So, there we were in the summer of 1999 with the keys to an empty house.
Well, naturally we'd brought a car full of stuff with us: a couple of Z-Beds (remember those), a camping stove, some pots and pans and crockery. The basics. I ate my first meal there sitting on the stairs.
We had thought to get really into the French country life there. What we found was that our next-door neighbours on one side were English. There were several more English families either living there permanently or with holiday homes around the small village. In fact it seemed at times as if every resident of Hampshire and his dog had bought a nice little house in France. Lovely, sociable people all. We played "Spot the English Car" in the supermarket car park.
After just a couple of days we went back home. Our task was done.
On our next visit we found out about the depots vente, places people take their unwanted goods for sale on consignment. They are wonderful places to rummage around, and we do love to rummage. In a short time we had a whole bedroom suite in the old French style, carved wooden doors and headboards and all, and a buffet or two-storey sideboard. And a fridge. We think that they must have been the property of an old French family, inherited with a house and not wanted by the younger generation. We wanted them though, they were perfect for our old cottage.
The only problem was getting the stuff home. The fridge and some smaller stuff came from nearby and went in the back of the car, but the sideboard and bedroom furniture were from further away. Not to worry, though; the depot vente will lend you a van if you leave your car with them as security.
It was a rather old Renault Master. It didn't have power steering. But me, I'll drive anything. So we loaded up and I drove this very heavy left-hand drive van with a steering wheel the size of the London Eye back to our house. At one junction I actually had to have two goes at getting round the corner. Luckily the roads in France are less busy than those in England, and I got back without enraging any French drivers.
Which is where we ran into problem no 2. The buffet was so heavy - solid wood - that I couldn't even get my end of the smaller top half off the ground, never mind up the four steps to the front door of the house. Our next-door neighbour came along at that moment, the French side not the English side. Did we need help? We certainly did. They carried the purchases in for us. What lovely people.
Problem no 3. The divan base of the bed is too big to get around the spiral staircase to the rooms upstairs. Solution: simple. We use the small room downstairs as a bedroom. No more problem.
A nearby furniture shop had some second hand things, a bed settee, table and six chairs. Gradually the house filled up. Cheap electrical appliances and a few more things from home, and we were living the good life over there.
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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