Monday 2 January 2017
4 degrees - clear with bright blue above and yellow spaceship clouds over the Bay
Since moving to France in 2004, I have spent most of the time in that country. OH (my other half and, you will discover, the source of much of my blogging content) has on the other hand, made regular trips to the UK. I am well and truly out of the loop as to the mechanics of how things work in our native land and OH has never really bothered as to how things operate in France, as long as I can sort it out. He has yet to pick up a dictionary. He is fine with this.
France is a wonderful country as regards climate and landscape and how lovely the people are, but Francophile as I am, it is true that the shopping is pants and customer service is a concept rather than a practise. Consequently, when we get to the UK, I am on instant sensory overload.
It was a couple of days before Christmas and we went to Ulverston. There was a market and a Christmas tree and Carols being belted out by a group of well wrapped up ladies. There were book shops and wool shops and habadashery shops and decoration shops and charity shops and OMG so many tea and coffee shops. I ran from one side of the road to the other, dragging OH alongside me and shrieking with delight. I am 58. Give me sparkle and carols and mince pies and I revert to a small child in 3 seconds flat.
OH gripped me firmly by an elbow and said, yes of course coffee and cake would happen but first we had to go and order a new bank card and change some addresses on my accounts. What accounts? The ones I had had when we lived here and had forgotten about. The bank wasnt too embarrassing but then we got to the building society. Since when have building societies become banks? The lady kept on asking questions which I wasnt capable of answering. OH had to reply for me and then the clerk starting addressing all of her questions to him. She got up to get something (it didnt involve 20 pages of printed items which needed signing) and I remarked to OH that I felt like I had Alzheimers and he replied that was like it was for him all the time in France. It was a salutory moment. I was not fine with it. I was however considerably mollified when he told me that he had put some cash into my account for me to spend and we left to look for a coffee shop.
Down a slidy stoned alley was a deep brown door, studded with ancient nails. It opened onto a nine table café wreathed in coffee aroma and spicy sweet cake smells. We tucked ourselves into a tiny settle seat by the window. People were eating soup and making plans for Christmas and the four ladies on the counter and in the kitchen were laughing and cracking jokes. Holly and ivy romped across the beams and lanterns illuminated the cosy nooks. OH had a pot of tea and I had a billowing cappuccino and we shared a massive slab of lemon drizzle cake, its top studded with white sugar hailstones which burst and tingled on the tongue.
We then went back to our new home from home. I have to say, buying houses is so much more fun than selling the bxxxxrds. There is so much choice. So many relative merits. So easy to discount ones which dont quite make the cut. OH came up with the idea about a year ago. We had just had Christmas with the rellies and, although it was lovely, it was a bit punishing. All that travel and having to be sociable and tidy up immediately. And I refuse to play Scrabble or Monopoly or participate in Countdown. Last year was the added element of a 4 year old and non stop Frozen, for which I developed an instant antipathy. OH just turned over and put the News on. That didnt go down well either. And then there were the sister in laws.... (they merit a separate blog). I also have developed a resistance to Spanish city holidays which involve unrestrained drinking (OH not me) and many more hours in the car.
The nub of his plan was this: why didnt we get a place in the UK. A place where we could go and relax, spend Christmas together, somewhere where I could have a social group, go shopping, have access to transport, unwind. Somewhere beautiful. He had obviously been listening and paying attention. I wanted instantly to look on the South Coast of the UK where both of the boys were then living. This proved prohibitively expensive. OH said if we were to buy in the Lakes, we could let out the property. It would be an investment. So we looked in Windermere.
We started last April. Windermere was surprisingly crowded, even in April. OH drove. The roads are terrifyingly narrow and everyone has massive 4x4's and are not used to narrow roads. It became rapidly apparent that the rental market was saturated and that there was a feeling of unreality about the place. We looked at some places in the countryside. They were lovely but isolated. In one, full of treacherous stones on the garden path, I was saying that this is dangerous and went flying and wrenched my ankle. We repaired to Mr and Mrs A's house (who were very kindly putting us up for the week) and reviewed the situation. The next day, Mrs A coming along as independent opinion, we went and saw some more in Windermere and then one in Grange over Sands. You'll like this one, said OH. Alas he knows me too well.
An end of terrace with small front garden and tiny courtyard, we entered by a checkered floored hallway and into the main room with its high ceilings, Georgian pannelling, two fireplaces and stripped wooden floor. Hearts and flowers abounded. Into the tiny country kitchen with range cooker and subway pannel tiles. Utility room with overhanging clothes maiden. Upstairs were four bedrooms. But, oh the bathroom. There is one room in a house which my heart has always longed for and that was a beautiful bathroom. High beamed ceiling, white moulded units and a beautiful wedge shaped bath. Roman blinds with deep purple hortensia pattern. Smells of lily of the valley.
I was totally sold on the house but not on Grange itself. Everyone was so old. Everyone was retired and had white hair. We had some pies from what is reputed to be the best pie shop in the UK and they were utterly stupendous. We walked past the duckpond and along the prom and watched the seagulls screaming and circling over Morecambe Bay.
OH: You can see the Bay from the bedrooms in that house....
Me: Its because its at the top of a sodding great hill! (all of our houses are at the top or bottom of sodding great hills)
OH:There are buses and trains - you can go shopping to Ulverston and Kendal and Lancaster and Manchester and get down to London. The boys can come up by train. Look, there is a library. (There was, and the computer section was full of grey haired people punching unsympathetically at the undeserving keyboards.)
Me: I just dont know.
We went back to Mr and Mrs A's and slept badly. Alas, the sun rose at 5. How the xxxx does that happen? OH became animated and made tea. He hasnt made tea at 5 am in 30 years of marriage. Let's just buy Grange! Are you serious? We have only seen five houses! I am sick of looking - I have been looking for months. Do you want to live in Windermere? I thought the idea was to rent it out? The market is saturated. Do you love the Grange house. Well, yes, of course I do. Well, lets just make an offer.
So we did. And in just a week we had found and bought out new home. And please God, if we ever need to sell it, it wont take forever. We also specialise in buying houses that no one else wants. I cant see this ever being the case with Grange, as against all our previous buying history, we have gone for something in perfect condition. It is not a vast, quirky wreck in the middle of no where with eccentric heating, OH fitted elements and a killer garden.
Which brings me neatly back to France. There is so much choice, so many discounts but you really need to find out how long it takes to resell in a place before you sign on the dotted line. There are many places where you struggle to give property away. It has taken me seven years to sell my beautiful top floor flat, which suffered from being 42 steps off the ground. A further two years to sell the furnished flat on the rear of the building, which 'didnt have a view'. I thought I was going to have to chuck my body in as part of the deal.
And we do love being at Grange and we did spend Christmas with the boys and it is very relaxing. Work seems blissfully distant. However, we were watching Mr Beans Holiday yesterday and I welled up with emotion at seeing the sweep of the Millau Bridge and the stunning beach at the end of the film. France will always be in my soul. OH may have a cunning plan to move me back to the UK but it will not work.....
And so to today's song in my head (click on the words)