Tag Archives: banks

Dealing with England

So, I might want a national bank holiday in aid of England and all English stuff, but I don’t want one for a) Banks b) Government stuff.

I was on hold to my bank for 23 minutes whilst they put me through to someone who said the complaint I made in November hadn’t been forwarded and there was no record of my calls from January. No, they can’t stop posting me the same thing over and over, every single week and no they can’t put me through to someone from Complaints who can actually deal with stuff.

The second call was to the TV Licensing company. First, I object to the BBC tax. I think all ‘compulsory’ taxes (including insurance) should be handled by the Government itself and part of our income tax, not just some add-on stealth tax, like car tax. Second, I object to the fact that it’s automatically assumed you have a television. Now I’ve had a Sky dish and paid my dues to Sky, but I’ve never had a television aerial and I don’t agree with how the TV licensing company operate. This is: they automatically assume you have a television and that you are watching it without paying a licence. Several of my friends don’t pay TV licence tax and have constant knocking on doors from the ‘enforcement’ squad. I should add, they don’t have TVs or radios. Sure, they have laptops, but as far as I know, they’re far too modern for television!! But, the automatic assumption is that you are just skiving off paying it, rather than you don’t have one. I hate that we’re automatically assumed to be dishonest liars who can’t be trusted. Likewise, the council who keep writing to say ‘you still single?’ or ‘you still not living there?’ – as if I’m just some con-woman who’s getting out of paying bills.

In France, there is no car tax. Sure, there’s fees on motorways, but if you don’t use them, you don’t pay them. Also, television fees are included in your council tax, unless you opt out. If you opt out, you tell them when you’re opting back in. They don’t send you letters every five minutes to threaten you with ‘enforcement’ people in case you might be sneaking a peek at Downton Abbey or Songs of Praise. I like that they assume that you are capable of telling them. This doesn’t tie in with that ‘honest’ English person – corporations and government departments just act as if you’re out to rip them off.

I’m also morally opposed to compulsory insurance that can be operated by private companies. If Governments make laws to say motor insurance, health insurance, house insurance or life insurance are compulsory, then they should be run as not-for-profit agencies, not farmed out to insurance companies who make money hand over fist. In this case, England wins, a bit. Last year, when Tempest Xynthia hit France, most insurance companies put their excesses up – some by 160€. So people whose excess was about 200€ found themselves unable to claim for anything less than 360€.

The trouble is, insurance is based on actuarial activity. These people basically predict stuff using some complex maths and a whole lot of faith and confidence. It’s not much less than someone who knows the football really well betting on a win or loss. In fact, regular horse race bets are more accurate than actuarial predictions in many cases. They take some stuff and work out how long you might live, or how much you might claim. Except, it can’t keep up with how long we’re living or patterns of behaviour, like the shift to compensation culture.

One thing that makes me mad is when car insurance companies ‘promise’ a courtesy car. I’d rather they didn’t try to make that promise. For instance, when the Manchester bomb went off, thousands of cars were damaged and I’m quite sure there weren’t that many courtesy cars available. There just can’t be that many available. It’s like the AA saying there’ll be there in the hour, except when you really need them and everyone else needs one too because something major has happened. We’re sold on a promise that can’t always be kept and yet we’re never allowed to question the system. 20% of the British Stock Market is based on the profits and losses of insurance companies. Companies who we are legally obliged to pay are taking our money and gambling with it, then saying with the slightest provocation that we have breached the conditions of our policy.

Not only that, but there’s little parity between insurance in an ‘open’ capitalist market. For instance, my car insurance quotes in England were between £600 and £2000. That means that £1400 of that, if I went with the first company I came to, would be sheer profit. The excess was the same; the coverage and payouts broadly speaking were the same. So, where does the profit go? AIG sponsor Manchester United. That’s reputed to be almost £60 million over 4 years. It’s fine for overtly profit-making companies to spend their hard-earned pennies from the beleaguered public coffers on pointless advertising, but really, must insurance companies do it?! AXA are in the Fortune 500. Surely no company that insures people should be running at such a profit?!

The irony is, the longer recessions continue, the more we need insurance. Life insurance, indemnity insurance, insurance against unemployment… And we keep paying. Last year, I paid out over 10% of my income on insurance. It wasn’t a choice. I have to pay this if I want to own a house or drive. I’m not allowed to risk such expensive items, by law. But insurance is the business of risk. That’s all it does – calculate risk. So how come they’re allowed to mess with risk and I’m not?

Hmmmm. Another cynical moment for me. I’d like to see all insurance companies being nationally owned. I don’t think any insurance company should be in the Fortune 500. And I don’t think anything that is a compulsory tax should be called anything but that.

Don’t bank on a bank

My sister thinks I am anti-England. In a way, she’s right. I love this country but watching politics and banks destroy it is like watching an old friend being ravaged by an entirely preventable disease that, once in motion, cannot be stopped. Negative imagery perhaps. And, no, it’s not just England. All around me, I look at a world damaged by politics and economics and I feel sympathy with Marx that he knew something had to, and must, change.

Politics and politicians are the easy target. They are public. Most people know the name of their president or Prime Minister, and it’s easy to slander them. Some are utterly ridiculous. The posturing, posing, preening and frankly mafiaesque behaviour of Berlusconi; the completely bonkers actions of Qaddafi. Some are not what we thought they would be – Blair take note. A couple of world leaders seem to have their hearts in the right place – Lula is a shining example. Some are bully-boys, like Kim Jong-il. Some inherit, as D. Cameron likes to point out, crazy, corrupt governments. Some try to make it better; many make it worse. But they are public figures and they face the firing line, literally, sometimes – like JFK and Lincoln, or Berlusconi faced by a mad-man. Sometimes they face the firing line in retrospect, judged for their rule, like Saddam Hussein.

We are who we elect. As The Jam said, ‘you choose your leaders and place your trust’ – and then they renege on promises and ideology – maybe because of the situation they inherit. And they face the music. I feel for them, a little. Reading Coriolanus is insightful – Shakespeare’s masses (and his interpretation of Roman masses) reads like politics today. (As an aside, I’ve just seen that Coriolanus is due for release as a film this year… with Ralph Fiennes as Coriolanus. Excellent casting.) He said of the public, ‘he who depends on your favours swims with fins of lead’… ‘with every minute you do change a mind’. A noble, fierce, honest yet not publicity-hungry general who does the right thing and totally understands the fickle nature of the masses who care only about their belly and the today, and who is turned upon when he decides to go for government. There’s a story for today.

Yet it’s not these men, with all their hubris – or lack of it – that inspire my wrath. In a way, I pity them. They inherit problems, can’t start afresh, rely on public favour and can only do what they are permitted to do. Sometimes you are the public’s darling; sometimes you face their judgement without doing anything differently. Take pensions. Let’s get some perspective. Pensions have only really existed for 100 years. Much of the world have no access to a pension. I kind of understand the French anger about their pensions, but in reality, five generations ago, pensions didn’t exist. And pensions need sorting. The country has a plughole of money it needs to fill. People must accept something needs to happen to allow pensions in the future. More money is needed or people need to die. Such is the simplicity of the situation. But the public have a short-sighted vision that things that are thus must ever be thus without realising how lucky they are to have a pension in the first place, let alone a lifespan of 67.2 years – the global life expectancy. France is 10th in the world. Its people will live 12.5 years longer than this. Maybe not in good health. Maybe ill every single day. But over 40 years longer than people in many African nations will live. Such is life.

But yes, politicians of the past (and of the present) made mistakes. Trouble is, they’re all too involved in the blame game to say sorry for their part in it. Or for their predecessors part in it. Governments around the world have done horrendous things in the name of governance and in the name of the country. Australian government-sponsored forced adoption of aboriginal peoples… American removal of lands from indigenous tribes… English treatment of the Irish… countries who’ve waged war and fought themselves, making enemies of brothers… Does anyone stand up and say ‘Actually, we SHOULD ensure African life expectancy improves, since the race for colonisation fucked everything up quite royally’ – or ‘Actually, we SHOULD be in Afghanistan, helping out, since we’ve used it as a pawn in the Empire/Super-power game since time immemorial’. No.

So politics is one bad boy.

But, banks are worse. We elect our governments (sometimes) and we elect them from our masses. They are us. They do as we do. We can say ‘no’ to Mugabe and say ‘that’s not right to Idi Amin’ – who starve and subjugate people, remove their land from them.

But we never say no to the banks.

Banks have been around for about 600 years. That’s all. That’s nothing, in the scheme of human lifetimes. The Romans’ rule was slightly less. Chinese dynasties lasted longer. They’ve existed for about the same time as ‘America’ – I say that with tongue in cheek. We still see America as a new country; fresh. It’s a baby in World Domination. In fact, the banks dominate us much more. McDonald’s can’t get into Cuba. Banks can.

Of course, money lenders have existed since way before then, as Jebus tells us. And they weren’t good news either.

The fact is banks rule the world, not governments. I see Icelandic banking collapses worry my parents more than pension changes. My step-dad was concerned about his money in the Irish banking system. One crash can destroy their life together. Banks can remove houses, ruin lives – all on the back of their own dodgy behaviours. They lie, they over-predict, they gloss over, they make bad loans and bad debts and they squeeze the little man.

Let’s face it, the banks caused the Great Depression, not the Government. The banks caused global recession, not the Government. We worry about the euro, but it’s the banks who are more concerning, even the IMF, lending money to countries who are bad-debt risks.

I grew up in the eighties where ‘ethics’ mattered to students opening accounts. You didn’t bank with Barclays because you knew they were involved in excessive debt collecting from African nations – many of whom had seen the debt repayed many times over. (I’m reminded the Germans have just finished paying for the First World War!)And interest rates on loans were impossible for countries to manage. Combinations of corrupt governments and giddy-school-boy banking has meant that the people of the world suffer.

They can be regulated – they are supposed to be. So why do banks still fall apart? It is, after all, an industry and its primary purpose is profit. That’s why they fall apart.

In England, if you put your money in a bank, it doesn’t even belong to you anymore. The American Federal Reserve is a privately-owned company. “The Reserve Banks… are independent, privately owned and locally controlled corporations.”

They, therefore, dictate monetary policy, being independent, TO the US Government, not the other way around. They can introduce Qualitative Easing, not the government. They decide whether to introduce this – and QE is introduced when other things have failed. Colloquially, they print more money. It failed in Japan in the early 2000s. It has many risks. And a privately owned corporation can force this to happen! The Federal Reserve doesn’t have to say who it has guaranteed money to, and although it was forced to say by Bloomberg, it is up for appeal. We may never know where American money goes, who influences it or what is influencing the politics of our world-leading cross-Atlantic bigger, younger sibling.

And that should scare you. Banks dictate economy. Economy drives politics. Politics alter every single aspect of our life – whether it’s what we are reading, what we can say, who we can do business with, how much income we have, our health…

And forgive me for being a little bit concerned that not enough people accept that when they take their pay cheque to the bank, they’re contributing to starvation in some countries, or forced devaluation or inflation.

This is why I have a non-cheque, non-card La Poste account in France. The only money that goes into it is in cheque form. I need a hidey-hole for my other money, I think. I might start investing in guns or bullets for when the end-game is played out ; )

Whilst I end with a bit of a joke about my own paranoia about the bank (and the reality of my part-state-owned account – france is definitely not without its banking problems!!) I have to say we easily forget Lehman Bros, Barings Bank, Nick Leeson, Icelandic banking crises, almost-bankrupt Eurozone countries, Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Northern Rock and Great Depressions and other events that have altered the course of history. Banks are not in it to protect our money; they are there to make a profit. And the majority of people who started banks, with all their risks, wanted to make a profit. And so they did.

Lehman Bros was set up in 1850. That’s 158 years of trading. A sniff. And yet it helped set in motion a global disaster that, as one Moroccan market trader said to me ‘has affected the whole world, from Timbuktoo to Alaska’.

I know Lehman Bros suffered a loss in the 9/11 terrorist attack, and I’m reminded of why (apart from ease of target) the World Trade Centre was chosen. It’s such a potent symbol of trade and banking.

Criminal as well as civil prosecutions are underway as to whether banks lied about conditions – whole corporations who are up on trial for causing global financial issues.

The Icelandic banking problems are not yet over and had a knock-on effect all over the world.

National bankruptcy happens.

It happens more than you’d think.

p.s. My money isn’t under my mattress. And if it all goes to pot and collapses, you’re welcome round mine anytime for homemade wine and some homegrown veg. Luckily, Jake’s good at traps and fancies himself as the next Michael Weston from Burn Notice, so we’ll be fairly well-protected. My house is older than all these banking crises.

The Micawber Principle

Micawber’s quote:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six. Result happiness.

Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six. Result misery.”

How true this seems to be of the world right now. Japan has released a statement saying it is not far from the abyss of unmanageable debt, following Spain, Portugal and Greece (ad infinitum)

My query is: who do they owe this money to? And what happens when a country doesn’t repay its debt? I’m assuming some hard-line bankers who are responsible for global recession are the main lenders who are keeping many countries under the thumb of repayments and that they will not cancel interest repayment. So where does the money come from??! And who do we owe it to?! And what happens if we can’t pay?

Do they send in the bailiffs?

Can you imagine?!

“Come on Japan, open up. You’ve had a red bill 6 months ago, and we’ve sent several reminder letters since then.”

“Come on guys, be reasonable. We can’t pay you. Korea owes us, and I can’t pay you until they pay us. Plus, we thought we had a deal coming through with America, but they went back on the deal. We’ve got old people to support. Who would have thought we’d all live so long? We made a miscalculation with how much we needed to keep the oldies going. Plus, we had an earthquake, and that really set us on the back foot. It’s been nothing but misery.”

“Yeah, yeah. We’ve heard this story before. Everyone’s got a sob story. Now pay up.”

“But I haven’t anything to give you.”

So… you’ve got two options, borrow from some unscrupulous lender, like Zimbabwe or something, who’ll menace you and break your kneecaps if you don’t pay them back, or the lenders will send in the bailiffs to sell off your assets.

Maybe Japan could have a car-boot-style sale and sell off national treasures? I for one would buy Matsumoto Castle if it came onto the market. Perhaps they could start selling stuff on ebay to make up the cash?

I jest, slightly, but Bury Council sold off a Turner to make money. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The problem is, private companies then reap dividends from being able to buy up public property – and capitalism triumphs. Our national treasures are taken away from those who want to see them, and we’re all forced to pay-to-view. The poor man is the loser, as culture is lost to the wealthy.

Someone, somewhere, needs to make the Micawber Principle the global motto, for everyone.

On a sad note, I’m going to stop being a Times online viewer, since they’re now charging for the site’s comments. It’ll be a terrible diet of The Telegraph, FT and the BBC website. I hate this. I like the populist paper. I know I’m a left-wing liberal child, and reading The Telegraph is like a devout Christian reading the works of Aleister Crowley, but I can’t stand The Guardian. I’m just not that kind of left wing liberal.

J’en ai ras le bol #2

It seems some days are just sent to try your patience. This was one of them.

My debit card has been used for a fraudulent purchase. It was used to buy game credits at ijji – so it’s some techno-hacker who likes playing retarded on-line games. I never went to this site before today, but I’m not a happy bunny.

I’m not happy google checkout is so lax. I’m not using them again! They have no protocol (like paypal) to protect buyers, only sellers, so I can’t report a fraudulent transaction directly for them to sort out, like you can with paypal, or set it up as a dispute. I phoned my bank and cancelled my card, grudgingly, since it took them 6 weeks to replace the last card and I was without funds for that time. It’s embarrassing.

In February, when I reported my cards and cancelled them, they told me 3-4 working days. One arrived straight away. The other still hadn’t arrived 14 days later, so I called them and got put through to ‘collections’ *(though they had nothing to collect!)* who then transferred me to the usual number. They said it hadn’t been ordered and they’d place it on order.

2 weeks later, it still wasn’t here. I called again. Apparently it still hadn’t been ordered. They placed it on order. Apparently the branch hadn’t authorised it. Twats.

It arrived after that. I had to cry on the phone to get them to do it though. I had to say I’d been wearing the same clothes for a month, couldn’t afford to wash and couldn’t fill my car up. Truly, I couldn’t MOT or tax my car, or sort out my car insurance. I was without car insurance for 28 days because Directline said they needed a card number, as did every single one of the 17 companies I called. No setting up of direct debits without a card number to start with. And that isn’t a falsehood. If my car had been nicked, I’d have not got a penny.

I put in a complaint. The complaint came back after 3 days to say it hadn’t been upheld because they had no record of either calls when I’d called up and it had been diverted through collections, despite them saying phone calls may be recorded for training purposes etc.

Today, when I called, it went via collections yet again. I have nothing to collect. They are such a bunch of twats.

So… Lloyds TSB, big BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO to you. If I don’t get my card, I’ll be royally pissed off.

Organisations who have pissed me off today:

1. Google checkout

2. Ijji

3. LloydsTSB

Oh, and they can’t give me the money back until it’s been taken, and they can’t stop the transaction. What??! I got a full on lecture about how debit cards have a promise to the seller to protect them and guarantee they’ll receive payment, but this ijji must be complete retards. No-one has my CVV and if they’d tried to use Visa secure payments, they would have found they didn’t know my bank password. Even I didn’t know it. So how are they so lax that they don’t ask for the CVV??!

Paypal don’t get my vote of confidence either, since they were royally hacked back in March. They denied it, but in a forum I go in, there were at least 30 people saying the same thing. The same ‘seller’, the same amounts. If that is a small forum, I hate to think how many other accounts were breached.

And this wasn’t a problem from my computer – I’m safe, I hope. Ish.

I don’t trust the internet for money any more. I don’t trust the banks. I’m going to have a Post Office basic account, and that’s it. I’m going to have a La Poste account, and if I can get by with cash, that’s how I’m going. In fact, I can totally understand why gold is at the highest price it’s ever been. People don’t trust the banks, obviously!

je suis une cynique

I’m just about up to the back teeth with this country. Cheating, lying, swindling politicians, potholes all over, rancid buildings à la ‘1960s USSR’, ridiculous policing that’s more bothered about car speeds than hooligans, gang culture, chavs, the benefits system, “asylum” seekers who give a bad name to those really in need of asylum, story after story of scandal and misbehaviour… and I get a letter from Bolton Council to say they won’t backdate my council tax rebate because ‘ignorance of the rebate isn’t a good enough reason’ for them to back-date it. I’ve paid into the system for all my life. I’ve worked since I was 11. My mother never claimed benefits, even when she could have done. I went to a private school on a scholarship, so I cost the tax payer nothing for my 11-18 education. I have grafted every single day of my adult life. I’ve paid 40% tax at some points in my life. And because I’d rather be self-employed than on incapacity benefit for my bipolar disorder, they’d rather not give me any money. I still haven’t claimed a penny. I still pay council tax. And here I am, eating spaghetti with tinned tomatoes for my lunch because I can’t afford anything better. Spaghetti and a tin of tomatoes will keep me going for 4 lunches for less than £2.00. It disgusts me. I can’t afford to buy washing powder, or bleach, or conditioner for my hair. And yet I have worked every day of my adult life. I worked hard. I didn’t claim benefits even when I could. And because of that, I’m being punished.

Not only that, I can’t open a bank account because I’m self-employed and I’ve only got 1 tax year’s summary because I’ve only submitted one set of accounts. I can’t, therefore, get a job that needs a bank account. I’m still waiting for bank cards that I asked for 14 days ago, and yet my bank harasses me as soon as they think I might go overdrawn. Bankrupts are treated better than this. It’s no wonder people declare themselves bankrupt. I’d be able to open a bank account if I’d just come out of prison, yet I can’t because I’m self-employed. So… those on parole, those who can’t manage their finances, those who are benefits’ hounds, they’re the ones who have privileges. If you’ve got credit, if you use catalogues and have cards, and store cards and HP and loans, then they’ll lend you money. But not me.

I hate this country and how it treats its citizens. It’s all about money. I earn enough to live (just!) and yet I still get slapped for tax and I pay my prescriptions, even though my drugs are cheaper than a prescription price, and I pay to see, because I need glasses, and I pay car tax, even though the roads are full of potholes. And my local council can go cap in hand to the government and get more cash. I can’t. If I can’t pay my bills, the bailiffs come round, not someone from the government with some more cash. I pay more than enough for my bank account, and they, more often than not, are responsible for pushing me over the edge when they slap on fees. £10.00 for 5 pages of bank statements exactly the same as the print-offs I had, but the bank I’m trying to deal with in France only accepts ‘bank’ copies, not mine, and so I pay, even though it probably cost a pound to print and post them. £217.00 to get from here to London on the train. £7.00 return from here to Bury on the bus. RIP-OFF Britain. And I’ve had enough.

It makes me sick.

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article3338076.ece

We’re being constantly spied-on and monitored, and The Matrix is alive and well, people, and we’re living in it!

Today’s news:

terror; strikes; terror & strikes; expenses scandals; Budget reports; Income Tax rises; NI rises; man has heart-attack after yobs bait him; pay rise for MPs & pay freeze for doctors; Falklands’ rows; vanishing species of flowers; birds fall from the sky….

Now, of course, you and I are rational people. We know this is media spin. Bad News makes Good News. Good News makes Bad News. No-one likes to hear about animals being saved, or kind people, or how much we give to charity, but it’s just beginning to get to me. I’m a nihilistic sort of person suffering from anomie. Marx and St Simon were right. I can’t stand all this corporationism and globalization, despite its positives. Yes, I can be in touch with people at the touch of a button. Yes, the internet gives me reading and information and TV and it’s great. What I don’t like is all the negativity.

So… in a way, I’m looking forward to being a bit of a rural terrorist, living off the grid, without gas and a TV line. To some degree, not having a phone would be great too, for business. I’d dearly like to pay only the hospital bills I need to.

I’m just reading:

http://www.off-grid.net/2010/03/05/off-the-grid-and-the-prepared/

which asks us what we’d do if our electricity failed. I know, because Steve often forgets to top up the meter until the last minute. I know about living without a fridge – did it at uni. It’s amazing how far you can get without a fridge, and with powdered milk! Not sure how far we’d get without a freezer in France, because I’m planning on freezing a lot of it. Pickling and drying, I guess!! Living without music… a little harder, though you can make your own. Living without light? Candles, fire, early nights. Living without TV. Not so hard at all. Living without the internet? Not so sure.

Maybe this blog is kind of spiritual in the sense of sharing with an unknown world. My words are out there, even if no-one’s reading them.

So… a moneyless existence, by and large. How ridiculous I was thinking of getting a horse, yesterday, because along with my bike, I’d need only public transport for longer journeys. No dependence on the car and on oil and petrol! I could wash my clothes in the bath, like I used to at uni, and barbecue stuff and cook it on the range. I could also read by candlelight, and go to bed with the seasons.

Perhaps, then, I should prepare well for an off-the-grid life. I want to be self-sufficient and cash only. That’d work! Except for the taxes. It’s true what they say about death and taxes, you know!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whSYTSXm8wo

Paul Weller does a good job here of summing up my feelings!

Anyway, having listened to a bit of Bob Marley, a bit of Jimmy Cliff and some ‘Lion Sleeps Tonight’, I feel a whole lot better!

on fait les choux gras

Everything seems to have been such a rush recently – so much seems to have happened in such a short period of time, which makes up for those weeks where we were sitting waiting for the chance to go to France and sort out Chez Blanchard, and whilst we’ve been waiting to sign for Les Capricornes – a name I shall explain later!

First, it was getting my house on the market, with the delightful Home Information Pack. Effing HIPS. Bah. Labour job-creating, money-wasting nonsense. Took ages to complete, then I swapped companies, on pain of small claims courts threats to the original company (does the small claims court still exist, by the way? It seems to have definitely slipped out of vogue!) and then the new company ended up being cheaper, faster and suddenly everything was on the go. House signs were erected, visits were arranged for initial voyeurs, the house was cleared out, my mother hacked some bushes, I vacuumed – and that doesn’t happen very often! – and cleaned the kitchen. More things were boxed up, thanks to my local supermarket’s free wine boxes. When we move in, we’ll look like complete winos, though that is a role we intend to take up only when we’re over there! I’ve labelled everything in a bizarre obsessive-compulsive way, with a ‘theme’ for each wine box, and then sub-categories. Cups and saucers are all wrapped up in newspaper, books are sorted and packed. I have accumulated an inordinate amount of cups and saucers. I like a lovely cup and saucer. Now I sound like my nana, I shall explain. I have my delightful Wedgwood tea set and several beautiful Habitat mugs, a few Whittards’ cups and saucers, and some other beautiful china. I always used to mock my nana’s insistence on a china cup and saucer, when I was in my grunge phase and didn’t care about matching mugs, let alone cups, and heaven forbid a saucer would be used for anything other than putting underneath plant pots! Now, a couple of decades on, it seems like a travesty not to enjoy good tea from a china cup, or a fresh coffee in anything other than a Habitat porcelain mug. And whilst I may be forced to abandon the suits and shoes for a life on a petite fermette, I shall be wandering around in my wellies (more about them later) in a suitably flowery frock drinking tea from a china Wedgwood cup. It is the last bastion of culture, the last bit of ‘Margot’ in my new ‘Barbara’ Good Life. So they’re all packed carefully and ready to go.

But whilst viewings have been frequent, which has been fantastic in a recession, with mixed reports from the papers – the housing market is on the mend, it’s at pre-recession prices, it’s at a standstill, it’s dead, it’s recovering, it’s alive, it’s dead –  ad infinitum – the viewers have been a little odd. I’ve had neighbours knocking on for a look-see with no intention to buy, weird couples, a woman who seems to have married some kind of illegal immigrant half her age who can’t speak English, a good few weirdos who march round the house as if to say ‘is that it?’ and I wonder what they expect. I bought the house on first sight. I loved the staircase, and it was big enough and in my price range. Similarly, Les Capricornes. It was big enough and it was in our price range. It’s roughly where we wanted it to be. It needs work, sure, and it’s not ‘perfect’, but it’ll do. And I wonder what some of these buyers want with £110,000. Do they expect a mansion???! Sure, it’s little, but with the average house price now being a quarter of a million pounds (How did it ever come to that??!) and usual-sized family homes going for half a million, it does make you wonder what they expect.

I have been doing my best with a good ‘sell’ job. Ann Maurice, House Doctors, eat your heart out! I’ve focused on the unique selling points, the quality, the garden, the added features, the fact that the house over the road is on for £20,000 more…. for a foot wider, an ensuite and a smaller master bedroom…. but no nibbles. Not even a little one. Now I wonder if we’ll ever sell, and that in itself brings complications. Pessimism tastes horrible.

Despite this, I’d been over to France to sign the compromis, effectively guaranteeing that Madame will sell and we will buy. 90,000 euros by April. No worries! Now I worry about exchange rates, buyers’ markets, unsellable houses, realistic pricing… And it’s a trauma! Luckily, my fantastic accountant has sorted everything out for me, tax-wise, and my tax bill isn’t too big. That’s one relief.

So it was a wet Thursday morning that my sister Abi took me to Liverpool ‘John Lennon Airport’ (how that must grate upon Mr McCartney’s nerves! Liverpool could at least have named the train station after him… especially after he brought LIPA to them! Can he do no right??!) and a quick Ryanair flight from snowy Britain into snowy France! To give them their due, Ryanair may be like a charabang to Blackpool, but they get you there and they do so without fuss, and mostly on time. And later, they really proved their worth.

Limoges was kissed with snow – and it looked beautiful. I cried a little on the descent, simply because it was so gorgeous, and with a little luck, a small part of it might be mine! Dad picked me up, and as we drove back to St Angeau, it was snowing a little. Then it really started coming down. Dad’s house looked fantastic – like those Christmas ornaments you get of houses with snowy roofs and shutters, lit up. There was a blazing fire and it was toasty warm in there, though it was cold outside. Swamped in a huge sofa, in front of a roaring fire, watching the snow fall outside… it was perfect. We had supper with Brian and Lesley, two of my dad’s fellow villagers, and I realised how relaxed and laid-back everyone is here.

The next day, I took my father to sign the compromis. I like to have my dad about, even if I am 37 and know more french than he does. I don’t think you ever really stop feeling glad you’ve got your parents there, even if you are approaching middle age. Maitre Ferrant was charming as usual, the estate agent, Thibaud, was on holiday in the Dominican Republic, and instead of Mme Roses, I met M. Roses, which was a little surprising, to say the least! Madame arrived, looking very frail and tired, and I realised what a marvel she really was. I really took to her. At one point, I just wanted to say ‘well, we’ll ALL live there!’ She’d come with her two daughters and their respective husbands, and we all crammed into Maitre Ferrant’s tiny office. I have to say it was very convivial, despite the obvious sadness that Madame was giving up her home of 40 years, and they were really wonderful.

M. Ferrant whipped through the reports. We have some asbestos. We have a little lead in the paint on the shutters – not a problem as long as you don’t lick the shutters, he joked. And we have an infestation of capricornes. Lots of capricornes. And some vrillettes. Some kind of insect, he explained. You can treat it with a toxic liquid. No problem. I did want to ask what capricornes were, but I liked to let my mind wander a little. My dad’s a capricorn. So’s Steve, and Dean, our very good friend. My sister is almost a capricorn. I had a vision of a house infested by December’s and January’s children, all being goat-like and capricious together. I understood it was some kind of insect and left it at that, my imagination free to go as wild as it wanted.

It did seem that the French are much more glib than the British about sorting out housing issues. Asbestos? just be careful when you get rid of it. Lead? Don’t injest it. Capricornes. Just kill ’em. Meh. I liked this attitude. No drama. No expensive builders and pest-controllers coming out to suck their breath over their teeth and present you with an enormous bill.

I signed numerous pages, which were then signed by just about everyone else. I realised we’re in a flood zone, but apart from mud slides in 1999, further up in the village, it’s not been a problem. I’m coming from flood-unundated Britain and feeling a little worried about it, but then I remember the house has been there since 1850, and it’s still there.

The energy efficiency document was the most charmingly sad thing about the house. Mine in Manchester is a good B. It’s efficient, warm, double-glazed, insulated and so on. The only advice was to get solar panels (what, are you kidding???! I’ve paid £30 for some nitwit to tell me that solar panels would work in Manchester??! Has he never BEEN to Manchester??!) and the EPC man chortled as he said it, knowing full well it was some government-spin that would be utterly unworkable in Manchester and take 20 years to make up for its initial cost. But Les Capricornes, as I named it there and then on the spot, was an F. Only a G is worse. An F. Poor house! I’m not sure what you have to do to be an F, except be a total waste of energy, but it was quite sad, but quite sweet! Likewise, the same advice adorned the french EPC report about solar panels, and I had to wonder whether some Bruxelles bureaucrat had devised the same piece of advice for all houses, except those A* houses with it installed already. I’ll make that house an A if it kills me to do it! Nothing makes a challenge for a teacher except to see some poor predicted grade for some hard-working delight. I’ll take that F and give you an A, I vowed, silently. The only teacher in the room, I didn’t want to raise suspicions about my mental health.

After that, we went back to Les Capricornes a.k.a The Triangle on account of the shape of the land, to get some further pictures – since French estate agents don’t care for Ann Maurice, thinking ‘if you can’t see the potential yourself, then knob off!’ Ann Maurice wouldn’t be a popular lady in France, on account of the fact that most ‘vielles maisons’ seem to be sold in a complete state of disrepair. Madame’s daughters (in their sixties, no less, just in case you were imagining some youthful french ladies) were just my type. They’d brewed some good strong coffee, got two cakes and were chatty and really friendly. They liked my prenom and kept saying “Emma-Jane!” with delight, though I pointed out that only my grandmother calls me this! We joked about English traffic, and were bewildered by the notion they still held that London is constantly held in a pea-souper of a fog, like Victorian London might have been. I blame Ladybird books. I had the same notion until I was about seven, on account of a Ladybird book about England.

Then Brenda, La Belle-Mere, my father and I took a wander about the snowy grounds. Everything we saw delighted us further. Grapevines. An orchard. A polytunnel. Several sheds. Several lean-tos. A barn I’d forgotten about. A cabin for Jake. A forge!

I hadn’t seen the forge before, and yet when my father pointed it out, you can hear my tone of disbelief on the video I was recording.

“A forge??!”

Steve would love this. He hasn’t yet seen inside, and I know – I just know – that he can’t possibly imagine how wonderful it is yet. A forge. He’ll be made up! A wood-work workshop, a metal-work workshop, a barn, a hangar, a tractor, the land, the vines, the cave, it was all just a little too much to take in.

And yet, when I lay in bed, late that night, tucked up against the snow, I was possessed by a terrible fear. What the hell were we doing??! I know little about farming, except for a couple of weeks in my youth when I visited my maternal family’s smallholding in Stow. Steve and I are city babies, grey through and through. We’re English and we’re city babies, with a confused child who doesn’t know whether to be excited or terrified. Would my house sell? Would we get out of the country alive? It was all a little too much. And yet, that vision of Steve’s face when he sees the forge. It’ll all be worth it! I started to imagine the curtains, the living room, the kitchen I’d have… and it more than made up for the worries and the doubts.

On the day I was due to return, Papa and I set off for Limoges in the dark, not really taking on exactly how much snow had fallen. When we got to the airport, the plane was allegedly still going to land, so Papa dropped me off and I milled about, waiting for the call. It didn’t come. I overheard someone talking about how it had been diverted to Bergerac. I had visions of the time Abi and I were trapped in Cork airport, with 11 other hens, for her hen weekend. We’d been there for 9 hours when Aer Lingus told us the flight had been cancelled because some daft baggage handler had driven the baggage truck into the side of the plane, rendering it unfit for flight. By that time, we were fraught. Or at least, I was. We were put up in a hotel, given sandwiches and told we might be able to get a space on the Monday flight, but if not, the next one would be Wednesday. It was absolutely out of the question, they said, to transfer us to Dublin for a flight, or to replace the plane. One of the girls with us was supposed to be going on holiday, several of them were nurses with shifts to run. North Manchester General would come to a standstill! So I envisaged a cancellation and I waited to hear.

But better than that. Ryanair would transport us to Bergerac and fly from there. I know I was alone in thinking this was jolly good of them, since they could just say ‘oh, bugger off home and try your luck on the next flight that can get in’ but they didn’t. Within an hour, they had three coaches for us, and off we went, down the snowy roads (just having to put the fear that if they can’t land a plane, can you really transport 50 people on a coach out of there???!) across to Bergerac, where we hopped on the plane and were taken back to Liverpool. Lucky I’d chosen ‘John Lennon Airport’ – Manchester was closed. Just out of interest, what would they rename Manchester? “Noel Gallagher Airport?” (Now that would piss Liam off!), The Buzzcocks’ Airport? Mick Hucknall Airport? I’m sure there’s no-one quite as saintly for us.

Steve and Jake were late. Ironically, it took them longer to get from Bury to Liverpool than it took me to get from Bergerac to Liverpool. The snow was pretty bad. Steve was full of a cold. I’ve not often seen him so ill. And yet my excitement was brimming over. He was delighted. I knew he would be.

Now we have the house, the hard work starts, all the worrying begins…. and I’ve still got Christmas to get through!