of course was ecstatic and within an hour I was saying to clients that we actually based in Cahors France. This, strangely had a very positive and uplifting effect on the business, as clients moving to France felt somewhat comforted by the fact that their broker was already there!

At this point I feel that I have to confess to two very important facts. The first is that I had previously lived in both Paris and Montpellier and the second is that I speak fluent French. These two points are crucial as I of course considered myself an expert on France and the French nation, whereas my wife had neither lived in France nor spoke French. I was therefore the oracle on all things France and French. My position as supreme commander and decision maker in chief lasted all of four minutes, that being the time it had taken my wife to reappear in the office and inform me of the family strategy for moving lock stock and keyboard to France.

It probably took about another ten minutes for the doubts to come flooding in on both sides. Petty problems such as ‘Where in France, when to move, buy or rent, what about the Kids and school, what about family, we don’t know anyone in France etc’, to raise their heads. Each time a difficult question was posed it was dealt with in a prompt and efficient manner, which both myself and Karina had perfected by the end of the day. The method involved writing down the questions and perceived problems and then writing the solution next to the question. This was an invaluable tool. By the end of the evening we had a page of questions with the words ‘Resolve later’ next to each and every one.

The next day, a Thursday, sanity had returned to our household and a family decision was made to really think about the idea, not to go off half cock and to carefully consider all aspects of such a change to our lives. Lea our little three year old liked the idea especially as she wanted to live where it did not rain all the time. Peter our son was more skeptical worrying about how he would chat up French girls if he was not fluent in French (he was 13). Karina took a more practical approach, which is why at 2300hrs on the Friday night we found ourselves on a Ferry bound for France, to get a real feel for what it would be like as a family.

We were booked on the night ferry out of Plymouth, and due to the lateness of the booking, coupled with Karina’s budgeting policy, we were allotted a broom cupboard next to the engine room, several decks below the water line that had hastily had four camp beds thrown into it. Whereas the sleeping accommodation was somewhat basic, the restaurants and bars were fantastic. Eating good food on a calm flat sea heading for France whilst the kids enjoyed themselves in the lounge, both of us were sure that we were about to do the right thing. Even the four hours sleep gently breathing in the diesel fumes from the engine seemed like fun. Both of us knew it was right. The next day we would begin our search for French serenity, or at least establish whether Karina and the kids really would want to live in France.

I awoke the next morning feeling slightly les exuberant than the night before, climbed up on deck and was greeted by a howling wind and lashing rain. My first thought was that we had done a ‘U’ during the night, but NO, it was raining in France. By the time we got off the boat however, the rain had ceased and my head was feeling better by the minute. Saturday morning is market day in Morlaix, and is only twenty minutes pleasant drive from Roscoff. That was to be our first destination.

The small town of Roscoff itself offers little to see, and at six in the morning nothing is open. This prompted us to set off very, very slowly towards Morlaix along the coast road via St Pol de Leon, a small town right on the sea, where again, nothing was open. The drive from St Pol to Morlaix is truly beautiful. The road meanders along the estuary that takes, at high tide, yachts and other large vessels right into the heart of Morlaix, a town the size of Totnes. Arriving in Morlaix from the estuary, the first sight is that of an enormous stone bridge several hundred feet high that dominates the town. About two hundred metres after the bridge on the right hand side of the road is a café where they serve the most delicious croissants and coffee.

We trouped in through the old wood and glass doors and into an art deco interior swathed in a blue haze of cigarette smoke. The old wooden counter, huge mirrors and painted ceilings looked as if they had not changed for forty years, and I later established from the owners that there had indeed been no decoration for about that length of time, because it was not needed! We placed our order at the bar and walked outside to sit at one of the tables on the pavement and to watch the market traders setting up their stalls. The coffees, hot chocolates and croissants arrived at exactly the same time as the sun came out. Life was looking up and what was more, the magic of paracetemol had finally restored my head to a form of normality. Within ten minutes we were all on top of the world and raring to go. To the toilet that is.

Trying to explain to a three year old the concept and rationale behind a ‘Turkish Toilet’ is a bit like trying to explain to someone why the food on British Trains is so awful. It just is. The actual idea of a hole in the floor is terribly hygienic, better perhaps than having a seat that thousands of other ‘derrieres’ have sat upon over forty odd years, but to a three year old it just is NOT a toilet. Perhaps, thankfully for many other three and four years, as well as those of a more sensitive nature, the old French ‘Launch Pads’ have now been phased out in most establishments and ‘normal’ toilets can be found nearly everywhere. Six years ago in Morlaix, however, it took us twenty minutes to find a real toilet. For the rest of the trip and in order not to traumatize the little one any further, all toilets were firstly inspected to ensure that they were suitable for a three year old with a very loud voice.

(Catharine Higginson) #2

Oh gawd, the days of small children and turkish toilets…Mind you last year our 7 year old got stuck inside one of those superloos, whilst it was on self clean and emerged VERY traumatised. Being a crap mummy, once I’d consoled him, I did wet myself laughing. Took months before he’d go near one again!