This time last year… was a week when I really started to get internet problems. I hope this isn’t too techie or dull for you readers, but it certainly kept me occupied… My main client required me to work on his website and monitor his office phones over the ‘net. This worked fine except that a change in ownership of my client’s main customer meant that that type of work was reducing but that he wanted me to do other stuff. That other stuff required me to connect to a secure server.
Any computer connecting to the internet is ‘given’ a unique IP address. Like caller id on your phone, the IP number is used by the recipient to recognise who is connecting. In the UK most IP numbers stay the same until the internet modem is reset, it might sometimes be months before it changes. However, in France, or at least in the spaceship the weather and the service provider combined to change the IP every few hours, on good weeks perhaps 2 or 3 days.
So the secure server’s firewall needed to know my IP in order to let me connect, being a third-party every time my IP changed, someone had to (be paid to) add my new IP to the list of allowed connections. Coinciding with this, Sally the landlord and Jim her husband returned early from their holidays and needed their modem back – switching my internet use over to a plug-in internet extender on the other side of our shared wall. Extenders like they used effectively halves the amount of internet traffic, slowing everything down; so much so that I could barely connect even if my IP address was allowed). After several days of tearing my (already limited hair) out I finally bought a 35m cable and with Jim’s help threaded the cable through cupboards and floorboards directly to their modem. This helped but the IP address situation was getting worse as the weather got more and more foul and often the internet was down for hours. Telephone and electricity in rural France is all above ground exposing to frequent disruption from falling trees and branches (often as not the cables might actually be fastened to a tree rather than a pole).
Eventually I solved most issues with a 2 band wireless extender and friendly neighbour who allowed me to connect to his modem with a different line in. Unfortunately by this time my usefulness to my client had declined and he had decided to wait until I moved and had a good connection with a static IP address. Now his business has moved on to the point where he needs me only as a diminishingly infrequent standby.
The upside is that now, of course, we have a pretty good internet connection, though the static IP isn’t of much use. Skype was impossible in the spaceship but we can use Skype for work (Delia’s at least) family, friends.
The lack of windows (only skylights) was getting to us. I was also a bit stressed (see above). The weather was windy, rainy and cold. The spaceship had no central heating and the living space never got above 13.5C. Thermal underwear and two pairs of socks helped but numb fingers don’t help with typing. We had a free-standing gas fire (that cost us 30€ a week to run) that we huddled around – it warmed our bedroom quite well since the heat mostly rose up to the ceiling where our bedroom was on the mezzanine. There was a weird electricity billing system of red, white and blue days where 5 times the rate red days were randomly allocated we had to check a three lighted box in the utility room to find out what tomorrow was to be. On White days, we could do our washing and use an electric fan heater to help dry our clothes we could also use the electric kettle rather than a saucepan on the stove. On Blue days we could at least use the kettle.
Delia wanted a bath (not that she smelled anything but nice – we did have a shower) and even though we had driven several thousand miles in our house hunting we need to get out of there. So we booked a night in a Chambre d’Hôte (B&B to you lot) – importantly with a bath.
We settled into our large suite, unfortunately the central heating hadn’t been on long (we were the only guests after all) so we had to make to with a paraffin heater (disturbingly, the French for is petrole) . Anyway the huge copper bath awaited and Delia turned herself into a prune. I did my best to do the same once she was out.
The hotel was registered as a Table d’Hôte – which meant that they could offer meals but that they must be at the family table. The proprietor’s translation of this requirement effectively limited her to sitting and talking with us at the beginning and the end of the meal. Pate fois gras and veal cheek casserole – a bit of a shock for Delia with her special diet and only recently losing her registered vegetarian status. The proprietor also regaled us with her creative writing skills, insisting we read her English and French children’s story that she was looking to find an illustrator for. Little we could offer except suggesting she replace ‘cock’ with ‘rooster’ to respect the sensibilities of her target age group.
We had been house hunting all over Poitou-Charentes and into west Limousin. 25 houses viewed and we had our shortlist of 5 houses. Close investigation of some internet quality maps revealed that only two were really in the running. One was a town house in a town called Ruffec – which would have been lovely spacious with a small but attractive garden, in a quiet side street but only a few dozen metres from cafés and restaurants. It was at the top of our budget at that time (140k€ but we’d have offered 115k€) but the internet was great. Our misgivings were that living so close to café ‘culture’ could be quite expensive and what would be the point of living in town if we didn’t take advantage of it? So we decided on 15th January and we made an offer on the house in Beaulieu. As it turned out the 30k€ savings on not buying the Ruffec house came in handy when Delia’s main client was headhunted by Penguin and no longer needed a virtual PA. We were to lose half our income during that January so a bit to spare on the house came in handy.
Christmas over and its time to look more closely at last year’s expenditure. We keep pretty close track of all our outgoings but its been difficult to predict how some of it might help budget for next year. The first 3 months’ utility costs can’t compare with here (30€ for a cylinder of butagaz a week is a bit different from 1450€ to fill our garden gas tank). It had seemed that each month we were spending roughly twice what we had coming in and I had been concerned about our savings. However, overall and to my surprise, allowing for planned expenses on the house we have more or less broken even. This, despite Delia only recently getting a regular client, and me not getting any new business (only my annuity, and my existing clients). So, thanks to all of you who visited and helped with the costs. And special thanks too to those who helped us afford our Australian trip.
2013 gave us lemons, 2014 we eventually made lemonade and with Delia’s new account and my new advert 2015 looks bright.