October 2004


'And now, over to Caroline Karthaus in our outside studio...'

"Last orders please!" © Perry Taylor 2004

House call
On the 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, star-filled sky.

Top cat
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 sa merde.

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.

Round two
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

Our house?


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.

An earful
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.


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© 2004 Perry Taylor and Two Can Productions, France.