We had a takeaway!

If I had to list one thing that I miss about the UK it’s being able to sack off cooking the evening meal and pick up a takeaway. We were totally spoiled for a choice at our old house and being so close to the city and with so many densely populated suburbs around we could have a different takeaway every night. Not that we did: we weren’t big fans of Chinese food so it was usually emergency fish and chips or a curry. At peak times (like when DS was born) we’d have one maybe two takeouts a week. More often it would be one or two a month.

But it wasn’t just takeaways. There were also many great places we knew we could nip out to for a quick and cheap lunch. Actually too many to list but two worthy of a shout out were Dukes in Glossop (definitely a favourite) and Dolly’s in Hadfield. Thinking about it, there was food everywhere where we used to live. Fast forward nine months and here we are in rural France where a) nothing is open and/or serving food outside of regular lunchtime hours of 12-2 and dinner time hours of 7-10 and all those places sell either pizza or burgers or a three-course set lunch (plat de jour) for between 12 and 15 euros, and b) places that sell takeaway are few and far between and at least a 20-minute drive away.

And so it was that James had to make an emergency trip to the tabac in Quillan in order to pick up some e-liquid. It had been a particularly long day with DD really putting us through our parenting paces with lots of shouting and attitude, tired out after a couple of long days and late nights (how do you make a three-year-old sleep!?). He’s been trying to quit the nicotine but hasn’t quite made it yet, so… We’re trying to keep our spending low and one of the main ways to do that is by limiting trips here and there in the car, which means planning round trips for errands rather than thinking of things and going back and forth at the time. Fine. But we’d already been over that way today so I was a bit cross both that he felt this warranted the extra trip and also that he was about to leave me to wrangle both children, one of which was malfunctioning, which would mean a delay to our meal time and, consequently, a later bedtime, which was the last thing DD needed! But then it came to me. There are two Chinese restaurants in Quillan and they both serve takeout – yay!! So that was it. Sod the cost-savings, this was a sanity saving mission and worth any amount of money.

Excited by the prospect of an end to the takeaway famine, off he went armed with rough directions from me based on where I thought it was. I waited expectantly. I’d seen signs on the main road for a restaurant and emporter but couldn’t remember the name of the place, so I did what anyone else would do these days and Googled it.

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A place called Asily came up but that wasn’t in the right place. I’d told James I’d find it and check the menu then message him my order, so I had to find it. How hard could it be!?

10 minutes later I’m no closer to finding it. This is a feature of life in France that I really can’t get the hang of, namely, the Internet just doesn’t work properly! Either businesses don’t have websites at all or, if they do, they are shockingly bad with terrible URLs, no use at all to Google, or totally lacking in content – many are still using frames, animated GIFS (flaming text, anyone?), and other horrors that were normal on the Internet over 15 years ago but not the done thing any more. It’s pretty dire. I tried so many search terms. In the end I resorted to using street view in Google Maps to “drive” to the outside and see what it was called. Armed with the name of the place – Tamarin – I was able to Google it and see what I could find. Try it. Try not to laugh. It turns out not only do they not have a website they also aren’t listed on TripAdvisor. By now I’m thinking suggesting we buy anything to eat from here is going to be a bad idea. Then James turns up. No going back then.

When he walked through the door I was half expecting him to be empty handed. It was probably closed. Or not serving yet. Or not serving takeaway. Or didn’t have any change so couldn’t take his order. Honestly, France is like that. Surprisingly though, he managed to both find the place (it’s easier to find in real life than online) and actually buy food there. But it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. Twenty euros lighter, he had four plastic containers of food and was busily warming them up on the hob. Apparently there was no menu and the guy “serving” gave no indication that he would be cooking anything that evening. Takeaway food was prepackaged and stored in plastic containers in a fridge. Sounds weird, right? Of the six or seven dishes there were to choose from James came home with two noodles dishes and two with chicken. That was about all we knew about them.

He heated it all up. We ate it. It was entirely unspectacular. I was struck while eating them that I could have rustled up something tastier for much less money in the forty minutes it took for James to go out and come back. Even with two screaming children in tow I could have done a better job, frankly. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t bad. I’ve had bad Chinese before and this wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t good either. If that’s the standard I can see why takeaway really hasn’t caught on over here. Really. If that was the only one takeaway in the world, yes, I would probably go back but it would be like an act of self-harm, one where it seemed like a good idea at the time but with every mouthful I’d be thinking how I’d rather have spent the 40 minutes cooking something and not spent the 20 euros.

And because they’re not on TripAdvisor I can’t even leave a lacklustre review. Sigh.

So yes, we had a takeaway but it was a far cry from what I was hoping for so now I’m on a mission. If there’s a place out there that serves decent takeaway, I will find it, dammit!

Nine months (and a bit) later…

It’s just over nine months since we left our old home and relocated to France so how are we getting on? Since the 6 months review we’ve moved house to a new, long-term rental, making the move official in the sense that we now have a rental contract and have bills to pay. It’s great to be living somewhere without holes in the walls, a good stove, and a safe outside space for the children and cats. Since this move we’ve been feeling much more settled than we were three months ago. We’re still checking the property pages but aren’t feeling the intense pressure of those first months. And we’ve learned a lot; not only about the do’s and don’ts of house/land buying but also about what we do and don’t like and what need as individuals and a family. For example, when we first came we were worried about being too out on a limb, too remote and in the sticks. There’s a lot of remote about here! Coming from Manchester, where we had access to everything, it’s taken a while to wean us off having more immediate access to things we need (or want) and to other people. It’s taken 9 months but I’d say now we’re over it and are slowing down, finally. The first six months were intense, living in a tiny hameau, dominated by a few home schooling families; too much for us. Now we’re in a hameau, yes, but there’s more space simply because the people here also like to have their own space. There’s no “thing” going on, just neighbours living their lives. Our new neighbours definite look out for each other and those relationships are important, yes – we speak to at least one of our neighbours every day – but we’re not in each others pockets or trying to live some sort of shared life, which was how it felt in the last place. We’re happy to be out of there.

So, time for a progress report. The five areas to report on are:

  • House buying
  • Settling into daily life
  • Sorting out the paperwork
  • Learning the French language
  • Earning some money

Here’s the low down.

House Buying Progress = 3/10

I’ve moved this up to a 3/10. No, we don’t have a house and we’ve only looked at a couple since we moved into this new rental place but we have made some progress in the sense that we’re learning all the time what we do and don’t want and what too look for when buying land or property. Of the places we’ve looked at all were overpriced and some were over our budget, so no good. Some we’d be interested in if we had more money, others we wouldn’t pay all the money in the world for. It’s nice to feel like we’re in the driving seat now whereas before, when we were staring down the barrel of homelessness, it all felt a bit desperate. We’ll find something or we won’t. Either way I’m loving life here and without that intense pressure it feels like we can make the right decision and find something that’s right for us. The best bit of advice we received when we came out here was from a fellow Brit who said: “remember what you came for and what it is that you want.” The hunt continues but we’re both convinced we’ll know it when we see it.

Settle Into Daily Life = 8/10

I think we’re all feeling vastly more settled than we were three months ago. DD is still going to the maternelle but is enjoying it so much she asked to go full time so now she does two full days and then the rest half days. That’s great for us as we’re starting to have more time to work, to focus on admin, to getting things done generally, and just to have a bit of a break (one child is definitely less work than two!) DS has started at the creche too. He starts properly next week – just two short afternoons – then we’ll add a few more hours from September. He’s still my baby so I’m not in a rush for him to spend too much time in someone else’s care.

Of course, the school holidays start in just three weeks so the timetable we’re starting to work too will all be thrown in the air for 8 weeks after that, which is why, even though I’m now registered as an auto-entrepreneur (business website and info coming soon), I’m not anticipating getting anything meaningful done until September at the earliest. A few hours a week is the most time I’m likely to have. (James is busy, of course, and his work takes priority right now.) But as this is our first summer in the south of France I don’t intend to feel guilty about taking more time off and enjoying it with the kiddies.

Sort Out the Paperwork = 8/10

Slowly, but I am at last getting there. I have mail redirects in place, my tax return is sorted out, I’m about 90% of the way through my address change list, and – with becoming an auto-entrepreneur – I have a social security number, meaning myself the little ones have health care (within the terms of the French system.) At a later date I’ll probably bother to sort out a French driving license but that’s not necessary at the moment. Just having an hour or so every other day has made an enormous difference – and, of course, fast internet. I never ever want be without fast internet for the rest of my days.

Learn the French Language = 5/10

It’s still early days and I’m by no means fluent so 5/10 may seem overly optimistic but… and it’s a big but… I’m feel like I’m at least capable now of getting by. It really helps that our new neighbours are French and have limited or non-existent English: one of them doesn’t speak English at all but loves to chat, forcing me to dig deep both on the listening and speaking front, and our other neighbour speaks French but, along with his wife, is a keen student of English, so when we often talk about language, comparing differences and similarities, and I learn a lot from those conversations.

In terms of speaking when I’m out and about, just last week I managed to go into the bank and talk with the bank manager, about opening a business account, changing our address, and ordering a cheque book – all in French. Absolutely I could not have done that nine or even three months ago. I’m so happy with myself!!! As someone who didn’t speak a word (beyond ordering a coffee) when we arrived and was nervous about conversing with anyone, that’s real progress.

There’s still a long way to go, of course. I know what I know but there’s still plenty I don’t know, like how to say anything about what I did (past tense) or what I’m going to do (future tense) but what I’m doing right now, I’m good with). I’m terrible at asking questions so conversations are not really flowing yet, but I’m learning all the time. Once DS starts at the creche, once DD is back at school, I should have enough hours to not only work but also to study a little. I’m building a foundation for sure but in order to ever reach fluency some effort will be needed. Getting by is good for now but not good enough in the long run. I’m definitely happy with my progress though.

Earn some money = 2/10

I haven’t earned a bean yet, no, but I’ve taken steps towards that so am happy that things are afoot and it won’t be long now. It’s good to be thinking along those lines again. Does that count as progress?

Conclusion

We’re back on our feet and feeling much more balanced and focused. It’s starting to feel like we have a life here. The next few months will most likely be filled with distractions again as it’s the summer holidays. I expect we’ll be socialising more than working in this time but why not enjoy ourselves! We’re getting used to the pace of life (hot and slow – it’s summer!) and settling into our new routines and, who knows, maybe the right piece of land will turn up when we’re not expecting it to? We’re not where we thought we’d be at this point but we’ve dodged many bullets along the way so where we are right now is definitely the right place.

Most days I marvel at the fact that we’re here to live not just for a holiday. Then I hear DD speaking in French with other children and I’m blown away by the whole experience. We might be blowing our savings, living in a rented house with no end to that in sight, but it’s worth it. Our quality of life is fantastic and I’m excited to be learning a new language. It’s a good place and every day I think to myself that I’m so glad we made this move. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live somewhere as beautiful as this!?

Wildlife Wonderland!

I was a passionate wildlife watcher back in the UK and was pretty good with the names of most species of plant, animal, or bird that I came across. Not so much insects, but I’m not an instect-y person. Anyhow, now I live in France there is sooo much that’s new as well as an abundance of certain species that are considered rarities in the UK. There’s so much to see it’s keeping us all quite busy! So, what new and wonderful creatures have I discovered since moving here?

Well, the warm sun is certainly bringing the wildlife out on display. A few days ago we were treated to well over 20 large birds of prey riding thermals in the skies above our house. It was wonderful! I managed to get a couple of reasonable photos with my camera too.

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A tatty looking eagle or a vulture?

At first I thought (hoped) they might have been short-toed eagles (this website was my main reference, then I checked images on Google to see whether they looked similar) but the underwings, with the white “v” shape, are quite distinctive, so definitely not short-toed eagles. Then I thought maybe they were booted eagles but while writing this post I’ve been back and forward with Google images to try and figure it out and now I’m thinking it was one of the vulture species that frequent this area. Oh well. Given the numbers involved, it probably was “a kettle of vultures” – in which case I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for booted eagle.

Lucky me though, because only a couple of days later I spotted a short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) flying on the low hills in the Faby Vallee when I was on the way to drop DD at school! I’d say I haven’t been that excited about a wildlife sighting since I can’t remember but…

Did I mention the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) that was flying above the hazelnut trees at dusk the other night?

Or the western whip snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) that was sunbathing on the wall, not far from where I saw the stag beetle the night before. (James saw this not me but I know it’s out there.)

Then there’s the midwife toad (Alytes), bip-bip-bipping away from under a rock somewhere near our front door. James and I were both wondering what it was that was beeping downstairs, thinking it was an electronic device malfunctioning somewhere in a box, but T, our landlady, told us it was a toad. A toad! I haven’t seen it yet but it’s out there calling every night now it’s warm.

Oh, and the giant peacock moth (Saturnia pyri). Let’s not forget this one!

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Saturnia pyri, just chillin’ on our terrace one morning – all 5-plus inches of it!

It’s called a grand paon de nuit in French (the large peacock of the night) and I’d say this particular creature was lucky that I had some washing to do first thing in the morning because I dread to think what the cats would have done with it had they spotted it first. Yes, one morning we awoke to find the largest moth I have ever seen, the largest moth in Europe no less, resting on the wall outside our house. While we were watching it the sun moved around and started to warm it up (it had been in the shade, until then) so, when it began to show signs of movement we gently persuaded it into a box then relocated it into the trees further down the lane. We’ve not seen it since but it’s out there, no doubt. Our neighbour, who’d seen one flying around a few nights before and had mentioned it to me, specifically because she was worried about our cats eating it, was equally excited when I interrupted her breakfast so she could come and take a look!

And finally, processionary caterpillars, which are the larval stage of the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoeidae). These are my least favourite “new” discovery but that’s probably just because I haven’t yet seen what James describes as the millipede on steroids that is living somewhere near the terrace. When that pops into range it will take the creepy crawly top spot. Uck. The caterpillars are interesting though because despite looking relatively friendly – they’re furry, you know – and innocently marching through the forest nose to tail with one another, they can leave us humans with very irritated skin and can also be fatal to dogs. And they’re everywhere! We thought the webbed nests on the ends of branches of the evergreens around were spider nests but it seems they’re very densely populated caterpillar homes. The lifecycle of is pretty interesting too because they live in the tree until they’re ready to pupate, when they then leave the tree so they can burrow into the ground. The day I (literally) stumbled across them, there were well over 100 (I gave up counting at 100) marching in a long chain. DD spotted them first, which is how I ended up treading on a few. Luckily we didn’t touch them – I know enough about furry caterpillars to know better than that but it was helpful to be reminded and to be informed about their toxicity to dogs when James mentioned what we’d seen to a neighbour.

That’s it for all the exciting new stuff. Then there’s more every day stuff to here that I’d see every now and again where we were in the UK but here they’re common and everywhere. I can add to this list jays, redstarts, and orchids.