Monday, 15 March 2010

Why why why?

I am constantly being asked "Why did you move to France?",  "Why did you leave the UK?", "What made you leave the UK?".

So I thought it was about time I revealed all, but first of all a word of warning.  This post will be long!

Many years ago The Old One, The Middle One and I went on a long awaited for holiday to Cannes on the Cote d'Azur.  Friends had a very small apartment there which they rented out to friends.  It was my first holiday in this wonderful country and I fell in love with the lifestyle and relaxed way of living.  Yes, even in Cannes, which is not expensive if you know where to shop and avoid the expensive restaus and shops on La Croissette.

The Old One and I had another holiday at the apartment 2 years later and I fell head over heels again.  As we were on our own we explored a bit more of the country, driving up into the hills behind Grasse and exploring the Luberon, which had just become "Peter Mayle Country".

House prices, even then, were well beyond our reach.  We were told that bargains could still be picked up in the Var, but somehow Provence and all that it brings with it - harsh winters, hot summers and the dreaded Mistral - didn't really appeal to me from a "living here permanently" point of view.  Great for holidays and seeing how the other half lives, but not for living.

Nope!  Definitely not!  Let's try further north.  Where?  Burgundy!  Yes lets!   We did and,  yet again, it didn't really appeal.  Lovely villages.  Beautiful rolling hills covered in vines.  It's bound to have great weather as it's one of the most famous wine regions in the world.

What?  Cold winters?  The wind whistles down through the valleys to help create the Mistral?  Oh gawd!  OK let's try further west, but NOT the Dordogne. That's Little Britain.

We did the Champagne region (hmm - good idea but we don't think so), we did the Loire (too far north and way way too expensive - commuter land).  We did Annecy in the Alps where it rained solidly for what seemed like weeks, we were camping and I was 3 months pregnant.  That ruled that out!

2 years later we took off for a month in a van with The Young One strapped into her car seat and an even bigger tent in the back.  It rained and it rained and we drove further and further south to escape it.  We started in the Loire again and actually started viewing houses, but the prices were even more horrendous than last time and the rain put us off.

We chased the sun down to Montpellier and La Grand Motte, the Camargue, sun, sea, sand, white horses and sea salt.  Yes, there is a certain something, but I really do not like the spartanness which is similar to Provence.

10 days later we started north because it had started to rain (again).  We stumbled upon a camp site on the banks of the Ardeche near the Gorge.  This is more like it!  Rolling hills, trees,  far enough south to get the good summers, but not as hot as further south.  Oh Gawd!  Look at those prices!

House prices were beginning to rise.  We were buying all those English "French lifestyle" magazines and knew it was going to be now or never.  The Young One was 2 years old.  We had another year of kindergarten before we had to make up our minds to get her into the local primary school, or spend a fortune and register her for the Reception class at the expensive, but very good, prep school where she was already in the kindergarten.  This would mean us working flat out for the rest of our lives.  Definitely not what we envisaged.

Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Oh well, let's go to the French Property Exhibition at Hammersmith again, start making serious enquiries and see what happens.

Which we did.

And this is what we found.

The self same picture.

That's it.  That's the one!  And look at the price.  We can afford that. And it's huge.

Lets book an RDV and drive out and see it.  We're going ski-ing with friends at Easter, we could see it then, after the ski trip.

Where is it?  Aarrghhhh.  The Dordogne!  Oh pffff.  Let's chance it.

We did.  April 1998 saw us driving in a snow storm from Bourg St Maurice in the Savoie , across the Massif Centrale, towards Périgueux and a part of France as yet unchartered.

We saw the house in a hail storm, with hail stones the size of golf balls.  We fell in love.

Main house habitable?  Check.  Lots of storage space?  Check.  Big enough to run the dreamed of B&B?  Check (look at those bathrooms).  Land?  Check.  Swimming Pool?  CHECK!  And it's got a cottage to restore.  Definitely check!

We signed the Compromis de Vente (the contract between us and the sellers saying we wouldn't pull out) and drove back to the UK whooping like school kids.

We put our house on the market, told the school TYO would not be returning in September, The Old One was already semi-retired so he didn't have to do much and I forewarned my boss that I would be going on holiday in August and not coming back!

We sold our 2 up 2 down with a postage stamp garden in West Sussex for a good price, the removal van appeared, we packed up, and the rest, as they say, is history.

11 years on life is still good, The Young One is more French than English and we have never ever regretted the decision.

I did do B&B for about 4 years, but juggling summer with guests and friends was exhausting and we stopped doing it.  I now look after a gite across the lane for friends and that suits me just fine.

We've had our run in's with the French health system, the tax system and various other bureaucrats, but who hasn't.  The French have their way of doing things, as do the English.  When in Rome do as the Roman's do (and don't whinge in public if you don't like it.   There are ferries back to the UK every day).

We have built up a great circle of friends - some have crossed our path, some via the internet.  We mix with the French and the English, go to the soirées at the salle de fêtes and have helped with the vendange.

I taught English for 3 years at the local primaire when The Young One was there, but gave it up when she moved up to collége.

I've somehow managed to get myself on to a sort of Committee for the collége, set up to welcome English parents and their children to the area and to provide a helping hand.  Goodness only knows why, but I felt that everyone was so supportive to us, especially the French, that it is a way of putting back into the community.

And in between all of that, I quilt, The Old One does his DIY (the cottage is still not restored) and we spend our summers mowing the lawn, entertaining friends and swimming.  Who could ask for more!

Oh.  Just one more thing.  Why did we move?  Well - wouldn't you if you were worried about the education system in the UK, were sick to death of working just to keep the child minder in chocolate biscuits and wanted a better life for your daughter?

Just think - if we hadn't moved I wouldn't have started quilting (no time), would probably be whinging blogging about life and the education system in the UK and wouldn't have "met" any of you lot.

So that's why we moved to France.  Hope it's answered some of your questions.

Now if you'll excuse me I've got a garden to tend to.

By the way - if you have a spare 5 minutes, can you cross your fingers. TYO has got her Brevet Blanc (Mock GSCE's) today and tomorrow. As I type this she has just finished her French Dictée.  It's also her 15th birthday.  15!  I can't believe it.


Michele Bilyeu said...

Wonderful story, Clare. Great reading, too!

nicolette said...

Lovely story, I would have fallen for that house too!

It is as if I read part of our story, but we never made the big decision to move for real. Mr DC has worked for French companies for over 35 years, so we spend a lot in our beloved France.

The Périgord is my all time favourite place (you might have noticed...LOL) though it has been at least 20 years since we last visited.

It’s wonderful when you live your dream! Enjoy mon amie!

Wendy said...

Took a tour boat up the Rhine once and waved at France. That's about as close as I've come so far. But living in French Canada, I've been considering a trip across the Pond with my very French speaking DH. I'm getting ready to start my next French class and I'm hoping it goes better than the first!

Connie W said...

I enjoyed reading this and applaud you for following your dream. I would love to visit France and perhaps the two years of HS French classes might be finally put to use ... only, of course, if I needed to say "shut up" or "close the window" ;^)
Glad I've met you here in blog-land!

Violette Severin said...

It's a lovely story. I think every person should live at least one year in a foreign country. Not only is it exciting, it expands your political viewpoints. My family cargiver duties recently ended with the death of my father and I considering a temporary move to the UK. I would love to take some goldwork classes from the RSN.

Cher said...

what a lovely glad you could pull your dream off. we honeymooned in Paris and drove down to Camargue-back through the Gorge and Paris...a fabulous trip and I would love to return again-if we ever can afford it !

sophie said...

I completely understand the appeal. When I lived (Antibes) and worked (Sophie-Antipolis) in France, it immediately felt like home and I thought I'd never leave . . . and still sometimes regret the decision to come back to the US.

Pam said...

Thanks for sharing, nice bit of your history.


KathieB said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I had a wonderful week in Paris a few years back and would so love to be able to explore more of France. So envious of your being able to explore so much of it in order to make your decision to move. Sounds like it was absolutely the right move for you and your family.

jovaliquilts said...

Interesting, thanks for sharing! What a gorgeous house.

Amanda said...

To think that you actually managed to do what so many people dream of. The house looks lovely and it really sounds as if you completely landed on your feet.

belinda said...

Well...I know a little bit more about you today than I did yesterday....interesting knowing your your French or what??? If you live in the UK are you British....?????????
This little ole Texan doesn't know much about these foreign things! HA!

Kathleen C. said...

Clare, thanks for sharing your story with us-I had wondered how you happened to be in such a wonderful place. Since my moves were the normal move-with-the-job kind, then back to my hometown, it's great to hear stories like yours. Kathleen C. in CT

YankeeQuilter said...

Thanks for answering the question I always wanted to ask you!

Sew Create It - Jane said...

What a lovely story about a leap of faith. When you follow your heart it may seem crazy to some, but at least you can look back without regret.

Kathie said...

what a great story, I think you did the right thing too.
We worried about our children's education moved to a town with the best education in the state, very expensive for us and we had to give up a lot but it was the best thing we did for our children.

The Devil Dog said...

That is a neat story. Thank you for sharing. My sister in law went for a month long seminar in 1973 and never returned. She married a Frenchman, had two children and lives somewhere in a 13th century villa. I am glad you moved and started quilting.


ROZ said...

Now that's a wonderful story. Someday I'll have to tell how we landed in California. Viva la France!

kwilta said...

Not surprised Clare you fell in love with France - you are now living the dream, My husband and myself first holidayed there many moons ago - each time we return this love affair with France never diminishes.

pascale said...

Very interesting. Compare it to use who moved to England in 1997, and are still there. We went to have a better quality of life here in Swindon, compared to long hours in Paris. Our daughters are more english than french, and I have been able to do lots of quilting, until I started to work 3 weeks ago. Now I'm running late all the time...hmm.
Funny my first one is also 15.
Love to read your blog.

be*mused jan said...

So interesting and so brave! I have not had the opportunity to live in another country, but each of my children has (and now, do!...Molly lived in Lyon for a year before moving to Japan) and I think it's a wonderful thing. We do miss them, but it nudges us to travel more than we probably would otherwise.

Chris said...

Hi Clare, I loved reading this story. My husband and I did a similar sort of lifestyle move in 2002 and have never looked back. Life is good where it is slow paced and the people are friendly. You can see a bit more of rural life by following the link on my Dye Candy Blog to my other blog Greetings from the Shady Grove

sewkalico said...

I found it a wonderful read and it sounds like it was the right decision for you all!

vernie said...

Oh Clare, such a beautiful life,you have all lived the dream,thank you for sharing.So happy you devoted some of your life to quilting otherwise our paths would have never crossed xx