The couple had crossed the Channel with Karen's young son, leaving his older sister in boarding school in the UK, and had high hopes of making a success of French life.
But rarely do plans run smoothly and despite working hard on the business, Karen slowly began to see a change in her family and herself, taking to writing in her journal to help tackle some of the problems.
Soon the journal became a source of relief, ensuring Karen stayed clear of the gin and anti-depressants, and formed the framework of a book that she went on to publish just before moving back to the UK called Faking It In France.
Here Karen talks about her time in France.
Craig McGinty: What was the reason behind your move to France?
Karen Bates The reason we moved to France in the first place was. It was really on a whim. I mean, it might sound absolutely crazy, but we sold our business and we had some money in the bank, and my brother already lived in Brittany.
We'd spent a lovely summer there with him and touring around with the children. It was my third marriage, and Terry and I were together and we had some money in the bank. I said, "Oh, I know, let's go and buy a little holiday home in France."
We'd been watching all the programs on the television where you could buy something for about £10,000 and I thought, "Yeah great." Terry said, "We always can come over in the holidays and renovate it."
So, we went off with all these estate agents and had a look around and looked at some old cowsheds that still had cows in and different dilapidated buildings and thought, "Well, this is just rubbish because we're just not going to get a holiday. We're going to come over, we're going to works our socks off and what are we going to do?" The next day we were again talking to these agents.
They said, "Well, what's your plan?" And we said, "Well, we wouldn't mind living out here actually because my brother lives here with his family and it's quite a nice lifestyle. We quite fancy the idea of moving here." So they asked, "Well, if you're going to do that, how old is your son?"
"He's coming up to be eight," we said. And they were like, "Well, you should move now because, otherwise, he'll never learn the language."
Then they reported back to the office only to say "Oh, this one's just come on the market." By this time we just about had enough, but we went and had a look at it.
And honestly, we just fell in love with it and literally, within five minutes, we just turned around and said, "Yeah, we'll buy it. Yeah, this is the one for us."
We sold our house in England really easily, within a week of getting back to England after our holiday, and told everybody what we were doing, moved into rented accommodation which was in the October half-term and the following January, we moved to France.
We just really didn't think about it at all. I know that sounds absolutely mad, but we just didn't. We just did it.
CM: So what were your French language skills like?
KB: Rubbish. Rubbish. Rubbish. I got a grade four at school, but Terry hadn't even got that.
My son Ashley was coming up to eight in April, this was January, and my daughter, Sarah, she was 12, but she was at boarding school in England and she wanted to stay at her boarding school because she loved it. But she agreed, she'd come for the holidays. She'd spend all the holidays with us and she was quite happy for us to go, no problem, she had her dad in England and that was fine.
Basically we just embraced it. We didn't have much and spent the next couple of years renovating the house and ran out of money and then thought, "What are we going to do?"
And Terry was a carpenter and went and talked to the chambres des metiers and set up a business, which was carpentry and we did that.
CM: Were you then involved with the carpentry business as well or do you try to find something yourself?
KB: I did the books, I sort of did all the tax returns. We never employed an accountant, which I don't know if that's a good or bad thing, and we never had excess in tax bills or like that, so we did something right.
But the constant fights with the RSI (Régime social des indépendants) were absolutely unbelievable. So many things that they just got wrong. And it's just unfathomable how they could actually get to some of the equations that they got to and that was really draining.
We stuck it out for nearly 11 years. And by the end, we had a really good highs, but we had some terrible lows. We'd had situations where we'd have work booked in, where we'd worked for a client before, and then naturally, we were due to work start work on Monday morning and booked our labourer, as well, to work with us so we had to pay him because he was an auto entrepreneur and we paid his monies.
And the client would phone up at 9:30pm on a Sunday night and say, "Well, we've changed our minds. We don't want the work to go ahead," but because we'd worked for them before, they were a friend's friends, we hadn't take any deposit. And then suddenly you know, "Oh my God, what are we going to do? We've got no money. What are we going to do?" That was really hard.
CM: Were you being hit as well by a bit of the downturn?
KB No, I don't think so. I don't think we ever really experienced the downturn. The problem, we hit the nail on the head at one point, and that was it wasn't that the work wasn't out there. It was that people didn't know we were out there.
And then, when we became more proactive with advertising then that helped. There was always work out there, if you looked for it hard enough. The hard part was you had to work really, really hard in order to make a living.
CM: What were some of the signs then that you thought, "Oh, I don't know about all this."
KB: The biggest one was when Ashley, he had been in the French system since he was eight. He's totally bilingual and you see, he got his baccalaureate, and he did really, really well.
He just turned around one day and said, he was 18 by now, "I've had enough. I'm going back to England. There's not enough here for me." We were in Normandy, very, very rural Normandy, and practically lived in a field. We didn't have any near neighbours. And he just said, "No, I've had enough. I can't stand it."
CM: How did you handle it then yourself personally? I know you have spoken of a notebook. Is that what started the writing?
KB Really bad, yeah. What happened was, prior to this about four or five years before Ashley said he was going to go, we had a really good friend, and Ashley was friends with her son. And she couldn't find work and ended up going back to the UK and it just about broke my heart. She was like my life line and we did all sorts of things together including going to Weight Watchers on Friday nights and then we'd go to the casino, believe it or not.
We had a laugh. We were like most people, but she went back to the UK, and then, I thought, "Oh, this is it. What am I going to do? I've got no other friends that I'm that pally with." Without realizing it, I went into some kind of depression. I did stop trying. I stopped going out, I stopped trying to make friends with people and socialize because I was so hurt by having to say goodbye constantly.
CM: Do you think there are other British poeple and expats that are in a similar experience or have similar feelings?
KB: I think so. From the response I've had with my book a lot of people have said they felt sad. I think the difference is... Well, there's two differences.
One is, emotionally. If you're prepared to go out there and just keep trying, enjoying everything and just really go for it, and not be frightened to join up with the different clubs and really be proactive on the social scale.
And the other is, if you've got money, if you're retired or if you've got a regular income, you haven't got financial worries, then obviously, that's a big plus point as well. And you can do all the things that make life enjoyable.
So if you're a pensioner and you belong to the local church and you've got a good social network, then you're probably having a whale of a time and really enjoying it. Do you know what I mean?
It is a very personal thing and it wasn't France itself. I still have a big love affair with France, but it just, I don't know, it was just too big almost.
CM: Did writing the book help?
KB: Yes enormously and ironically since I've actually moved back to the UK I've obviously been doing an awful lot of social networking, so I've met loads of different people over the internet who've come back to me and said, "Oh, your book rings true with me. That's how I feel." And we've become friends from that.
And also, just writing the book, and just having something to do because with the success of the first book, and people say, "When is the second one coming out?" So, I'm busy writing that. It's actually given me more of a purpose. So it's quite ironic, it's actually a therapy. Therapy of the writing. It has actually really worked.
CM: So how would you change France? Say, you were sat in the President's chair?
KB I would not change it. I mean, this is very personal, but I feel that because he was an artisan, we did it by the book. We were working predominantly for English people, but we had a lot of Finnish clients, German, Dutch, but predominantly English clients, and they didn't want to pay you cash. They wanted a cheque. They wanted a receipt and everything has to go through your books.
What we found out was that lot of the French, they hide money, they do lot of work on the black. They put a lot away that doesn't even get seen. And this is the problem with the economy because it's not all being declared.
But the French people understand how it works and they're quite happy. But the English people, they're saying much like, "Oh, gosh, no. You don't people cash because if you do... " Too honest for their own good, you might say.
And I don't think it's a good system. I think it's terrible because it's not doing the country any favours because by hiding what they're making it's not going back into their social system and that's what's causing the problem.
CM: What are you missing about France now that you are back in the UK?
KB Oh, loads of things. Only the other day, in the supermarket I was looking at these silly little things and saying, "They're not lardons." Obviously, we can't do lardons.
Cheese, we're looking for some cheese, for the raclette, and we couldn't find any raclette cheese. It's just phenomenal.
Yeah, things like that and it's wonderful to broaden your horizons and to try new things because we've definitely embraced the food side of France. It's a beautiful country, but what we were doing now is to save France for our holidays that we'll be able to.
And hopefully, making money in the UK, we'll be able to go back and actually enjoy the things that we could not do because we didn't have the money to do when we were in France.
Website: Karen Bates
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