Tuesday, 25 September 2012

The French project is green-lighted

Late yesterday afternoon, the final piece of the jigsaw that is the French project dropped into place and as far as we are concerned, the project is now definitely on.  The only thing that could stand in our way is something strange and legal - probably the action of a Mayor.  But there is no strong reason to think that this will happen.

The torture that is French admin continues of course.  We haven't heard from the Notaire about the documents that Wife has to sign to enable her to miss the closing meeting.  And we don't seem to be able to open a bank account in France quite yet.  The bank who are lending us euros as a hedge against our euro-denominated asset, don't seem to want to let us have a bank account to pay them back from.

Technically we are in our "7-day cooling off period" at the moment.  This ends on Thursday and we will be paying the deposit early next week.  Some news from the vendors suggests that the Notaire is moving quite fast and that we might complete ahead of our current target of November 21st, but I shall believe that when I see it.

So my priorities are starting to switch over to the first building project that we want to do there - the conversion of a spare room downstairs into a second bathroom in the main part of the house.  Our project manager is already warning us that we need to get quotes sooner rather than later, so I am drafting a plan.

I am also working on a firm budget for the furniture and fittings which we have to buy.

And I really should start to learn French from one of the courses I bought

So in two month's time, we might own this

Monday, 24 September 2012

Old furniture

One of the big issues of the French project is that of furnishing a huge farmhouse.  I have agreed to buy some stuff from the vendors, but there is loads more stuff required.  I have been gradually compiling a shopping list and as part of this process, took my mother to an Antique centre close to her home.  I had hoped this might have one or two pieces that might have been of interest - instead I took about 75 photos and there were dozens of things that might have been suitable.  And stuff bought here is cheaper than new anyway, even before the 10% discount that we expect to get as we are trade.

Maybe 6 items on this one photo that could be suitable

Just like the chair I admired so much at Gill's in St Jean

The most expensive piece I photographed - just under £500, or less than half the price of a comparable new piece

I have also bought four second hand books on decorating old pieces, of which Linda Barker's Just Junk has been quite an eye-opener.  There are half a dozen projects in this book which were exactly the sort of pieces that I see all the time at really low prices, yet were transformed in the book.

So our criterion for the French property is that ideally, each piece of furniture must be unique and not have been bought from a store.  Our look is "French country / shabby chic".  Each room must also be sparcely furnished.  And ideally I will have some fun restoring a few items on the way.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Astronomy photographer of the year

A couple of the daily newspapers have had photos from the annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.  Over the years I have often tried to take photos using my telescope but the skill required to do so has proved rather beyond me.  Yes I have managed some nice star trail photos, but they are pretty easy to do.  The problem has been any subject that requires the camera to be guided - these have consistently proved beyond me.
So the following pictures are my favourites from this year, all of which attest to my own failure as an astronomical photographer!
The whirlpool galaxy

Venus transiting the sun - something that sadly I won't ever get to see unless I live to be about 140!

The Milky Way over a town in Turkey

Orion and the Pleiades in Japan

The Veil Nebula

Star trails - the green lines are fireflies!

The seasons of Mars

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Four days in France

So I dropped Daughter at Heathrow on Tuesday afternoon for her flight to India.  In her usual confident manner, she strided off through security with not a single glance back at her fretting dad!  She is not back until December 2nd which is the longest time she has ever been away from home.  For the next 10 days or so she is touring North India - Delhi, Jaipur, the Taj Mahal, Varanasi, etc, then starts her work in Jodphur for the following 10 weeks.

Exciting stuff, but also the negative of not seeing her for so long


A test of our new plan for travelling to France is a big success.  The overnight ferry to St Malo disembarks around 8:30 and after a decent enough drive I arrived in St Jean d'Angely around 1:00, in time for some lunch before meeting Dave and Gill. 

This afternoon's goal was to open a bank account at the local branck of BNP Paribas.  Dave had arranged the appointment and had warned me that the lady in the bank was surprisingly aggressive about it.  So I am armed with Gill to act as interpretor.  The meeting goes OK but I do not have everything they seem to require for me to open an account, so that wil have to wait.  Odd when you think that the same bank is supposed to be lending me E160,000 to buy the property, yet seems reluctant to let me open a bank account so I can pay them back!

Will French banking bureaucracy let me open an account here?

I am staying at Gill's for the next three nights - her town house in St Jean.  This gives me three evenings to try local restaurants and tonights choice is La Scallion - widely considered to be the best in town.  I had the E23 daily menu and it was very good.  Rather oddly, the table next to me was occupied by 10 Scottish ladies, who seemed to be having a good time

The extremely pleasant La Scallion restaurant in St Jean


Breakfast of local melon and out by 9:30 to meet Dave for a full day of stuff.

Firstly, to the house.  Lots more photos to take, details to find out about the water heating, etc, but mainly to negociate to buy some furniture from the vendors as they are moving to a much smaller house.  I had sent a wish list to Dave a week or so ago, and the vendors were happy to sell us quite a lot of this.  But we did go round the house again in detail and suggest some other items.  It is pretty odd going round someone's house pointing at things to see if they'd sell them.  But in the end we have a long list of items we have agreed to buy for a total of E3,000, including an antique cupboard for E400. 

Hopefully this is worth E400, but then again, we did get lots of other stuff very cheaply

Our hamlet - our house is hidden by the trees on the left

After staying a few hours at the house, it was back to St Jean for a bite to eat and then round to a local insurance company to get a building / contents insurance quote.  This eventually came in at about half the quote I'd previously received from a UK company, so providing the cover is adequate, I shall be going with AXA locally.

Then Dave suggested we could go for a drive down to Saintes and he could show me where the major shopping chains had their huge stores.  On the way, we discovered that Dave and I share very similar tastes in music - so rare that I find someone who has heard the collaboration album by the Acid Mothers Temple and Gong!

Dinner tonight is at Le Cabanon, near the famous clock tower in St Jean.  I am pretty sure they served me the wrong main course, but it was nice all the same.


I have time for a quick wander round town this morning and have found a fishing tackle shop.  The owner spoke no English but I was able to discover the cost of an annual fishing permit and obtain a booklet full of maps showing good spots.  Chub grow to 4kg here apparently

Met Dave again at 9:30 in the local cafe in the centre of St Jean - I am nearly a regular there now!  Our first meeting this morning is with the Notaire.  He is a yound guy in his late 20s and seems sure we can do everything in two months, which would give the third week of November for completion and would suit me fine.  We also have to arrange for it to be just me who signs the final contract, as Wife can't attend - so the Notaite will act for her once even more bureaucracy has been dealt with.

Then it is back to the Annexe restaurant where Dave and I had lunch with a guy who runs a local property management company.  This firm will clean our house and pool next summer when the property is let out.  The service they provide is really excellent and I am really pleased to have found them.  We stay there for nearly three hours having a long and wide ranging discussion of all sorts of things, such as Dave's time as a road manager for the Grateful Dead in the late 1980s!

I could get used to Foie Gras followed by chocolate mousse from here.

After three days of quite intensive meetings, I was actually rather worn out tonight and was very grateful for Gill's suggestion that she would go and get btakeaway pizzas for dinner tonight.  But that is still investigating local restaurants, so that's ok.  I had been tempted by the local Indian restaurant at one point (!) but will leave that for next time.

For some reason I always fine it odd to discover an Indian restaurant lurking in somewhere like rural France


It is market day in St Jean and my last bit of local research on this trip consists of a detailed go round this.  I bought three Charantese melons and Oz Clarke's Wine Atlas of the World.  A surprisingly large number of oyster sellers I thought.

The boulangerie does a roaring trade on market day

Lots of seafood - the town is about 45km from the coast

Oysters for sale

The clock tower in the centre of town

Then off back to Cherbourg - a six hour drive.  A very good few days and the French Project looks in good shape.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Daughter off to India, me to France

We are into the last couple of days before Daughter is off to India.  Today was the last shopping trip to Oxford followed by packing and this seemed to go surprisingly well.  Daughter is now an experienced traveller it would seem and can pack three months stuff into one rucksac (including a laptop for blogging purposes)

I meanwhile, am getting ready for a four day trip to France to push forward the French property purchase.  All the paperwork for the mortgage has been sent and Wife and I have signed the Compromis and supporting documentation - all 65 pages of it. 

This is a tense moment for the French project.  Though we don't anticipate that the mortgage will be a problem, there is always the odd chance that it will be.  But the brokers are very confident.  My experience in Treasury leads me to believe that it is only when the transaction is finally completed and the money has moved, that you can finally relax.  Until then, anything can happen.

Two French language courses have arrived.  I am tempted to start on one but feel that might cast our deal into bad luck.  Also a French-English dictionary and a cook book.

Current reading also has a French feel

Ronald Hayman's biography of Sartre, and Sander's excellent book about Cahor winemakers

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Anna Karenina - first trip to cinema for three years

Off to the cinema for the first time in ages and a family trip prior to Daughter's departure to see the latest version of one of her favourite novels - Anna Karenina.  This is, it has to be said, a pretty odd version.  The sort of film where the director has definitely made it his own.  But I actually quite enjoyed it, as did Daughter though she did feel that Anna's husband was much nicer in the film than the book - perhaps Jude Law is only allowed to play nice guys.  Wife meanwhile, slept through most of it, perhaps due to having had 3 big glasses of rose wine in Jamie's Italian 

My favourite scenes - the rather odd dancing

Friday, 7 September 2012

A major step forward after my knee injury

My knee injury has continued to improve gradually and during the recent French holiday I was able to walk about ok with only the occasional wobble.

Back in the UK I am doing intensive physiotherapy on it, down the gym most days for a long swim and then a short jog.  I am now up to 40 lengths and 1500m.  The joint is clearly getting stronger.  Perhaps not quite yet 100%, but well into the 90s.  Yet it is only a few weeks ago that I could barely walk.

I am tentatively planning my first fishing trip in two months for when I get back from France in a couple of week's time.  What a disappointment it has been to miss two months of the season.