Monthly Archives: September 2009

that’s ‘y grecque’ to you

A month to the actual trip over to look at the house. It feels like it’s been decided a long time, but it’s only been a month since we came back and made our minds up. Time passes slowly when you’re waiting for something to happen! I’ve sorted the storage out and started looking at houses on estate agents’ sites. At the price I’m looking to get, they either come in as falling down heaps in need of rewiring, or as pristine ‘House Doctor’ houses that look like they’ve never been lived in. Does everyone live in immaculate cream-and-brown houses these days?? They are all identikit.

Funnily, mine is cream-and-brown in places – mainly because I like to live in a house that I could move out of at any minute – and I’m surprised by the amount of clutter I’ve got compared to the House Doctor houses. I have very little – lots of books, sure, but only in one room, and some cds – but these identikit houses seem to be without kitchen apparatus like kettles and microwaves as well. Maybe they’ve not been lived in yet? Perhaps they’ve been ‘dressed’? It seems to me like it’s completely a buyers’ market. If you don’t have a house they could move into tomorrow, then they’re wanting ten grand off the price. It’s got me worried. A four-bed-semi round the corner is on for £130,000. It’s not only four beds, but a conservatory. However, it’s a complete shit tip. I’d need to spend at least £10,000 on doing it up. It looks awful. Anne Maurice could definitely give them some lessons.

But if that’s on for £130,000… what will mine be??! Only £120,000?? who knows??!

It’s pretty worrying.

However, all reports confirm the market is on the mend and that there aren’t enough houses for first-timers to move into – which is exactly what mine is.

I shall miss it, extraordinarily. I shall miss sitting in the bath, contemplating my tiny domain on this earth, feeling safe and secure on this relatively safe and secure little island. I shall miss my garden hugely – got lots of plants I wish I could take – they feel almost like old friends! I shall miss my neighbours. It’s good to live in a place where everyone waves and smiles, even if it is an inner-city area. I shall miss my wardrobes, and the central heating, and lying in the bath, but I’ll mostly miss the things you can’t measure – the comfort and the protection that this place offers.

So I sussed out storage, yesterday. Is it wrong that I picked a place just because the man had a lovely telephone manner? He was extremely polite and friendly – something I fear the French are lacking, from all reports.

But tempestuous seas, no doubt, ahead, as I leave this port, this harbour.

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Il fait un temps de chien

So… we’ve started packing boxes. Wine boxes. I’ve had the pick of Sainsbury’s finest wine box rejects, and I’m slowly but surely putting our whole life into them. A couple of boxes of CDs. To take the boy band CDs or not? I seemed to go through a mid-twenties crisis in which I spent a lot of money on Hanson and the Backstreet Boys. Steve’s never had such a dalliance with pop, being metal to the core. A couple of boxes of vinyl. The fruits of my labour as a 16-year-old, Guns N’ Roses, Megadeth, Metallica. Surely Steve and I have many duplicates, and many on CD, but I’m not parting with them. I had to give up my Kerrang! collection and my tapes are now in the loft, so my vinyl is the last memory of what it was like to be 16 for me. They’ve been through all of my life, up and down the country, and they’re not going anywhere. Sets of magazines. I’ve got lots of back issues of Conde Nast and such like, which I’m loathe to part with because they were as expensive as books, and they remind me of my mid-twenties’ dream to live like a young Rajah, as Gatsby would have said. I had such high aspirations. The last hotel I stayed in was a fairly bland one in Marrakech. Certainly not one of the exclusive Conde Nast ones.

And I’ve started packing up Steve’s Haynes car and bike manuals. They’re his bibles, so leaving them behind would be like telling Moses he couldn’t bring the Covenant on his exodus. I don’t know when he owned half of these cars and bikes, but surely, engines are engines? Still, if I’m not throwing my Conde Nast copy of Mauritius away, I can’t force Steve to part with these. To be fair to the old Steptoe-alike, he is doing well throwing ten things away a day. I figured this was a sensible amount to start with and he’d become more savage as he went along. I was right. 10 things isn’t a whole house in one go. It’s not a skip outside where you can’t bear to see all of your treasures depart. It’s just a couple of extra bags in the bin every week. Barely noticeable.

Even Jake’s got in on the act, asking for his own boxes (which will as sure as eggs is eggs be unpacked many a time before April) although he was slightly disappointed we don’t have to drink all the wine in them in order to use them. I even got a:

“When we move to France…” from him yesterday. So it’s a when not an if. It’s all good. At least it’s determined in his mind now. I have a sneaking suspicion he might not live that long if he asks Steve to go and get him a can of Irn-Bru from the shop at 10:20 at night again, though. We had quite a gleeful conversation about Coke rations and not having a shop to go to this morning.

“Just think, we’ll be able to say ‘but the shop’s shut!’ knowing full well that this will get us out of any of Faunters’ demands for pot noodles/Irn Bru/Coke!”

“And we can ration him… he hates coming shopping!”

“And we can tell him there were no crisps left!”

“And that there was no chocolate!”

Steve wondered if Jake would soon catch on when he saw everyone’s lunch boxes at school, filled to the brim with crisps and chocolate, but I soon put him right. I know full well that French canteens serve lots of haricots verts and other vile things. I feel like it might be a war, but the sight of all those other children enjoying(!) a plate of runner beans might make him feel like he should as well. He likes radishes, so you never know. I can’t see La Maman buying bottle after bottle of Nutella and worrying whether her petit enfant will eat the snacks she’s put in, so hopefully Jake will soon blend in.

Or else, he’ll make all the other children go on lunch strike.

I’d tentatively looked at house prices, and it hurt. I don’t think I’ll get what I was expecting. I’ve also been worried by the amount of houses that look like they’ve been professionally dressed. Immaculate kitchens, photo-free lounges, pristine bathrooms and bedrooms. All in lovely shades of cream and brown.

Luckily my house is mucho cream and brown, but even so, I’ve booked some storage and I’m planning on paring the house down to ‘best-dressed’ House Doctor style. I’ve watched enough lifestyle t.v. to know how to sell. October 1st is the date I’ll start filling it. Here’s to a quick and lucrative house sale, though I doubt it.

Jaques piaille

Today’s Jake’s first football match with the school team – he’s nervous but a bit excited. He was up before us today. This never happens. Not even at weekends. Thomas, the boy next door to me, is known for somersaulting out of bed within a second of waking up (usually about 2 hours before his parents want him to) with a smile on his face, ready for the day. Not so Jake. Jake is definitely that bloke out of the Cornflakes’ advert who improves over time and can become functional about an hour after breakfast. Even in the summer holidays he’s still in bed at eleven if you leave him sleeping. And believe me, that often feels like an option. However, I realised too much sleep is as bad as too little, and I took to waking him up. You have to time this just right. Too early, he’s moody. Too late, he’s moody. It’s a fine art. So to be out of bed at 8:00 on a friday morning – something’s afoot. Hopefully he’ll win and be proud. He’s actually really good at physical stuff. Last night he did a headstand first try (though the handstand eluded him)

“Jake did something today – something really hard – and he did it first time!” I said, as a warm-up.

“It wasn’t hard!” Jake argued (he likes to do this – whatever you say, it’s the opposite)

“Well, it is and you did it first time!” I said.

“I am Jake. That’s what I do!” he replied, matter-of-fact. I love him for that. He’s a real sweetheart. He hates getting things wrong – it’s almost pathological – and even when he’s right, he thinks it’s for some unknown reason, rather than him just being good at it.

Following the triumph of the headstand, it was a good time to broach France with him again. He veers from ‘I don’t want to go’ to being interested. I don’t think he has any concept of how big it is. However, having listened to his demands, I think we can indulge him. It’s a big move and we’re both really, really conscious that he’ll find it hard. It’s somewhat better that his cousins are moving to Scotland and that we’ve promised him the school holidays can be filled with old friends, but I’m secretly hoping he’ll get into it really easily and spend the summer with his new friends.

His list of needs is as follows:

  • the biggest bedroom (or possibly two of the smaller ones) – reasonable; all the rooms are huge.
  • an 80cc motorbike – reasonable; he’ll be able to ride it about, much to the annoyance of the neighbours. Is it a bad thing the petrol station is not 24/7 and only 10/4.5??! I can forsee the ‘oh, I’m so sorry! There’s no petrol!’
  • a tree house
  • a weekly visit to McDonalds in Angouleme – easy enough, since the supermarket’s right by it, as is Mr Bricolage.

Jake’s also worried about what he will eat. Bless. He lives off a diet of tuna-and-sweetcorn jacket potatoes, pizza, coco pops and chicken nuggets. If left to his own nutritional devices, he’d live off chocolate, lucozade, sour sweets, McDonalds and take-away. Not sure which of those things he doesn’t think France has, but nonetheless, I reassured him. He was satisfied that they have chicken kiev.

I’ve also suggested a webcam (which Steve seemed to think was for the purpose of doing stripteases with towels…. I’m not sure he really gets using it to just chat to people, not for ‘adult’ fun) and a laptop. What with Skype and MSN and a webcam and a microphone, it should make communication that much easier. Steve won’t use it (except for striptease with towels. Be warned, if he invites you to a webchat), I probably won’t (since my stripping-with-towel-days are over) and Jake might for about 2 minutes, since he’s a boy and they generally run out of things to say to one another after a minute and a half.

But we have a ‘kind of’ date in mind. Easter falls early April next year, so tying it in with the end of the tax year, the holidays and general family members being free around that time, I thought it’d be a good idea.

“I checked out when Easter is,” I said, to Steve’s back. He was playing Locked Up. “I think it’d be good if you could finish work on April 1st.”

That got his attention.

He turned around.

“Those are the words I’ve been wanting to hear all my life!”

Seems like I have a way of sweet-talking people and giving them what they want to hear. To some, it’s the promise of a medium three-piece chicken select meal with a chocolate milkshake; to others, it’s the promise of a date they can quit their jobs.

The idea will be that Steve goes out with an army of half-wits, family members, slackers and ne’er-do-wells to do the plumbing and the electrics. He’ll come back in May and we’ll stay in England for a couple of months, going over at half term and then again once Jake finishes school. Who knows – we might finish him early. As a teacher, I can hear my headteacher saying ‘use the last week productively!’ and I can also hear the scramble for the DVD booking sheet. I know which sound is louder. So, educationally, if he missed the last week, it wouldn’t be an ordeal.

Seems like a long time, but I bet it goes unnaturally quickly….

Quelle vie de chien!

So we’re preparing, and now it’s time for the animals to prepare. The Basil, a mighty and fearsome hunter trapped in a cat’s body, had to go for his microchip this morning. It’s the equivalent of an ASBO tag to him. For 13 years, he’s been collarless, ownerless, address-less: a perfect hobo. Now he’s got a permanent address and can be returned to me, wherever he chooses to wander. He isn’t going to like this, morally speaking. He’s an outdoor man by nature, untamed by society (though he only eats the finest cuts of fish or chicken, and he is partial to a comfy sofa) and now he can be returned, should he disappear. He can be tracked. It doesn’t sit well with this animal who tried to impale himself on a branch when I put a collar on him 10 years ago. It was as if to say: “Look! Do you see what your collar has done to me??! I’m going to strangle myself to death undertaking daring escapades involving trees!”

I meekly removed the collar and he’s never been collared since. A collar means subservience, entrapment, servitude. And it wasn’t for him. So the ASBO tag can’t be to his liking, really. But then, little of this will be… the rabies shot (which may or may not work), the blood test, the vet runs, the long journey, ending up living with a dog.

The Basil has been to the vet three times in his long life. Once because he had an abscess, the next because he was growling at his food, and the final time because he needed his teeth sorting out. I got looks from the vet as if to say I were a terrible pet-keeper because I hadn’t brushed his teeth. I felt awfully negligent, but then I would rather be negligent than savaged. Either way, those teeth weren’t getting brushed, with or without my bloodshed. Last time he left the vet, he was seven teeth the fewer, though it doesn’t seem to have impaired his ability to savage. This time, I was made to feel like a negligent owner – nay, brutal animal sadist, for taking a ‘geriatric cat to France to live out his latter years in warmth and sun, surrounded by rats and field mice… (And let’s forget about Molly for a minute)…  and I object to this ‘geriatric’ word anyway… My nana’s 80 and she’s just got back from trolling round Barcelona with her sister… having spent the summer driving ‘the girls’ (average age, 78) around France. One man’s 80 is not another man’s. Likewise, Basil might be 14 (that’s 80 in cat years informed my vet) but he’s a long way off pissing himself and needing his food liquidising.

So I’m kind of hoping he forgives me for the long journey and the injections and the ASBO tag. I’m kind of hoping the pay-off of the rats galore, an acre of land and several outbuildings will be to his liking. I’m assuming he’ll be able to rule the manor in the style he sees fit. Though I’m terrified he’ll disappear and take issue with the Molly Dog, or that he’ll enjoy it so much he won’t come in.

I can see it now. The Basil will be in the barn with Steve, both of them coming in to be fed and petted from time to time, and I’ll be in the house shuddering with Molly Dog, begging them not to take a bed into the barn for fear we’ll never see them.

The Molly Dog has learned a new trick of late. It’s to shudder horrendously when we’re eating or when she is left without Steve. It’s entirely psychological, and somewhat pathetic. If anyone saw it, they’d either laugh or report us to the RSPCA. I’m hoping the former. It doesn’t work, this shivering. She shivered all the way through last night’s risotto and few morsels came her way. So Molly and I can stay shivering in the house whilst the men-folk enjoy the best the barn has to offer, foraging and hunting.

Though my vet (not my lovely normal vet, but some stranger!) expressed a lot of concern about taking The Basil abroad as she said he’s geriatric. As if he’d rather live out his final days in Daubhill, Bolton, in the rain, the hail, the wind and the cold, having to put up with several young upstarts including next door’s cat, Jasmine, who terrorises him! Morally, I feel I can justify the journey, knowing that he’ll love it when he gets there, even though he might hate me forever for taking him. I’m sure he’ll be fine in the barn with Steve. Geriatric indeed!

Molly Dog is a different beast altogether. She’s two years old and a complete lush. She loves car journeys and new places, and she’ll love the space. Plus, dogs forgive you instantly for anything. It’s only cats that hold grudges. You could beat Molly with a stick, and if you then said ‘Come here, girl!’ she’d run to you like you were still her best friend. Basil still refuses to go near my mum, and she only brought him here on a journey of twenty minutes some 13 years ago. He looks at her with disgust and scuttles away hurriedly, with complete disdain as if my mother had once cast aspersions about his Queen. You can throw a pill to Molly and she’ll swallow it without a fuss (similarly with stones, pebbles, small toys, plastic pirates, water chestnuts and so on) but you have to cajole The Basil by tricking him and pretending there’s no good reason at all for you to be giving him a fine cut of tuna, just that you love him.

I don’t know why I personify my beasts so. I guess it’s just that thing where they’ve got so much personality, it’s hard not to think of them in human terms. Basil is definitely cut from the Rum Tum Tugger pattern; Molly, probably, from Tigger.

How these two will get along, I don’t know. Molly’s stayed here a couple of nights, and Basil’s generally stayed out of the way, but I can’t help thinking he’ll be stopping out in the barn a whole lot once he sees he’s been forced to have a new housemate of the canine variety. Heaven forbid Molly tries to play with him. He’ll be wearing her nose as a new hat.

Anyway, pet passports are being sorted, inoculations arranged, microchips implanted, channel-crossings arranged and belongings packed. It’s more ‘go’ than ‘not go’ although I suspect my brother’s advice of ‘keep your nerve!’ will be much required over the coming year or so.

Il pleut comme vache qui pisse

Following a visit to my father’s at the weekend, it seems he has a property going spare that just might meet our requirements. It’s rural – only about ten houses in the hamlet – yet close to a town with a primary school and a couple of shops. It’s ten minutes from Mansle – our family’s adopted home.

IMG_1914I wonder, just how is it my father owns the exact property we want? And is this a good thing? He bought one house ten years ago. He’s only just put new windows in it and some stairs. Chances are, it’s been left to the animals. “Les Serpents!” that Martine warned us about are probably rampant there. If there’s not at least one wasps’ nest, I’ll be disappointed. If there aren’t a family of feral cats living in the barn, I’ll possibly think about not buying it altogether.

Anyway, it has good views across the valley. Fields for miles around. A bakery down a hill (Hmmm. Joyous long bike rides back up the hill… not perhaps idyllic….) a bar in the nearest little village, and a bit of a river for Steve to fish.

Most importantly, it’s huge. No… it’s vast. It has, according to my step-mother Brenda, a barn big enough for two dozen parked cars, a thing (unnamed) for cows to put their heads through and feed from whilst you milk them, a stable, a bread oven, a small house at the side and ten good sized rooms in the actual house. Small problem. The walls are falling apart, but my dad doesn’t think it’d be too big a deal to re-build the front house wall. Hmmm. It’s got almost an acre of land to boot. It sounds like a dream. A dream and a nightmare. It’s not going to be anywhere near habitable for months. It’ll be the proverbial money pit. It’ll cost the earth and be impossible to maintain. It’ll be a full time job for both of us, permanently. My French is great for Moliere, not so great for Bob Le Bricolage. Neither of us will really have a job as such. Jake could go out of his mind with the vastness and emptiness.

But despite all of this, Steve got all giddy about making his own solar panels to heat the water, and I was planning the vegetable patch, what chickens we’ll get and whether we could manage a natural swimming pool. But I can’t help thinking what happened to George and Lennie in Of Mice and Men when they wanted to live off the fat of the land, and where that’ll all go wrong. Maybe Steve will take me out into a field and shoot me?

On the plus side, it’s finally sunny. Only been waiting for it for three weeks. But, here it is. Manchester sun. However, I’m stuck inside going through the remnants of my former life, trying to work out what to keep and what to take. It’s all getting a little too much. Whilst I haven’t worn any of my work suits for three years or more, selling them on ebay is traumatic. I can’t part with them. My beautiful, beautiful suits. For the last ten years, I have had an immaculate wardrobe with an array of beautiful suits. Sugared-almond pinks ones. Toffee-brown ones. Cream ones. Red air-hostess-alike ones. Soft lime green ones. Hot pink ones. Smartie-orange ones. Burgundy ones. Charcoal-grey ones. And then there’s all the black ones. The black Jackie-O-alike one. The pinstripe-mafia one. The vampiric one. The svelte one. The trouser suit one. The dress suit one. The cute one. The killer one. The pink-pinstripe one. The red-pinstripe one. The Chanel one. The Dior one. The Japanese one. The French ones.

And I can’t do it.

I’ve not worn them for three years, but I still love them. They’re a shell of me, part of my skin. They aren’t just fabric, they say something about who I was. They’re my work-happiness and each one is a small marvel of modern dress-making and fabric design. So how do I shed these??!

Even with a deep breath, it’s still hurting me!

The trouble is, whilst we’ll have plenty of room for them, I don’t need them, and they won’t do anything for me out over there (except give me comfort when I’m a farm wife and I’ve been dressing like a peasant gypsy for the last year). Plus, they’ll raise much-needed revenue.

But I still can’t do it.

I manage to list one or two. To be honest, the toffee-coloured one is a little worse for wear, and the black dress suit is a little too formal even for me. But a little voice at the back of my mind says: “Wedding photography!” and I can imagine myself wearing my splendours as I photograph the newly-weds of the Poitou-Charentes. As Jane Austen said, we’re very quick to justify what we want.

So I move back to going through old work diaries and endless paperwork that once consumed me. It’s a lot easier to throw stuff away when you don’t have a little voice at the back of your mind telling you all kind of ways you could reuse any object in any manner of future careers, however unlikely. But if I can’t do it, I can’t encourage Steve to do it. And he’s way worse than me. Bar suits, cocktail spirits, shoes and false eyelashes, I’m not a hoarder. In fact, writing this, I wonder how I’m going to live at all as a rural woman, but I know I’ll relish it. To an outsider, maybe they don’t know how much I like having a dirty face and going without my Nars eyeshadow, but I do. Steve, however, hoards anything that stands still. If you can use it again, so much the better, but if you can’t, it doesn’t matter to him much. He picked up a fishing float on Saturday. It’s still in my car. I don’t know why.

Steve’s house is a little ‘Steptoe-and-son’ in that he’s got all manner of machine parts, engine bits and ancient metal wreckage he’s salvaged from God knows where. He has tyres from bikes he’s had, bike pumps galore, more spanners than B&Q, bits of lead sitting around waiting to be made into fishing weights, a whole cupboard of car bits from cars he once owned or thought about owning. How I’m going to get him to part with this, I don’t know. If he could transport it effortlessly to France and put it in the barn, I wouldn’t care. But it’s all got to go into one seven-ton truck. And we’ll be putting it in there. And if I think ‘what the hell will he need this for?’ once, I’ll think it a hundred times, and it’ll all end badly before it’s even begun. Possibly the best thing to do would be for him to clear my house and for me to clear his. But then all those sentimental little treasures will be thrown out. Our little comfort blankets will be destroyed. And heaven knows, we might need them. If it all goes wrong, at least I can go into my over-stocked wardrobe of relegated formal-wear and cry.

Send for the Ark

Send for the Ark

It’s now eleven days of rain and counting. Steve performed his daily ritual of looking out of the window to check on his bike, then checking on the weather.

“Pissing down.” he said. He didn’t need to say anything else. There’s an unspoken phrase that now follows all of the statements we make about the weather that ‘it’s not like this in France’. Faunters groans every time there’s a mention of France, but he seemed quite chirpy when I mentioned a reconnaissance trip at half term, only asking how many days it was until the holidays. He’s only been back at school for one day, bless him. School time passes slowly.

Another added reason to get him out over there is the influence of more appropriate friends. He has a motley crew of five to twelve-year olds on the street, some of whom are already promising to be rogues of the highest order. One little boy goes crying to his dad every time Jake plays with him, and the dad invariably ends up yelling at Jake – last night Steve got involved in an almighty hoo-hah out on the street over the simplest of things. As soon as I got there, a gloom had settled over the house.

“Faunters have a good day, did he?” I asked. And then the tale began.

Like all tales of episodes on our street, it is long, convoluted, meandering and often unending. Getting to the bottom of who did what to whom is often impossible. Suffice to say we are quite sure the general French population don’t go out on the street swearing at nine-year-olds, shouting the odds and cursing like navvies. The most resistance we’ve had so far was a surly look from the elderly gentleman across from my dad’s place. And, as far as I could tell, that’s his general demeanour and has been since he was born. His dog is exactly the same. Come to think of it, so is his wife.

But Jake played quite happily during the holidays – finding a couple of neighbourhood children to play with. That said, it is more difficult entirely to insult people when you don’t know the language, and if La Maman of one of the neighbourhood children decided to swear vociferously at Jake, he’d be totally oblivious. In the time-old tradition of children on holiday, Jake managed to find three friends on the last day. Such is life. One of the smallest ones looked most forlorn as we packed up Jake’s scooter and departed. Surely it doesn’t all devolve into ‘such and such did so-and-so’ like it does here?

The in-fighting on the street is somewhat comical to an outsider. Some children aren’t allowed to play with others over long-held grudges. Other children fall prey to the resident scally chav, a.k.a M.C. Little Man who fancies himself as the new member of N Dubz or some such grime/rap ensemble. MC Little Man managed to convince one girl up the street to lend him her bicycle for a day in return for a biscuit. I wouldn’t have minded but it was only a pink wafer, and when she got the bike back, he’d kindly slashed the back tyre. MC Little Man and I have a running grudge – he threatened to smash the dog with a hammer. The Molly Dog is a cross-Rhodesian ridgeback/bull terrier, so she’d make short work of him, but still, it was entertaining. I turned around with the Molly Dog and said “Come on, then!” and MC Little Man ran away and hid. I like getting threatened by thirteen-year-olds. Not entirely sure what the Molly Dog would do to MC Little Man other than drown him in saliva and lick him to death, but she’s much like me. Feisty and ferocious-looking with a hugely soft centre, completely crazy to boot.

Still, she’s good at keeping the less desirable elements away from you when you’re on a walk. One mother on the street is worried about all the ‘Peter-files’ who might live in the area. There’s a lot of discussion at the top end of the street about who’s a Peter-file and who’s not. Accusations fly thick and fast about various matters, but it’s the fear of child molesters that keeps gossip going.

So between the five-year olds with swearing parents, the Peter-files, the resident scally chav and several other ne’er-do-wells, it’s a running battle that needs a permanent umpire or referee. And it’s a long way from leaving Jakey to fish on the river or play football with les enfants of the village. Les Enfants Terribles are definitely on this side of the channel in this case.

Plus, when you’re a nine-year-old with a scooter and new French friends, you only need two words: “Attendez!” and “Maintenant!”

It’s hard work justifying uprooting a nine-year-old who isn’t particularly keen on going, but the street gives us enough reasons to make it a valid decision.

Also, the reality has set in. I’ve got a bit of work to do on my house before I’d consider it sellable. I seem to have neglected several essential plumbing matters. Thus, you can get cold water from the bath, hot water from the sink (and a trickle from the bath) but the shower head doesn’t work and neither does the cold tap. The water and radiator heating went on the blink some time ago and I don’t use the downstairs toilet as it leaks terribly. On the negative side, these will all need fixing and will all cost money, but on the positive side, at least I’m used to functioning without proper water supplies. It bodes well.

However, I’ve got a snagging list to do of all the other things that will need doing here before I’d feel happy selling it, and some of them are going to be a pain. New stair carpets, new tiles. Despite this, though, a lick of paint here and there and it will be good to go. If I get it done before Christmas, we’ll be able to put it on the market after Christmas. Here’s hoping for a strengthening pound, a diminishing euro and a buoyant housing market. Somehow, in the midst of recession and credit crunches, I doubt it. I find myself looking at our current Government and wondering how it all went so wrong. I wonder if the French hold Sarkozy in such contempt. As an outsider, I kind of like the man. He’s flamboyant in a charismatic kind of way. I don’t know his views or policies, or whether France holds him in regard or not, but all I know is that even the misanthropic English pundits can’t find much to say about him other than commenting unfavourably on how Gordon Brown compares.

Time to start reading French newspapers and getting the low-down. I do wonder, however, whether that will leave me just as cynical with French life as it does with English? Le Monde, here I come.

Rain Stopped Play

img213Rain Stopped Play

Fact: I like to rant.

Fact: England makes me rant. A LOT

The fact is that by 9:25 this morning, I had ranted for about an hour. The weather was rubbish – not to mention having spent 2 hours waiting for Twenty20 cricket last night that never happened – the traffic was terrible. Everyone was wearing grey and black. I watched 75 cars go past (yes, I was in a traffic jam) and every single one of them was a shade of grey, dirty white, filthy black, navy or maroon. It was only when I got to a car sales place that I saw a flash of red cars, and they were all sitting on the forecourt, unsold. English life is dismal: it’s shades of grey we’ve renamed ‘silver’ and ‘dove’; it’s shades of ugly brown Accrington brick; it’s shades of pavement and road, tarmac and concrete, cement and sky.

I miss colour.

I spent a month in Morocco this year. It was a riot of colour. And having just got back from a blue-skied France, I miss the colour. I miss the pure whites and the blue shutters. I miss the vivid greens and the vibrant yellows of the sunflowers. I even miss the yellow Poste vans. Yes, I know France isn’t always like this, but we’ve been back for two weeks almost and it’s done nothing but piss it down.

To be fair, Manchester – where we live – grew strong on this rain and dragged the rest of the world through the Industrial Revolution. Blake was right about the dark, satanic mills, but they’ve brought us mechanisation, transportation by the bucket-load and a whole heap of scientific developments from the university. That’s the thing about Manchester – it grinds. It’s the beautiful beating heart, fed by the arterial Irwell and Medlock and the Irk, that pumped life into revolution. I do love Manchester. My sister’s nephew calls it ‘the gritty city’, and it certainly is that. And its history is curious and beautiful, though it’s no pretty city. Hatter Street where the Irish immigrants made hats with mercury, and generated the expression ‘mad as a hatter’ because it drove them all crazy. Angel Meadows where the original Ena Sharples was buried. The tenements gone by of Ancoats, now fashionably renamed ‘the Northern Quarter’ where immigrants were so numerous they were alleged to have slept standing up, to save space.

So I’ve got used to the rain. It’s not just the rain that makes me rant. But after 36 years of looking through grey-tinted spectacles at a gloomy world, it’s no wonder I’ve turned into Eeyore. And the other places I’ve been and stayed don’t make it any better. Havana, Rio, Tokyo, Fez – all of my escape cities have been full of colour and life and light. And, personally, I think the government should subsidise light-bulbs in this here part of the country. I think everyone’s chronically miserable because of the lack of good light. But I know that isn’t going to happen.

Steve misses the heat; personally, I’m not so bothered. I like winter clothes, and as long as I’m wrapped up, I’m fine. It’s the sun that I miss. Sure, heat and the sun often go together, but I’m as much a fan of the sunny winter morning as I am the hot summer’s day. Steve calls himself a lizard, and when he got up this morning, the first of September and I was wondering if he’d head for the long-john drawer, I realised just how bad it was.

Last night, I sat with some of my family on the cold terraces of a wet Old Trafford cricket ground. It had rained all day. I wasn’t too confident of the prospects of Aussie-beating in the scheduled Twenty20 match as it was, let alone whether we’d actually see any play at all, despite a late break of afternoon sun. It wasn’t warm. I was vested, cardiganned and kagouled up as it was. My sister and I huddled round some pints we’d queued up for twenty minutes to get, watching people poke the pitch, sprinkle it with sawdust, hmmm and pontificate and then decide, having kept the crowd there for an hour, that the match was abandoned before it even began. Not even a case of ‘rain stopped play’ – more a case of ‘rain prevented any sodding play at all and then the sun came out to gloat at the last minute’.

Of course, being from the gritty city, we still had a moan about it. It was everyone else’s fault. Who’d schedule a match in September?! Why wasn’t Old Trafford in better shape? Why hadn’t they got better drainage? Why do they insist on letting bands play there when it’s obviously no good for the pitch? Not to mention the rant we had about the regional politics of choosing Cardiff over Manchester, the lack of international cricket in Lancashire for the foreseeable future and the form of the English cricket team themselves.

This, on its own, is perhaps not quite so bad. But we sat in traffic for an hour whilst our erstwhile friend stood outside the ground. Half the roads into Manchester from the north of the town are shut or undergoing roadworks. Heaton Park is a no-go, Bury Old Road is a no-go, Prestwich is a no-go. So we wove a convoluted meandering way through Radcliffe and Kearsley and Clifton and Swinton and Salford to get there, only to be sitting in standing traffic for an hour.

And it wasn’t much better on the way back, despite the absence of rush-hour traffic.

When I got back to Steve’s, I pretty much hated every single thing in England except for my family, my friends and my cat. I was pissed off, ranting, cold and miserable having spent the evening queuing in traffic, then to get in, then to get beer – only to get told to go home and spend even more time queuing in traffic because no-one seems to understand that if you put road works on the three major roads into the city from the North, it’s going to make it hard work to get anywhere at all. Bah.

It hasn’t made things easier that Steve and I had been pondering France in a semi-serious way since we got back off holiday at my dad’s pied-a-terre over there. We left with a feeling of sadness and regret, and a souring taste of jealousy as we left the happy little place behind, and we’d begun thinking about what we both wanted out of a place in France, coupled with a little resistance from the other  major stake-holder, Jake. Jake has become known as Little Lord Fauntleroy on account of his desire to work the household system in the Feudal way with Steve and I as harried dogsbodies. The name has subsequently been abbreviated to ‘Faunters’ on account of my inability to pronounce Fauntleroy (which comes out, bizarrely, as Faultenroy, no matter how hard I concentrate on saying it) and Faunters has been a little less happy about any potential move.

I asked him what he’d miss. “My friends.” he said. Bless. However, with a bit of discussion yesterday, a tree-house was mentioned, alongside some home tuition, and that seemed to swing the deal. Seems that what he wants out of France is very similar to what he wants out of England. Lots of living outside and messing about in trees, and not to go to school. You can’t argue with nine-year-old boys. They’re always right.

Anyway, Jake was still up when I got back.

“Get any good pictures?” he asked. He likes to look at my photos. Strange boy. I take a lot of them and he’s invariably patient when looking through them all.

“No.” I said. “It was rained off.” and then began the hard sell about France, so much so that by the time he got up this morning he seemed to be positively enthusiastic about any future move. A long way from his “Not Happy!” when we first broached the topic.

But the traffic, the weather, the bureaucracy and the frustration of the night gave way to one major decision.

“I’m going to sell my house.” I told Steve. It was the one unspoken topic. We have two houses, currently. I have a mortgage on a tiny semi-detached in Bolton, he rents in Bury. I’ve been in long enough that I’d make a tidy profit on the house and we could move there without paying much. And that was that.

Truthfully, I had thought about a lot since we’d been discussing the move. It was my biggest decision to make. Honestly, my best solution would be to keep it, buy a house in France and not care about money, but I can’t do that. I’ve lived here 12 years. I’ve worked on it. I’ve loved it. I’ve treasured it. I have beautiful built-in wardrobes full of expensive shoes and bags and suits. I have a beautiful garden which I’ve spent a lot of time, money and effort on. It was my fortress when I had difficult times. Once, it had been all I had. Even the thought of selling it made me feel a bit sick.

Turns out a rained-off cricket match was exactly what I needed to seal the deal.

By the morning I knew I’d made the right decision. The prospect of waking ‘the beast’ that is Morning Jake for the first day of school, watching Steve hunt for warm clothes after peering out of the window to make sure no-one had nicked his motorbike and seeing even Molly Dog staying in bed trembling at the thought of getting up all justified it. No more endlessly-foul mornings. No more dog furrowing under the covers. No more having to check on what’s been nicked.

And just for the record, I’m keeping a count of how many miserable days we get here in Manchester. From last Sunday, we’re up at ten. Not so good going. And just for the record, just to make us feel worse, it was 33 degrees in Angouleme on Monday. It’s not making me feel any better, this daily looking at other people’s weather. I’m sure the Ten Commandments don’t specifically mention ‘thou shalt not covet other people’s weather’ but I’m pretty sure that it would be frowned upon. But then again, Moses didn’t live in Manchester. If he did, coveting might have been acceptable, as long as it was related to weather and warmth.