The Start of the Search
In June 2003 Terry gave 6 months' notice of early retirement to the American pharmaceutical company that he worked for. We sold our Folkestone bungalow, rented a flat, still in Folkestone, on a six months basis and went to France to begin our search in September.
We took off in our 1972 V8 MGB Roadster and based ourselves in an small rural auberge in Haute Vienne. It looked like a house from the front with a small vineyard to the left and gardens and chickens etc to the right. Behind all this was a row of purpose-built "apartments". Two ostriches were in a compound right opposite our rooms and whenever we walked over to them they did a sort of dance bending down low and flapping their wings. They had such huge, dark eyes and Terry was certain that one of them had taken a fancy to me. In addition to a collection of chickens, geese and ducks, there were also three horses in a paddock at the back. These handsome animals were trotting horses.
The owners were a friendly French couple, Jeanine and Michel. Michel loved the sound of our V8 engine and displayed all the usual French hand signals of appreciation! The friendship was truly sealed on our return from house-hunting on the second night when Terry took him for a spin and as I heard the engine roaring round the bends on their way back, I saw that Michel was driving. (Ooops - he certainly wasn't covered on our insurance!)
We had initially done what many others do and searched on the internet for properties and so we arrived in France armed with handfuls of house "specs". We had previously contacted agents before our arrival and had made several appointments indicating the houses that interested us. However, when we arrived at their offices, they all invariably said the same thing - either the properties we wanted to look at were now sold (no-one had had the courtesy to inform us of this) or the agents assured us that they were not what we were looking for.
The start of our property search became rapidly more disappointing than exciting.
We had a basic criteria (we must be able to live in it immediately (once purchased) even if there was still work to be done to expand/whatever) and we absolutely didn't want to be isolated. We would prefer either the very edge of a town or in a small village. We must have a garage/barn (for the MG - the Jeep wasn't that important and could live outside) and we wanted a garden to relax in yet still have space enough for a veggie plot..
We were taken to an apartment in the middle of town above a flower shop; a barn out in the wilds that we still can't find; several houses that you could look at in the kindest possible light but still have to acknowledge that it would take a heck of a lot of work and modernisation before it could be called habitable. And so it went on. I have to admit that one night a few tears escaped and dribbled down my cheeks (and I'm not the weepy sort by any means) as I felt so depressed about the whole viewing thing. Excitement was seeping out of the window.
On a couple of evenings when we'd returned from viewing, Jeanine and Michel ushered us into their car and they'd whiz us round to different friends asking if they knew of a suitable house for us to buy. They were really keen for us to settle near to them. This was more exciting than what the agents were coming up with! Unfortunately, most of those suggested were way over our budget.
One evening, Michel said that they had a proposition to put to us later on and curiosity bugged us until the two of them joined us at dinner and told us that they were going to visit family in the South of France from October until at least the following March and would we like to stay at the auberge free of charge for that time (not open for guests) whilst we continued our house-hunting and would we look after their animals whilst we were there!
We were momentarily speechless at their trust in us after just a very short time - and at such a generous offer. It was with real sadness that we had to turn them down explaining that Terry had to go back to England to work out the rest of his notice. They were very disappointed but have remained friends and visited us since, though they have now sold the auberge.
To be continued ........