This week I have been beset with happenings that have brought out my inner Grumpy Old Woman.
My laptop, I have to admit, is at least four years old, which I'm told is pretty old as laptops go. So it's really no surprise that it's starting to drool down its cardigan and tell everybody that things aren't what they used to be. And I do have a spare, being a belt and braces sort: a notebook small enough to carry round without stretching my arms down to my knees. Admittedly it did run on Windows 8, but never mind, I get the free upgrade to Windows 10. No problem. It has deleted half of my files during the upgrade,, but I'm sure I can reconstruct them.
And we've just changed our bank. Bank X was always very fair with us, we had no complaints, but Bank Y made us an offer we couldn't refuse. No hard feelings.
What could possibly go wrong?
The first thing was that the transfer was due to go ahead on the same day that we were due to pay our credit card bill. Quite a large one, in fact, as it included the new kitchen units we had bought for our French house. (I'll get back to the convoluted story of the French house next time.) I did try to change the date online; living in the GWBA* you thank heaven on bended knees every day for the internet. Sadly, my name had to be taken off the joint account for technical reasons, so I no longer had access to it on line. Not to worry, we could go into the bank the next working day and sort it out.
Except that the account had gone into changeover purdah by then. Nothing could be altered, but if we went in on the day of the changeover they could confirm that the payment had actually been made. Problem sorted, and indeed when we checked up, everything was fine.
So we came back home, and a day or so later I thought I would go online and check out our balances on line. We were already registered with Bank Y for internet banking, there should be no problem.
Except that by this time I am using backup laptop, all set up in my library/office with external keyboard, speakers and a tangle of peripheral USB devices. And Bank Y doesn't recognise backup laptop and decides I am an evil hacker trying to get access to our accounts. I must tell them my mother's cat's maiden name, do I recognise this picture, and enter random letters and numbers from security numbers and passwords.
I get right through to the last part, and Bank Y's computer doesn't recognise the numbers I enter. I try again. The numbers are incorrect. If I try too many times my accounts will be frozen in deepest Antarctica, never to be accessed again. I am too scared to try again. Oh well, I didn't really need to look at our bank balance. I'm sure everything is just fine.
I go off to my daughter's, to wait for a grocery delivery between the hours of twelve and one. It doesn't come. On phoning the store, I am told that, in spite of delivering to daughter every week for the last year, the man couldn't find the house. He has been phoning the number on our account. We are not answering. Because we are at my daughter's waiting for a non-arriving grocery delivery. Did he not try the other numbers? In spite of the shop refusing to accept my order unless I gave them two other alternative numbers, they do not have any alternative numbers. Would the hours of four to five be acceptable. Well, it will have to be, won't it? The groceries finally arrive. All has been worked out. They give me a bunch of flowers as apology.
But that very evening Rod the Electrician phones from France. Everything is coming along swimmingly, well apart from the fact that they gave him the wrong size cupboard door, they have no more cupboard doors the right size, he's taken a set of drawers instead, but the top drawer won't work because it clashes with the sink ... But not to worry, everything is fine, and could he have some money sent directly to his French bank account because he's meeting his bank manager on Tuesday.
Today is Thursday.
I go to the computer - yes I even have internet banking with French Bank. "Click here to set up new recipient". I click. "We have to have your mobile phone number before we will do anything whatsoever". I search for my mobile phone because that is the one number I can never remember. Back at the computer: "Enter mobile phone number in the box". Except that there isn't a box. I click everywhere on the page without finding any spot to enter the number. I give up with French Bank.
Now I could use our new main bank account with Bank Y, in fact that is what I would prefer to do. Except that Bank Y doesn't believe I am who I say I am, remember?
So I go back to Bank X. We still have a couple of accounts with them, and by combining the balances I can just about make the amount Rod the Electrician needs. The money will not go until the next working day, of course, but providing I've got all the numbers names and etceteras right, and the pigeon carrying the message isn't blown off course over the weekend, the money may just about get there in time. I hope.
I was going to post this blog on my Blogger website. But when I tried to log in, Blogger decided I was not who I said I was, because I wasn't on the computer it was used to.
Here we go again.
* Great Welsh Bugger All
The more observant of you may have noticed something missing in the picture I posted with last week's blog.
Like, a roof.
We had a long conversation with Brian the Builder and his mate John the Plumber about what needed to be done with our French house. In brief, everything. Drains, heating, water, inside lavvy, bath and shower, kitchen, outside lavvy (because it's always good to have a spare, and we were tired of hauling buckets of water out with us). And the ceiling upstairs was showing some interesting water stains.
Not to worry, said Brian, he would take a look and see if he could patch it up enough to last through the winter. Which he did.
Leaving the two of them to it, we went back home to Wales for the winter, in the knowledge that things were moving on. M le Maire was happy that we would be connected to the main drains at long last; he had been writing to us for a while urging us to get it sorted out, to which we had to reply that as we had not been to the house for five years, we had put nothing at all down the drains for some time, but we would sort it out when we could. So, sorted.
Then in January we got an email from our next door neighbour (the English one) with a picture of our house. With no roof.
Brian the Builder had thought that, as the weather had been quite nice for a bit and the forecast was good, he would make a start on it. So he had removed the entire roof down to the trusses.
The weather changed. The roof had luckily had the waterproof lining thing put on it by then (I'm not very technical when it comes to roofing) so at least the rain did not come pouring through. But for a while we were the only house in the village with a bright blue roof.
Other things were being removed as well. All the old heating system, the shower and basin, the water supply itself. We went over at Easter and were happy to find that John the Plumber had at least made a temporary connection for the tap in the kitchen sink, which was now our only source of water. We stood in a plastic bowl and poured water over ourselves. It was like camping in our own house.
And the electrics. John the Plumber had once upon a time done electrics as well, but he had become fed up with the French bureaucracy, which had gone from complete laisser-faire ("You have bare wires sticking out of the wall? That's OK!") to pernickety in the extreme. He would not be able to do our rewiring, the one job that we had put at the top of our list. Remember you mustn't touch that switch! But he knew someone else who did electricity. Unfortunately the someone else could not start on our house until next September.
Still, at least the drains had been done.
In my experience French properties come in two basic types: those with no land, and those with too much land.
Ours is the second. We had, on roughly three quarters of an acre:
Obviously this creates a problem for people who are only intermittent residents. As I said in a previous blog, one tends to arrive late at night off the ferry to find the path to the lavvy overgrown with ankle-biting brambles and perennial sweet peas (pretty colour, no scent). Any thoughts of planting vegetables or fruit trees were killed when we realised we were very unlikely to be in the country when the harvest was ready.
Our next door neighbour, the French one, did however have a horse, and a goat, so when he asked for permission to pasture the animals on the field, we accepted without hesitation. So the field is generally not too bad, and we get to see peaceful grazing animals from time to time. The neighbour is also unnecessarily grateful, and keeps embarrassing us with his effusions. (We are, after all, British.)
Remains the last bit of ground with garage. We did flirt with keeping the car there. Unorthodox perhaps. But the road is very narrow, and it takes someone with exceptional parking skills to get a car into the garage with less than fifteen minutes' backing and forwarding. You are then left with the walk back to the house. With the shopping. We prefer to park outside the front door.
Then on our recent reappearance in France, we were told by M le Maire that complaints had been made about the overgrown brambly state of the end plot. We must do something about it!
The following day our English neighbour arrived at the door towing a youngish French person. This is Gregory, who lives in the house opposite our garage. He would like to buy your end bit of garden to make a football pitch for his sons to play on, being as his house, though large and comfortable, lacks sufficient garden space.
I accepted with alacrity. My husband was less eager, until he went up the road and actually looked at the state of the land and realized he would be the one who would have to clear it. We agreed to make the sale and exchanged email addresses.
Back at home, I searched through the documents I had filed away all those years previously. I found, miraculously, the statement of local taxes for the property. I found the purchase contract for the house and land, but no deeds. I wrote to the notaire who had dealt with the sale. No reply, even with the prospect of charging us for drawing up documents. We cancelled our trip back for consultation with Gregory's notaire. (In France it is legal, and cheaper, for both parties to use the same notaire, as he is held to be impartial in the affair.) I read through the documents again, and on page seven I eventually spotted a paragraph which, translated, amounted to "We haven't got any deeds. If you want deeds, you will have to have them drawn up yourself," said no doubt with a Gallic shrug.
So we gave a Gallic shrug ourselves, arranged to meet with the notaire, and set the sale in motion.
Not having deeds didn't seem to make a lot of difference. We proved we were who we said we were. Several times over. Hands were shaken all around. The brambles are now somebody else's problem, which is a bit of a bargain, even though I suspect we let the land go at a knockdown price. The neighbours are happy. The husband is happy. Next door is happy because we haven't sold the field. I dare say the horse and goat are happy too.
So there we were, back in France after five years' absence, with a bit of money saved up.
Less than twenty four hours after our arrival there came a knock at our door. It was M le Maire, and his wife who spoke some English. In fact I speak French, having studied it to degree level, but the English by and large are not known for their linguistic prowess, and he had made provision.
Good morning, welcome to our lovely commune. You must connect up your house to our new main drainage system, and there have been complaints about the brambles in the end portion of your land, so could you please arrange for them to be cleared.
He was quite pleasant about it, and offered to let us have information on people who could carry out the work, and take a look at their quotations to make sure they weren't overcharging us. Please come to see him at the mairie as soon as we had more information.
Now when we had purchased the house it was alleged by the estate agent to be tout a l'egout or mains drainage. Our English neighbours however were of the opinion that there was a septic tank out in the garden which had to be emptied out periodically.
In fact both were true. What we worked out was this: at some time in the past the Council had come around and installed storm drains which emptied into the river downhill from us. Local residents took advantage of this occasion by slipping the workmen a few hundred francs to join their houses up to the storm drain. Our house itself was thus joined to the drains. However the little sentry box in the garden was still served by a septic tank. As it turned out though the septic tank leaked, so the contents were recycled into the garden. The lilac jungle (it's too big to be called a bush) enjoyed that greatly, and there was no requirement for emptying.
But now the Council had a sparkling new system, whereby all the household water was taken by the main drain, pumped uphill and passed through a reed bed which purified it to drinking water standard (our daughter and son-in-law have a reed bed system, and this is no exaggeration). Perhaps the commune gets some sort of reward or kudos for having all their houses on this system; in any case, the mayor was very keen on having the last hang-outs brought into line.
We consulted our English neighbours. Yes, they had been connected. If we liked they could get in touch with their friend who had done their installation and get him to come out and talk to us. We liked.
Yes, their friend said, he could do our work, no problem. He also did general building and decorating. Did he do plumbing and electrical work? No, but he knew a man who did. How about the roof? Yes, he could take a look.
The roof had a couple of minor leaks - we could see from the ceiling where it was stained. He looked at it, and said that he could do a bit of emergency work to make it weatherproof for the winter, but it needed reroofing. Did we want slates to match the front of the roof or tiles to match the back of the house? Slates are nice, but tiles are cheaper.
So we took his quote up to M le maire, who approved it. Slates or tiles? Well, they preferred slate, but would not object if we had tile.
Let the work commence.
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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