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  • Writer's pictureCatherine

Welcome to France !

Sur ma route oui….il y a eu du move oui…

January had flown by, after my mum went back to New Zealand, it had been very busy at work and my weekends have been filled with paperwork and organising my life in readiness for France along with seeing friends at old haunts, selling unneeded belongings, travelling around London to imbed the memories further and much much more, all counting down to the impending departure date.

Parliament Hill, beautiful flowers and memories to boot

Magali arrived on the 4th of Feb, ready to start packing for our last month in London. She’d booked the mover the week before for the 7th of March, it was all starting to become very real but we were happy to have finally got it all booked in, one thing off the very long list! We also had a telephone meeting with Baluchon to talk about our feedback on the plans we'd received from them earlier in January, it was a productive call but the bad news was that our Tiny House wouldn't be ready until after March 2020, so we would have to wait longer than expected to start that part of our business, for now we will have to focus on the house and the big move.

The empty kitchen, and a good excuse to go the restaurant!

We were heading to Sarah and Caley’s for dinner on the 7th of Feb when Magali saw a text on her phone from the mover saying he’d be at the flat around 6:30pm, it was 6:40pm. We quickly rang him in a complete panic since we weren’t ready at all as the move date wasn't supposed to be for another month! We ran home to meet him (after telling Sarah what had happened and that we’d be late for dinner) to try and figure out where the confusion had come from and what we were going to do about it. Looking at the emails, we quickly realised that after the first message, the month was never mentioned and as both the dates and days for February and March were the same, it’s easy to see where it all went wrong (as well as the fact that Magali can’t see photos on her phone as he’d sent her a screen grab for the confirmed booking of the Eurotunnel ticket). Luckily, Darran (the mover) was very nice and we both took equal blame, splitting the cost for the one ticket on the Eurotunnel, which thankfully for us, was the only thing we were out of pocket for in the confusion. We managed to settle on a new date as well, we would now be moving on the 5th of March, early in the morning. We were happy to have sorted it out but were now uneasy that everything could go wrong in the lead up to that date and we wouldn’t be calm until we were on the move. We headed back to Sarah's for some much needed wine and laughs to ease our minds, just a little...

We still had a month to go, so we wanted to make the most of it, especially as it was pretty much the first time we had every weekend together for a whole month since Magali used to work most weekends when she was in London. There were still concerts to attend (The Vaccines at the Roundhouse was amazing!), birthdays to have (another year older for me), beekeeping courses to learn from (in English while I still can), bottomless brunches to eat and drink (followed by a probably very unsafe Santander bike ride along the canal), trips to Lille to see cousins to go on, games to play with friends and family, friends to say goodbye to, food to eat that we knew we wouldn't be able to get again in France, leaving drinks to have, and trips around the city (including Hampstead Heath with people playing Quidditch, running with sticks between their legs in place of broomsticks?!?! ) to take it all in one last time (with teary moments throughout). I’ve loved living in London so much, it's going to be hard not to be there all the time. It was also quite strange for me as I knew I still had two more trips to come while I was still working, but easier (in some ways) for Magali as it was the final time for her. It all passed so quickly, I didn't want it to be over, there was still so much to do and see!

Creating new memories to remember London by...

Riding Santander bikes along the canal

The morning of the 5th arrived, we woke very early and readied ourselves for Darran’s arrival (hopefully). We had everything all packed (except the things I would need for my trip back the following week), the cats were in their new soft carriers and we were saying goodbye to the flat. Darran arrived earlier than expected (hooray!) and we packed the van up quite quickly with our belongings and our two cats had plenty of room. They didn’t seem too bothered by it all but it’s not like they had much of a choice! We were on the road before 7:30am, leaving London behind (once we crossed its packed roads) for the French countryside. We were making good time, so managed to get an earlier Eurotunnel train than we had booked so all was going well. Darran was a great talker so we were kept entertained by his stories and we stopped a few times for bathroom breaks and giving the cats some fresh air. After ten and a half hours, we made it to Le Boulay all in one piece. We quickly unpacked the belongings and Darran was on his way. We put the cats in the house and hoped it wouldn’t take too long for them to get used to it. I was unnecessarily worried about Bowie, she adapted that evening, as long as she had food, she was happy. Spliffou on the other hand was a nervous wreck (and would stay that way for a while). We had to leave them for the evening while we readied ourselves for our new life in a Campervan. It had been such a long day and the emotion of it all hadn't really kicked it, maybe because we were tired or maybe because it all happened too fast, but it happened none-the-less.

The cats in their cages with all our belonging and in the Eurotunnel

We unpacked a little to make ourselves feel a bit like home in the Camping Car and found that Catherine and Jean-Guy had set up so much for us, they'd filled it with water, gas and it was connected to the power, plus the fridge had pre-made food in it that we just had to heat for our dinner for the next few nights, there were eggs and drinking water and there was Ricard in the cupboard! It was so lovely of them to have done that for us, merci beaucoup Jean-Guy and Catherine! ☺

Living the small life and it's so far going well, ask us in another month if we still feel the same!

We were woken early by the birds (something we weren't quite used to in London) and we made a coffee so we could have breakfast in the house with the cats before heading to Châteaubriant so I could work as we hadn't set up the Internet at Le Boulay just yet. While I worked, Magali continued with the paperwork for the artisans and the bank, making sure that it matched what we wanted, from local sources where possible, sustainably made or reusing what we already had. Magali also organised a SIM card so we could finally have internet in our Camping Car, so after one more day in Châteaubriant, I could start working from Le Boulay.

It was still winter but it was such amazing weather, the sun was shining and we could feel it's warmth, it's like we were being welcomed to our new life by everything around us. We were still getting used to all the birdsong in the morning, especially from a particularly noisy pheasant, as well as the noises of the night, from frogs/toads to foxes (I think), owls and bats.

Waiting to go outside, but first, they had to get used to a new big (and empty) house

Our first weekend at Le Boulay was great, the weather was amazing and we started working on pulling apart an old wooden plaster mixer so I could make a letterbox (I didn't want to buy one so was set on making one myself) and on Sunday we went with Catherine on a walking tour around some of the local farms, seeing what they do and how they do it. It was really informative (of what I could understand) and great to see the surrounding area. We also let the cats our for the first time, on their leashes of course, just to make sure they didn't run away. Bowie was absolutely fine, smelling the flowers and eating the grass as well as having a small wander about the place before coming inside on her own accord. Spliffou, on the other hand, went mental. Climbing trees, running sideways with Magali in tow, completely scared of every noise he heard, before racing back into the house and then hiding in one of the rooms for a long while after. So strange when he was the one that loved the outdoors in London but I guess the wilderness of Le Boulay can be overwhelming. It was like they'd swapped personalities, Bowie was now the chilled one, no more hissing, enjoying the outdoors and being at peace, while Spliffou was the bipolar one who needed attention and wanted to stay indoors to hide. Hopefully he would get used to it soon and back to his normal self.

The first day out in the countryside for the cats (left). Our first weekend visiting farms in the area.

I worked three more days from Le Boulay, before getting on a plane and heading back to London, of course the flight was delayed and then the trains were cancelled so I had to get an Uber from Luton Airport to arrive back at the old flat after midnight. It was very strange to be back at the flat, especially without the cats, I kept looking around expecting them to be jumping over the fence or waiting outside the bathroom as they so often did. I had the rather morbid thought of "this is how it will be when they're dead", I know it's not the nicest thought, but it's how it felt, the emptiness they leave is astounding. It was back to the office once again and it was a very strange feeling, I'd only been in France a week and felt like I adapted so quickly, I was now out of place in London. That quickly faded as routine once again set in. Going to work early on the same train, going home, but this time I was spending most of my evenings selling my possessions to others, luckily selling my bed with only one more night to go. On the weekend, I went back to Hackney City Farm for a more intensive Beekeeping course with Ken, it was really interesting and felt I learnt a lot in the four hours we were there. After what seem like a very short week, I headed back to France very early on Wednesday, saying goodbye to my room and the flat for the last time. I'd been there almost ten years, almost unheard of for a renter in London, it was a place of so many memories and was the longest I'd ever lived in one house so it's going to be very hard to get used to not living there.

First time for me visiting the market in Segré. The cats finally getting used to their little paradise ☺

It was back to working from Le Boulay as well as visits to the bank and I finally got to meet our architect, Marthe. On the 18th of March we signed with all the artisans, we were one step closer to starting the works and a week later we also signed our mortgage with the bank so we're almost ready to go, we just need the artisans to give us a date! We started to work a bit in our garden, planting some things to test how it goes and if we're doing the right thing, the traditional permaculture way, test and observe! The weather was still lovely so I got to work outside, basking in the sun (the best thing about working remotely) while Magali attended to the garden (I helped out when I could).

Measuring and working in the Garden

At the weekend, we had the chance to visit a finished Tiny House that Baluchon had made so we could finally see first hand what it was like inside one, and it was great, the way they utilise space and height is amazing, it felt so much bigger than the Campervan we were living in, it made us so excited! There was also a shop that had many different natural materials that we could utilise so we took note of names and brands so we could also use them in the future for our house. We also talked to Letitia at Baluchon about our Tiny House, we would have new plans before the summer and we talked to her about our authorisation we needed from the council which will mean if we can do it by the book or not. So the next step will be to present to them our business plan which is very nerve-wracking, fingers crossed it will all be ok! We were in Muscadet country, so of course we stopped for a little wine tasting, taking a few bottles home for our trouble.

Open doors at Clisson to see a Tiny House and wine tasting the local Muscadet !

After another great weekend and a couple more days of working from Le Boulay, it was back to London for the final time. I had an early-ish flight and was going straight into work, it was very stressful but I eventually made it into the office. In the evening I headed back to the old flat to sell one last cat cage and hand over my keys, this time it was really the end. I said goodbye to the flat which already didn't feel like my house anymore and headed to Sarah's where I would be spending my final nights in London. I was looking everywhere I was going, taking it all in, thinking to myself that it would be the last time I was there. From the previous times I'd done this, it was feeling more real and the emotions were starting to take hold.

The next two days passed quickly, with handovers at work, a final lunch with Jecinta, an amazing leaving dinner with the original Editorial team, and great evenings at Sarah's, it was time to leave for the last time. I didn't get to say goodbye to everyone I wanted to and I felt like I hadn't finished everything I needed to, both at work and personally, and even though I was all packed and the time had come, I had the feeling I wasn't ready to go. As the train pulled out of St Pancras, I had to hold back the tears, this really felt like I was leaving forever. I got to the airport early so treated myself to a nice breakfast and mimosa to toast to the end of an era. Somehow, EasyJet knew I wasn't quite ready to go and delayed my flight which somehow made me come to terms a bit more with the departure (as well as getting some things done in the meantime, helping with my state of mind).

When it was finally time to board and leave, I cried pretty much the entire flight to France. The realisation of what I was doing kept rearing its head each time I managed to compose myself, leaving friends I'd made and seeing those people I saw on a regular basis would be one of the biggest trials I would have to overcome. I tried to take photos as we flew over the channel, one of the English speaking land I was leaving and one of the foreign land I would be making my new home, as a way to remember this momentous occasion, but the spring haze wouldn't allow it, so I'm left with two photos of an EasyJet wing from different angles.

It's such a strange feeling, embarking on a new life where there are so many unknowns. Funny to think that I did the exact same thing eleven years ago when I moved to London from New Zealand, except this time I don't speak the language of the country I'm moving to. I know it's going to be hard, but as one of my favourite quotes says "man cannot discover new oceans unless he has courage to lose sight of the shore" and as in permaculture, we just need to take it one step at a time.

Now we're here on a permanent basis, don't hesitate to stop by and see us to say hello, encourage us or even lend a helping hand if you have the time, there's always something to do here ☺

See you soon!


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