It seemed like ages since we had come back from France in August but the time had not been wasted. Plans, bookings, lists and more lists – I AM the epitome of a list maniac. But now everything was happening with military precision. We’d caught the overnight ferry to arrive in Avoise first thing on Saturday morning. We spent the day grocery shopping and whipping the garden back under control for the new owner.
The French, it appears, are not too concerned about being able to move straight into their new home once they have vacated their old one. We had had to fight hard to get the completion dates of our sale and purchase in the same week, never mind within a couple of days. As it was, we would be having one night with no place to call home – and nowhere for all our belongings. To solve this problem we had planned to move half our stuff (boxes, garden tools and so on) to our friends’ garage down the road and keep all the furniture in our little hire van overnight, moving it into the new house the day after. We were due to pick up the hire van on Tuesday, so Sunday and Monday were spent trekking backwards and forwards with the stuff that was going to be stored in the garage down the road.
Now, it’s only about 80m between the two houses but it’s a one-way lane so between us we worked out a brilliant system of filling the car with boxes, which Colin would drive down the road, with me following with something too big to go in the car…bikes…garden tables etc. We’d unload them into the garage and then I would belt back up the lane to start shifting the next lot out while Colin drove off down the lane, through the village, up the hill and round the fields to come back down to the house from the top of the lane.
The whole process was further complicated by the fact that we had a massive pile of firewood stacked in the cave at La Tourelle which needed to be moved to our new home. I hadn’t actually considered the fact that we might be moving when I reordered 3 years’ worth of firewood last autumn. As the minimum order from our local wood mill is 4 stères (a stère of wood being the equivalent of 1 metre high by 1 metre deep by 1 metre wide) there was a large amount of logs that had to be removed from the cave, stacked carefully in the boot of the car, driven down the road, removed from the car and stacked neatly in the garage… over and over again.
By Monday evening we were exhausted, our arms felt like they had been run over by a steam roller but half our French life was now neatly stored away down the road, to be collected once we had moved into the mill.
On Tuesday morning we were up bright and early to drive into Sablé to pick up the hire van. Getting it into the tiny courtyard at La Tourelle was a bit hair-raising as the old stone houses along the narrow lane open straight onto the street, with no room for error. How Colin managed to reverse through the gates into our little garden without needing recourse to the additional damage insurance we’d taken out, I don’t know.
We started loading the furniture immediately. Our friend Jean-Paul was due to arrive after lunch, having insisted that he would be round to help load after his night shift. But to be honest, everything was going really well – every square centimetre was used to pack 13 years’ worth of lovingly collected furniture. “Last piece and we’re done”, Colin called as he went back into the house. As I waited on the tail-lift, he came out of the kitchen door with my mobile phone in his hand. “Three missed calls”. With La Tourelle being built into the cliff, mobile coverage is dire at the house. We’re always picking up voicemails for calls that never made it through. The first message was from Maître G, our notaire. “ Madame Coles, please could you call me as a matter of urgency. We have discovered a big problem.” A second missed call from her a few minutes later was accompanied by the same message. I tried to call her but by now it was midday and the automatic answering service helpfully informed me that the switchboard would be closed for lunch until 2pm. With a sinking heart I listened to the third voicemail – this time from Chris, the estate agent. Still stood in the back of the van I shushed Colin as I listened to Chris’ crackling voice telling me that Maitre G needed to talk to me immediately. “Don’t worry, the completion on your sale for tomorrow is all fine. But she says that she urges you to seriously consider pulling out of your purchase!”
Sitting on the floor of our empty echoing living room with the landline phone pressed to my ear after two of the longest hours wait of our lives, I listened as the notaire explained the problem. What am I saying? It wasn’t a problem – it was a DISASTER!