Monday, July 5, 2010


Just after we moved here about five years ago, a neighbour asked "why?" From her point of view, it just didn't make sense. The region is one of the poorest and least densely-populated areas of France and unemployment is high. Most of the youngsters dream of leaving despite being part of a close-knit community, and most of the oldsters realise they've left it too late (not that any of them would ever consider moving). The idea of someone wishing to live here through choice, especially when they come from an exotic place like London (their opinion, not mine), is totally bonkers. Hence her question.

To answer fully would have taken all day. I had a million reasons for moving, most of which I knew she would never understand in a month of Sundays. So, to keep it simple, I explained that after working in London for 35 years the time had come to get away from it all. I needed more space, more countryside, more fresh air and more of the little things that she and her community took for granted - like fresh baguettes and lizards running up granite walls. She remained unconvinced and responded by saying "ah yes, but you have Robbie Williams and Marks & Spencer while we only have a cheap supermarket and Johnny Halliday." Her obvious love of Robbie Williams clearly confirmed that she was suffering from too much sun, or maybe an over indulgence of sensibly priced champagne - either way, another couple of darned good reasons to move here.

I was aked the same question last Friday when I visited the vet's for the dogs' annual booster vaccinations. Told the young man in the white coat that I found England claustrophobic - too many people, too many cars, too little space etc. - and that I'd initially given it a year just to see if I could handle the big step abroad. If I didn't like it, I'd go back (wasn't true of course - couldn't afford to return). Said I'd been here five years now which, considering my appalling French, he found hard to believe.

Driving back home from the vet's, I idly pondered this question further. Seems so long ago now that I can hardly remember my reasons for emigrating to the back of beyond. However, I do recall being thoroughly pissed off with that dickhead Gordon Brownarse and his insane plan to get everyone hocked up to the hilt in debt just to create a ludicrous money-go-round, thereby giving the false impression of national wealth. All seemed barking mad to me. People were spending money they just didn't have, based on the daft assumption that property prices would continue to rise. I really did find it scary. If a financial birdbrain like me could see the crash coming, how come the so-called experts couldn't? And that's one of the main reasons I got out while I could. Furthermore, as Britain was no longer a manufacturing nation, how would they ever recover? Aaaaand..., as a large proportion of the population was rapidly approaching retirement age, how would the country afford the massive expense of taking care of the elderly, especially when New Bleedin' Labour had ruined pensions and put bugger all aside in readiness for the Boomer generation hitting Zimmer frame age? All I could see was doom and gloom. I remember now.

I remember too the first time I drove along this very lane I was driving now. I had just met up with the son-in-law of the house seller and was following him to view the wreck for the very first time - he in a little white van and me aboard a Honda Fireblade motorcycle. I'd whizzed over to France to view a shack about thirty miles away. Thought it'd make an ideal holiday home. Arrived at the estate agent's to be told that they'd sold it the previous day. So I was now operating 'plan B' - the viewing of another potential holiday home, simply out of idle curiosity. Didn't really fancy it from the description or the region but, as I was here, I thought I'd may as well ring up and arrange a viewing. So there I was, driving along that lane following that little van.

Despite being in a mood that matched the grey weather, I remember being uplifted by the beauty of the valley lane as it curved left and right following what appeared to be a little river. After a couple of miles, the route zigged and zagged up a forest hill to a tiny hamlet where the van in front hung a left around a church and came to a halt by a dilapidated house. First impressions are always important. The house was rubbish but it had good proportions, big rooms, some interesting stonework and a marvellous view (not that I could see much through the morning mist). There was a certain peace and character about the place that clicked. I didn't want to like it but I did. Or maybe it was that ride along the valley that did it.

Even after five or six years of driving that valley road, it still continues to enthrall. Especially at this time of year on a sunny day. So, returning home from the vet's pondering reasons for coming here, I decided to stop off and give it further thought down by the valley stream. Here surely was one of many good answers to the question of 'why?': a beautiful valley, a babbling brook, a sunny day with honeysuckle scent, totally quiet with no sign of cars or people, just a distant herd of cattle and a passing hawk..., take your pick. But if I cited any of them as reasons for settling here, neither the vet nor my neighbour would really understand. They'd think I was barking. But it makes a whole heap of sense to me.


  1. I avoid the "why?" questions for the most part. The answer is too complicated and in any case I'm a little hazy about the details myself. And they change depending on my mood on the day.

    Still, pleased to be here, no interest in being anywhere else, so "why" seems a bit pointless.

  2. Absolutely, Jon. Entirely agree.

  3. It makes a whole heap of sense to me as well. The French don't seem to see it as we do. Never the less, ask them if they have ever had thoughts of moving to England..... they have too much sense to move there. Diane

  4. Young people who can see no future out in the sticks dream of going to London...interestingly enough, not Paris.

  5. Yes indeed Diane. Most of locals would probably like to visit England, but not move there. No way.

  6. Fly in web - Not sure if you mean English or French youngsters. I presume you mean French. Yes, I understand there are currently many French youngsters working in London. I think there are far more casual labour jobs there (such as waitressing etc.) than in Paris. The French labour laws and tax systems discourage the hiring of casual staff so there are less job vacancies, so I understand from the odd newspaper article. But I gather Sarko's trying to change things.

  7. What a lovely post. I find it hard to explain the 'why' as well. For us, it was, quite simply, the right thing to do. But explaining that to others makes us sound oddballs. Perhaps we are. We have the love of this place in our hearts like you do with your bit of France, and I am endlessly saying to the French people in my scrappy French, that their life style is priceless in comparison to the UK. Good blog, and made me think about the 'why', which is sometimes forgotten in the business of our day to day life.

  8. Indeed Vera. Brings to mind a certain well-known phrase: one instinctively knows when something is right.

  9. What a well-written post. It also sums up the way we feel about our little patch of France. It's just a holiday home at present but we're so looking forward to the day it will be permanent.
    Our reasons for being disgruntled with the UK are the same as yours; bad driving, bad manners, the evaporation of our pensions and the feeling of being ripped off by the government to support a welfare state that has grown out of all proportion.
    Rubbish in the hedgerows of our beautiful countryside, feeling unsafe walking my own street after dark, nothing on the telly and to top it all, crummy weather.
    Every time we spend a holiday in France I leave a little bit of my heart there.
    I have seen a few "tell it like it is" blogs, claiming life in France is not all roses either. I suggest the authors try living in our place in the UK for a while. Both our homes are in rural areas but in France I feel safer and more relaxed. And although I keep telling myself it's just because we're on holiday, as time goes by I'm not sure that it is. We have met several Brits and other foreigners who now live in the area permanently and they seem to love it, warts and all.

  10. Thanks Jean. Some interesting comments there. I well remember our two week holidays at our French holiday home (a tiny, dilapidated, old peasant's cottage) about a decade ago and dreading returning to England. That's when I knew I had to live in France full time. I'd literally reached the point of no return.