AS our figs start to shrivel I am realising that our first French summer is blending into autumn and soon the wasp spiders will abandon us to the winter frosts, writes Frances Penwill-Cook.
One thing that I will look forward to this year is leaving the house in the right clothes and staying in them.
Gone are the days of cladding myself in knitted jumpers and scarves, to brave the cold walk to the Tube, only to strip off on the sweltering train, handbag in hand, hitting people around the face as I unravel my scarf.
It was a build up of these types of incidents and experiences that chipped away at London’s lure and what tempted me to the serene surroundings and simpler existence of the South-West.
For anyone thinking about making a similar move, these are some practical elements to contemplate when moving to France:
1. Be convinced by your removals company
Gut instinct is so important. Even professional-looking adverts in reputable magazines can result in a disastrous removals experience.
Make sure that you get the companies around for a quote well before your moving date. Firstly to decide who you trust in advance (not on the day when there’s no turning back) and secondly so the volume and weight of your goods can be assessed accurately.
Our removals man offloaded over a third of our belongings at the ferry, due to the van being overweight, on his way to France. He arrived so late for loading up in the morning that there was 'no time' for him to visit the weighbridge afterwards, as per our contract.
Not only did he not tell us what he had unloaded, he refused to tell us where our belongings were and wanted extra money for the storage, collection of the goods and extra removals trip.
A long story, but the upshot was that we didn’t see those belongings for another six months and some, like my husband’s guitars, we never saw again!
2. Talk to supportive friends (avoid the downers)
Some people will try and put you off. Some will think you are barmy or you’re too old (or too young) and some might just be envious.
Once you start the transition there will be seemingly simple things, like a receiving a phone call, that will be difficult. You might wonder (as I often do) what the person on the other end of the line is saying - is it important or are they just trying to flog a hamper of fish?
As you get used to the language and the way things are done it can be a bit bewildering. Positive energy and a can-do attitude is helpful, so talking to friends who support your move is a good way to boost your buoyancy.
3. Think three months down the line
Try and work out what you need in advance. For example, if your MOT is going to run out soon then renew it before you leave the UK. It will give you more options for car insurance once you’re in France.
UK companies with more than a 30 or 60-day allowance for driving abroad do exist and this is what I've learned about how to import your car into France.
I moved to South-West France because after getting married here in 2006 and spending time in this part of the country, I felt that the lifestyle, people and surroundings could offer a simpler, more balanced existence for me and my family.
More creative time for writing and film development, owning and rescuing horses (Oscar, our black Appaloosa was pretty much on his way to the meat man) and quality husband time, space for Truman our Lab and our bunnies were all high on the agenda - and so far so good.
I am progressing our 'paddock paradise', a natural horse boarding theory, which is something I could never have considered in London (where my horse share entailed a three-hour round trip on the M25 three times a week).
Being able to walk outside and see the horses we rescued is always magical as is living in the middle of our panoramic valley. We feel very, very lucky to have found this special place – even if we have got a hole in our kitchen floor and the odd dormouse for company.
Frances Penwill-Cook is a writer and filmmaker who lives in the Lot in South-West France with her husband, three horses, three rabbits (it was four until recently) and big, black, friendly dog. To read more from Frances visit her website, France and The Unknown.
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Sorry Frances, but you are wrong about wearing the same clothes all day. Here, also in the Lot, it is 4 degrees when I get up but can be 26 by early afternoon. Even in December you will need extra layers in the morning and evening, but oh what a pleasure to strip them off and enjoy the lunchtime sunshine.
Posted by: Caroline Mills | 24 September 2008 at 12:35
Good to meet a fellow Lot person! Your are right that the weather changes, but now I'm around the house all day changing, if necessary, is so lovely and simple! It means I'm always in the right clothes! That's like bliss after relentless commuting during London winters.
Posted by: Frances Penwill-Cook | 24 September 2008 at 18:33
I agree totally. When people ask me why I came to live here, I reply "the Central Line". I spent the best part of 4 hours a day, sometimes more, commuting 13 miles in to London. Never again!
Posted by: Caroline Mills | 25 September 2008 at 17:13