Dark early morning, Saturday, December 14th 2013.
Feeling like burglars, unlocking our own front door, through the empty, furniture-less living room to the kitchen, grab Wallace the cat and stuff him into a travel basket. One whinging cat-in-a-box, squeezed into the back seat of the car between cases and boxes of food and we’re off… goodbye to Lindfield, Sussex and the UK, on the start of our French adventure.
It all started, I guess, for me from an early age, with day trips, duty-free plunder trips, field trips and holidays across the English Channel. For Delia, possibly more whimsical imaginings of French lifestyle and culture. Always to be some time in the future, the decision to actually emigrate… for me, finally triggered by the mortgage, the one and a half hour commute and working for increasingly younger idiots – or not! For Delia, a lesson as to what happens when I am bombarded with emails of French properties-for-sale for 5 years. A dream become a reality, something she hadn’t really expected would actually happen.
So, an early morning drive to the Eurotunnel and its car park watching display boards – the terminal aspires to be an airport but actually it is just a small railway station with pretensions. After an unexciting journey through the tunnel we’re off into the Normandy countryside, mostly indistinguishable from the Kent countryside. Uneventful drive south, apart from arguing with the satnav wanting to send us via Paris. We stop at services for a delicious coffee (its illegal in France to sell bad coffee) and onwards, 700km to Cherveux, nibbling junk food as we go, through the day and into the dark.
Why Cherveux? Our research (internet and road trips) had narrowed down to the Poitou-Charente and Northern Aquitaine – our parameters being sunshine hours and property prices. Wanting to rent whilst house hunting, meant a gîte with broadband for a couple of months. Not too many winter rentals so we found ourselves somewhat north of our preferred area but figured we could get around.
A phone call to the neighbour of the gîte owner (who had left for their winter travels south to Morocco) talked us down from the autoroute, past Leclerc hypermarket (pronounced “leclair” not “leclerk” as we found out later and experienced their wonderful éclairs) and eventually through narrow roads to our spaceship and its windows that looked out only onto sky and stars.
Today – no champagne to celebrate our first year in France. Because we’re in Australia. Aus’ is where, 8 years ago I proposed and (as history shows) was accepted. Just had a family gathering with lots of bubbly and where they were all much kinder to me than 8 years ago, no sarcastic pommie jokes – perhaps they’re waiting for Boxing Day?
“Government Lake” in the interior of Rottnest Island