now, over to Caroline Karthaus in our outside studio...'
"Last orders please!" © Perry Taylor 2004
first of October we called Mme M. It is almost two weeks since
we made our first bid and time to play the next round. She told us that
her Notary had advised her to wait until she had the Certificate d'Urbanisation
on the 1,3 hectares to the right of the house. He had also advised her
that her asking price was too low for that piece of land. Hmmm...They
have a saying here. Notaries; one third are in jail, one third just
got out and the other third are waiting to go in. (an opinion not necessarily
shared by the editorial staff of this publication. Honest.) We
arranged to pop by in the next week or so.
Sales figures soar in South West
Talking of popping in. We went for a coffee
at the café in
Tillac and tallied up how many of our postcards they had sold. Nearly sixty!
That's half a trolley full of groceries worth. We topped up their stocks
and took our still-warm baguette home for lunch al fresco. That evening,
our Dutch friends Marco and Marike pulled up in their old bus and temporary
home. We ate outside, into the night, camp fire flickering under a cloudless,
The next morning (and every morning ever since) we were woken
by the Elwood Howlamatic Cat Alarm going off. In a 45m2 house, even earplugs
don't work. One of us gets up and lets him out to go steal his breakfast
from the neighbour's cats.
Carry on at your convenience
An hour or so later, three white vans
pulled up and three engineers from the water and sewage company wandered
over, shook our hands and said that they had an appointment to check
the fosse septique. Unlike in the cities, rural France is almost exclusively
serviced by septic tanks (fosse septique). The laws today insist on modern
instalations. The size of the tank based on the number of bedrooms in
a house. These men were here to make sure that ours was up to standard.
Quite a few of the old houses we have seen had no sanitation or bathroom
at all. One has to be careful where one is treading when inspecting
the grounds around the houses! Anyway, Caroline led the way to the
field behind our lodge. An array of pipes, bendy tubes and meters appeared
and were immersed in the fosse and surrounding ground. A few nods,
a few notes and a few jokes and they were off again. Oh well, chacun
The last watering hole
Market day in Marciac. Walking across the square,
cheeses in hand, we saw that the Café de l'Hôtel de Ville
was closed. Bernard and Eric, who run the place, were standing outside,
taking a break from cleaning. They wanted to buy the owner out. He wanted
too much so they had decided not to renew their contract. End of story.
Perry was rather quiet all afternoon.
Our happy, helpful team are awaiting your call. So Skype us now!
Caro, have you seen my toothbrush anywhere?
A baker's dozen?
"Hey, nice shirt, Mr Mayor."
Caroline seems to have a way with the Mayors in the Gers. This
time, the victim was the Mayor of Tillac. We went to show him Perry's ink
drawings of the village and in particular the Mairie. He liked them and
Caroline's enthusiasm washed over him like warm bath. Before he knew it,
we were shaking his hand and promising to return with designs for his New
Year's card as well as that of the Conseil Municipal. Perry was most impressed.
Instant chat software
We installed SKYPE. What's that you ask. Well,
it's a free software that allows us to make phone calls via our computer
to other computers, FOR FREE. All you need is a microphone and speakers
to be able to have a conversation. FOR FREE.
If you don't have those, we can always use Skype to tap in text and
send instant messages to each other. Check out www.skype.com for
more information. It also works for Mac.
Sniffing each other out
Caroline had heard about a dog kennel near Eauze,
about an hour north of us. The owner, an English lady called Christine,
invited us over to see the premises and to learn more about Caroline's
dog training services. Christine's house is an old railway station. The
ticket hall and other fittings are still intact, though the last train
stopped there in 1962. Christine was a bundle of fun. So was one of her
clients who turned up with an Irish wolfhound and a Rhodesian ridgeback,
on lines thick enough to moor the QE2. A cup of tea and a lot of laughs
later we left for home, not forgeting to leave behind publicity for Perry's
painting and Caroline's doggy skills.
We decided it was time to make another trip to Mme M's house.
After the conventions of coffee, biscuits and conversation about the
weather, family and the old days, we raised our bid. Mme M was not folding
and kept a poker face. She said she'd discuss the bid with her family.
We are close to our limit. We may have to give in and look elsewhere.
Unfortunately, this is not Monopoly and we are definitely not the bank.
Letting Perry go shopping alone always leaves Caroline worrying
about what he will bring home. This time it was a simple trip to the
baker. We always go to the smallest, most old-fashioned of the three
bakers in the village. The shop is the size of a Mini Cooper and a fifth
customer would have to stand outside. Yet with so little space at their
disposal, they have a rather diverse range of goods on offer. For a baker.
Next to the books about gascogne history, cuisine, hunting and wine and
just below the glass case full of shotgun cartridges and fishing tackle,
there was a large wicker basket, full of chestnuts. The baker's wife
weighed up a kilo for Perry, eagerly explaining at a rapid tempo, in
her thick gascogne accent, at least three different ways to prepare them.
We followed her advice and cooked them in water, covered with fig leaves.
The smell was mouth-watering and they were delicious. This made the hour
of cutting a cross in each of their skins before cooking, and burning
our fingers trying to peel them afterwards, all seem worthwhile.
The mayor of Tillac opens his office between 9am and 11am on Monday mornings.
We went to show him our designs. He now has to show them to the Conseil
Municipal. Decision by committee. We won't hold our breath.
A knob of butter and a sprinkle of salt. Mmmmmm
First, catch your mushrooms, then chuck them away.
Farmer Morrel rounds 'em up
Perry getting his hands on breast shaped, edible mushrooms
One door closes...
We made a bid on the other house, closer to where we now live. Our
best bid wasn't high enough, so we've had to let it go. It just wasn't
meant to be.
Red sky at night, get off my land!
Living in the country, you don't go to the theatre, the
theatre comes to you. We went to see a travelling one-man show in Marciac.
The actor, a former farmer, portrayed the hope, humour, fatigue and loneliness
of a farmer's life in NW France. The accent and phrases were sometimes
hard to follow, but his animated mannerisms on stage, around a simple
table and chair, more than filled in the rest.
Just checking the walls, Dear
One Saturday, we were invited for drinks
by new aquaintances, (an English couple, our age) who have been working
on their farmhouse solidly for three years. As the terrace filled with
guests, we were eager to get a guided tour and find out how they had
renovated the building. His eye for detail coming from his days as a
graphic designer, it was done with taste and they had improvised around
problems to create a great space inside. It certainly confirmed that
anything is possible, but at what price? They think it will take another
year before it will be completed!
Not so magic mushrooms
One of our images of country life was of us picking
mushrooms on our land. Picture perfect. They sprung up the other day
after a rainy chill. Within a few minutes we had a full basket, offering
a big handful to our landlady. Taking a walk that afternoon, we took
one along to farmer Morrel, just to be sure. He looked at it, smelt it,
broke it in half, stroked it, pulled up his nose and said, "Non". Walking
home Caroline suddenly panicked and called our landlady to stop her from
frying up a mushroom omlette. In France, if you ever find mushrooms and
are in doubt, go to a pharmacy. They have posters showing edible, poisonous
and deadly fungi. They will gladly check your find and let you know if
they should go in the pot or the bin.
We were sent details of a house just north
of Mirande. An L-form farm with eight hectares. It looked interesting.
The agent met us on the market square, at the bandstand. It was Danny
le Vito. Same height, same hair and cuban heels. Arriving at the house,
we saw a tumble-down ruin ten metres away from the back wall. "It may also be for sale," he said. Without
it, we would not be interested. The house itself was full of original
features, wine presses, vats, floor tiles and fireplaces. As we walked
the grounds the agent suddenly jumped and started shaking his head. "There
is something in my ear!" He cried in agony. We watched in amazement as
he began thrusting a twig into his right ear to get whatever was in there,
out. "Aaaah!!!...Ca me fait mal!" Caroline offered to look in it with
her torch. "Ca vous ne derange pas, Madame?" Not at all, she said, holding
his earlobe and peering in. Nothing. He jumped again "Aaaaah!" We offered
to close up and leave the keys under a pot as he continually apologised
and drove off to find a doctor, the creature still wriggling in his ear.
It gave us time to look at the possibilities of the house and barns on
our own. He returned as we were about to leave. The doctor had squirted
in water and flushed out a still twitching moth!
The next day we went to have another look on our own and bumped into
an agent from another company, with his clients. He told us that the
ruin had already been sold. So that was that.
...and another one opens
We decided to make one final bid for Madame M's
house. We had been holding back and it was now time to make a serious
bid. Caroline typed out our offer in french and the next day we presented
it to her over coffee and biscuits. Looking at it, she said, "You really
want this house, don't you. I think I have to say Yes". After all our
chats, we had finally met in the middle and were both happy to close
the deal. The next step is a visit to the notary and the preparation
of the Compromis de Vente. This is a pre-sale contract stating the conditions
for both parties, such as surveys, hand-over date (in this case, no earlier
than the 1st of April -no fooling!) and financing. Looking at our matter-of-fact
faces, Mme M asked us if we were happy. After nearly eight months
of searching, it all seemed rather unreal.
Oooh er. We just made a big step. Yet one of many more to come
before we can finally sleep the first night in our own house. Watch this
space. We are not there yet, by any stretch.