The fastest talking chef in le Sud Ouest…


Part One

The eve of the Rugby world cup final in 2003, Rocket and I have flown into Toulouse on the late evening flight, we are embarking on an emotional journey that is to last for over ten years and which continues to this day….

We have collected the keys to our French home, our first real home together and we are as nervous as a pair of kittens.

The process of buying abroad can be fraught with danger, is undoubtedly dogged by bureaucracy and with only the most basic grasp of the language can be immensely stressful but did we let that bother us? NO! To a large extent we were in ignorant bliss and it is only now looking back on it that I shiver when I consider what could have gone wrong.

We had completed contracts two weeks earlier ‘remotely’ as we had been unable to leave London on the date allotted by the local Notary…. We collected the keys from the local agent, picked up a couple of plates and some cutlery a saucepan, a kettle, a duvet and a portable TV at the supermarket in Toulouse. We planned to camp out in our new abode. Now don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t entirely slumming it, as we had for better or for worse, bought some of the vendors bits and bobs. We were happy but worried as we drove into the courtyard in front of our new ‘dream home’.

Worry number one out of the way, the house was still upright, you may laugh but this was a genuine concern! (It still is, every single time we arrive).

No2 – the keys fitted the door and No3 there was no one still living there and claiming that we had never bought the place, and that it was all a dream. Hooray! It’s plain sailing from here on in.

A good nights sleep in the pitch dark (have a I lost my eyesight in the middle of the night? dark) and we threw back the curtains:

Surprise No1 – Mountains?

We had viewed the house and others in the area all though one of the hottest summers for years in both France and the UK and were repeatedly told by the lovely vendors about their fantastic view of the Pyrenees. We kept laughing about it once back at the local B&B’s we stayed in throughout the various long weekend searches, bless them we said, “we like the area anyway they don’t have to pretend you can see the mountains”. We thought the smell of baking bread and delicious coffee also made for a nice touch. We were buying in France because we had a very small budget so our viewings were eclectic even for France. One property we viewed was marketed as having 3 acres of land. Puzzled as to where this lovely garden might be we asked the agent and the owner to point it out –they kindly indicated the cliff face that rose up behind the house. So a vertical garden – how lovely! It also had a lift with no sides that played lift music I could go on all day…

Back to the tale….so when we eventually arrived that fateful weekend in November “Winter” and looked out into the morning to survey our purchase in earnest we were stunned by the sight of enormous snow capped mountains, beautiful, can’t take your eyes of them stunning, mountains. Visible now as the heat haze of summer was long gone and the snow provided an almost ethereal quality to them. Since then, people we know less well have complemented us on the view from the shack saying that we had chosen really well, so we don’t contradict them… When visiting for the first time in the summer– or on a cloudy day in winter we have long since stopped insisting to our guests that there is a fabulous view. We just wait until they see them for themselves it’s just easier than trying to convince them.

Surprise No2: walking across our new enormous bedroom to the windows facing to the rear and over our few acres of land, Rocket said he hoped the grass wasn’t too long. Well – it wasn’t and there was a good reason for that: Goats.

Now, the vendor had kept goats…and as we glanced as each other nervously it seems we also had ourselves a herd – or is it flock? I am a total towny. The fact that we had to fly back to London 2 days later, was not the least of our concerns as we peered out at the pretty little things (30 or 40 of them) the elderly neighbour at the bottom of the garden was screaming at them and waving her broom wildly whilst they demolished her formerly impressive vegetable patch. “God, we’ll have to apologise, should we offer to pay her? Take her a gift, as an introduction – what is French for goat?”.

To be continued another time…


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