Monday, 28 June 2010

One week on

A week has passed since I wrote we were fighting our way through forests of cobwebs. We have moved on, we are now on grease. Not the screwed up economy type, or the arms flailing, white suited type but the two year old chip cooking type. It's everywhere, on the floor, on the walls, in the ovens, on the plates and in the cooking utensils. If you had seen the deep fat fryer, you would never eat chips again. ( I lie, I have, I will) I remember from reading my old Austin 1100 Haynes Manual, it used to say grease liberally. I am sure the book is here somewhere having been used as a cleaning manual

The village, we are pleasantly suprised, shows some signs of life. It is a very small village, approx 400 people and one shop, the baker. This shop is however worth a visit. It is run by the baker, who must be sixty, together with his "girlfriend" and his mum and dad. He sells a bit of everything from the papers to gas bottles but most importantly he makes superb bread. We were a little concerned about the size of the village when the Mayor when asked the number of inhabitants told us approx 400 and then stressed "but there are another 676 in the cemetery" I don't think they will be buying much coffee and beer but if the business needs a boost perhaps I could start selling flowers at the gate

There is an interest in the cafe from the locals which is encouraging. We had only been here a couple of days when the Keep Fit group came to ask if they could book their end of season meal with us. They must have been all over 60, in fact they could have come from the 676!
We have had enquiries from the local expats, There are a good number of Les Anglais around and there is a very good communication network, telling people what is on which we will make use of when we open.

The new equipment is starting to arrive, the ice maker, the gaufrier ( waffle maker) the panini cooker and of course the big plasma. We have had to watch the world cup on the internet but on Saturday we got the two dishes put up and now have TV. I am so glad that I was able to watch the Germany game in luxury! Like Frankie I hit the bar in the second half but maybe not for the same reason. At least we lasted longer than Les Bleus!

One thing I have noticed is how the people here are so helpful. The tradesmen turn up every day!.The plumber noticing I was attempting to remove some bushes told me to stop and that afternoon returned with a chain saw for me to use, saving me no end of work. Another day I was on my hands and knees cleaning, lost in a blast of Pink Floyd when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I jumped, not expecting anyone to be around, to find the postman had found his way to the kitchen to tell me he had a parcel for me. My recollection from the UK was that when you were expecting a parcel you would get a leaflet through the door and have to go and collect it yourself, not postie making an effort! The dechetterie ( tip) is another example. The first time I went there I parked and thought that my trailer was being stolen. It wasn't, the assistant had unhooked it to take it to the skip and unload it for me. Wednesday night we had a visit from the Gendarmes, about 10.30. they had seen a light on and come to make sure everything was OK. They stayed for an hour, talking about the community, the English / French mix, the best beer to sell, the French football team and just about everything else.

The more we see of life in the village, the more pleased we are with our decision. All we have to do now is get the cafe open and see if they like us as much as we like them

Saturday, 19 June 2010

We're IN

Ten months ago we had an idea that we could run a French cafe, and now we are here. Early start on Wednesday found us in the Notaire's office at 9am for the signing. He likes to speak English even to J and everything is "No probs". He has a Chelsea pennant on the office wall so he cant be a bad person, even if he does act as a a tax collector.
So keys in hand we go to OUR CAFE. It is almost habitable as the majority of the drainage work has been done that needed to be done although everywhere is filthy and there are thousands of cobwebs and spiders in every possible space. The plumbers fitting the pump outside have kindly ploughed the whole area for us. It looks like a field. I could have asked if I knew the French for " In England we dig trenches with spades, so as to allow you to lean on them and look in wonder at the hole. Why are you so efficient that you had to use a JCB?" But I dont know the French so we have a big area of mud. At least he buried all the weeds.

Thursday we moved. Reasonably uneventful, except for me flooding the kitchen removing the washing machine in St Michel and numerous arguments in the road outside as we loaded a car and a van. This was because it was changeover day from right to left side of the road, and some did and some didnt, so the traffic chicaned all day. Add to this the fact that the water board were resurfacing the road with three lorries and a digger at one end of the road, and telling people verbally the road was "route barre" whilst the council resurfaced the road at the other end with four lorries and a digger and they also manually told people the road was "route barre". Our car and van were in the middle and tempers were frayed, a lot of anglo saxon language was used and a number of shoulder shrugs were seen. I could tell it was bad, no-one was kissing.

Thursday night we slept under a blanket of cobwebs and left footprints in the dust as we walked around the hastily made up bed. I was not flavour of the month, especially as there is a chambre d'hote next door which is clean and spider free. Still, you dont always think of these things and midnight is a bit late to change your mind. Added to the dirt and dust, and perhaps more influential on J's demeanour was the fact that we had just watched an abject French display on the internet that had seen Les Blues all but eliminated from the world cup with a display that was to be almost equalled by England the following day.

Friday we cleaned
Saturday we cleaned

Sunday we will clean

There isn't anything else to do, we cant cook, no bottles of gas. We cant go out, dont know where any clothes are and have nowhere to put them yet even if we did know.

But it's great and we don't regret the move one bit

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Vendee

We leave the Vendee on Thursday and we will miss it. We have only lived here for 8 weeks but have had a holiday home in St Michel en l'herm for 5 years. The Vendee for those who don't know is one of France's 96 departments (counties) and is the area of coast between Brittany and La Rochelle, the most southerly part being approximately on the half way point of the country running North to South. The area is mainly farmland, little industry with a number of tourist towns along the coast capitalising on the almost unbroken sandy beaches that run along the Atlantic coast often behind a thin barricade of pine trees. This is the campsite centre of France and for a very good reason. The weather is on average about 4 degrees warmer throughout the year than London. If you haven't ever visited, do so.

In my previous writing on cycling, I talked about the area around St Michel. This is very fertile land, having been reclaimed from the sea 500 or so years ago. The area is very flat as you would expect and is criss crossed with canals, both large and small draining the land. There is an abundance of bird life, especially noticable are the huge buzzards, the hawks that are forever circling the fields waiting to pounce and the herons. There are herons aplenty, both the white and large grey varieties. The dykes are also the home to Ragondin, an otter like pest that has populated this area.

The people are friendly, the life style relaxed and the road are quiet. In the evening in the village often there is almost silence except for the birds, the owls that live by the church and the ringing of the church bell. The bell here chimes twice every hour at five to and on the hour. This was done so that workers in the fields would be alerted by the first set of chimes and could then count the second set

The one dampner on our time here is that the area is recovering from Xnythia a storm that hit the area on the night of 28th Feb this year. You may recall that the UK was due to be hit by a storm of high intensity and weather warnings were issued for a number of days beforehand. As it was it missed the UK but having crossed the Atlantic hit the French coast with 100mph winds and an 8ft sea swell at the twin towns of La Faute sur Mer and L'Aguillon sur mer breaking through the sea wall in a number of places. These are twin towns either side of the River Lay estuary and are only 5 kms from St Michel. The storm hit at night with a much greater severity than was expected. More than 50 people were killed in France, the majority drowned in their beds in La Faute.

The area is recovering, although the road to Aiguillon point is still closed. Houses are being demolished both because they are unsafe and also because Sarkosy demanded that houses built in unsafe areas be demolished.
Declaring it a “national catastrophe”, Mr Sarkozy also ordered an inquiry to establish how sea levees broke as the storms battered western coastal regions.

“We have to find out how families in France in the 21st century can be surprised in their sleep and drowned in their own houses,” he said at a meeting with local authorities

“We have to shed light as urgently as possible on this unacceptable and incomprehensible drama.”

The picture below shows the extent of the flooding. Thousands of acres were underwater and it is not yet apparent if this year's crop will be usable. Hundreds of animals were drowned. Farmers could not use their milk as it tasted of salt where the fields were flooded

We have attended a number of charity events for the victims of Xynthia. For a large number of the people of the Vendee the events of 28th Feb will never leave them. To all of us it is a reminder that nature is much more powerful than we will ever be. And last and not least perhaps we should reflect on how we view world events as the bare breasted SAM from Evesham said in the Sun " oh what a good job the storm didn't hit the UK. I had forgotten to take my knickers off the line and who knows where they would have ended up"

Monday, 7 June 2010


You will know I have an understanding for Call Centres. Having worked in Sunderland Contact Centre for MFI I would have, but BT.... WTF!!! They have no idea. I am trying to close my account and they want to charge me for a further 11 months of some hidden contract or other. This is because I didn't cancel the contract when they wrote to me in February and therefore must pay for another year. But I didn't cancel because I didn't get the letter. I have spoken to Tendulker, to Vijay Singh,to Ben Kingsley, to the laddie from Slumdog, to half of bloody Calcutta and they all say the same thing " If Bt said they would send you a letter, they would have sent it" and worse they believe it. This isn't a call centre I am talking to, it's a centre for brainwashing.BT are creating robots They have promised to find a copy of the letter they sent and ring me. They wont. If I owed them the money I wouldn't care and just walk away but I was in credit and they have cancelled my refund
I mustn't use my blog as a personal moaning board but just a couple of instances to tell you about. Alliance and Leicester I was told by one of their agents that I should just pop back to the UK to one of their branches so I can prove my identification. This was after they had rung me on my mobile to tell me that they couldn't use my mobile number to contact me about security checks as they didn't trust the number as I had only registered it 10 weeks before and they don't trust any number unless they have had it logged for 12 weeks
Saga insurance....I cancelled a policy and they have charged me a cancellation fee which of course I disputed, not because it was wrong but because I didn't want to pay it. I told them I wasn't told about it but they found the transcripts of the calls and said I was. They wouldn't however send me an mp3 of the call so I continued arguing. In the end, I had a call from their complaints department. She explained that I owed them the money and I had to pay. I asked what happened if I dont to which I was told they send three letters the last of which is recorded and then they write the debt off. I suggested that for Saga they should write the debt off now as I have no intention of paying and that would save them the costs of continuing their actions ( I only owe about £30) I was told that her job was to ensure that I had been contacted about the complaint and not to take any decisions. So they have now sent me the three letters, I havent paid and have no intention of doing so but they have followed procedure so I guess they can sleep easy. And as for me, Saga must still love me, they sent me three letters last week asking if I wanted life insurance, a holiday and in their quest to be all things to the over 50's, some of those little blue sweeties for keeping the sheets off you when it's warm at night.

Cafe update

Our "holiday" is coming to an end. We have just a week left before we move from the Vendee the 100 miles or so to Champniers Vienne to our new venture. So for the second time in 10 weeks we are packing up, sorting out what we take and what we don't and selling, giving away or dumping the rest. Prior to our move, there is work going on in the bar. The village has had main drainage installed during the time the bar has been closed and there is a legal obligation to use it. Therefore all of the drainage from the house has to be rerouted and must now run left to right to the main drainage in the road, instead of right to left to the fosse septique in the field. This requires a complete rerun of pipes, channels being dug through the concrete floor of the barn and right through the garden and the introduction of a pump in the cellar to help it on its way. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be spending thousands of euros to pump shit uphill, although many a time at work I felt that I was doing work of a similar nature. The work also means that the bathroom in the apartment has to be moved from the front of the house to the back, solely to allow the plumbing to work.We have been told that we will be functioning by the time we move in. I sincerely hope so, the local conveniences are those of the "need to squat" type. So what else is happening, the web site is being worked on as are the flyers we will use locally. J has a five day business course set up and a 3 day course enabling her to be the licencee. (Typical of France, you pay your €700 fee for the course, go on it and then they check your suitability to hold the licence) I have been involved in a lot of the key decisions, which model of TV for the bar and organising the satellite dishes installation for as soon as we move in, working out what the bar will stock. We have an accountant, a bank, we have talked to suppliers for beer, coffee and frozen foods and have spoken to the cash and carry.
All I have to do now is learn to cook, learn to run a bar and perhaps learn some French. I know all these are important but I am so involved in what is obviously the absolute key decision that I just haven't had time. You just would not believe how difficult it is to work our way through all the options of what the house wine will be !!!