June 2007

Our English Estate Agent phoned yesterday.

Our buyer’s buyer’s buyer has pulled out.

So we’re not moving.

On the 25th.

Of next month.

I should have been doing this

a week ago.

With a break in the British summer, and no rain forecast until one o’clock, we headed to Stanmer Park for the second fitting of our first guest yurt’s roof cover.

Which is easier written than done.

To add a little difficulty, this was the first time we were putting up a yurt with no assistance from Professional Yurt People (my capitals). And we were hung over after dinner with our French teacher.

Our first lesson was that we should have paid more attention to how the trellis wall sections fit together. It looks so easy when someone else does it. After several frustrating attempts (with the rain fast approaching and the cover needing to be on), we learnt that the first time we put the entire trellis together successfully, it’s always upside down.

Needful to say, getting this far…

took ages.

Professional Yurt People will see that it’s not perfect. But it’s not too far off.

Next,we learnt that it will be far easier to raise the roof wheel after we’ve invented a Special Pole-y Thing. I know the Mongolians have already done this, and use bagana in their gers, but we don’t want these fixtures in the middle of the space.

Anyway, we made it to this point…

Through this one fairly easily…

and then learnt not to put the cover on into a strong, storm-threatening wind. Seems obvious, especially to a former windsurfer, but that’s the way the cover was folded and the whole point was to put it on to see if it fits.

Turning down another opportunity to give up and try again another day, we used the wind (and a hastily constructed Long Pole-y Thing) and…


All it needs is a minor alteration round the roof wheel and it’s done.

Go Clare. (I didn’t tell you that she’s making all the yurt covers in our lounge, saving us roughly £18,000 in the process – but I will.)

The final lesson was one we have had many times before, both here and overseas. Don’t trust the weather people. It didn’t rain all day.

I can’t help noticing that I use more words than other bloggers. So here’s the story in pictures.

We’re selling this:

To buy this:

And this:

And lots of this:

To live in this:

With some of these for guests:

One of which we’re putting in this:

And dragging behind this:

To France. On the 25th. Of next month.

I didn’t tell you.

When I was going up to Loughborough last Monday, to buy the new used car, our English estate agent phoned to say our house sale was in danger. Not the best news, when I’d just negotiated an extra two grand on the already considerable overdraft, on the strength that all would be repaid on the 21st. Of this month.

To be fair, it wasn’t our buyer that was the problem, but our buyer’s buyer.

They pulled out just before exchanging contracts, a week before we’re all supposed to hand round huge virtual bags of money, and they don’t have to pay a penny! If we’d booked our international movers, it would have cost us two grand. Not to move. Absolument ridicule!

What’s wrong with a 10% deposit up front to show how serious you are about buying a house, which is forfeit if you pull out? Isn’t a verbal agreement to buy still a contract?

Don’t ask me.

I clearly don’t know.

On Wednesday, the sale was off and we had to put the house back on.

On Thursday, instead of packing for France, we spent a mad half day tidying, so the estate agent could take some interior photos. Last time, they didn’t need them, as the house was sold on the first viewing. Twice. (The friend our buyer brought wanted to buy it, too. It’s a nice house.)

On Friday, there were a few viewings. One of which turned into a second viewing. Then an offer. Full asking price. No chain.


An hour later, our estate agent phoned.

Not to tell us that all was going ahead smooth as you like, but to say that our old buyer had also sold her house. Again. And her buyer could also match our now-fixed(ish) deadline of July 25th. Of this year.

Now, our old buyer absolutely LOVED this house. She wanted it before she even set foot in the door. Coincidence watchers will really enjoy the fact that she was talking to someone coming out of her yoga class and it went something like this:

Our Buyer (OB): (EXCITED) I’m buying a house near Brighton College.

Yoga Woman (YW): Not on [NAME OF ROAD]?




It turned out Yoga Woman lived in this house in the 80s. She loved it too. So did the people we bought it from. So do we. Our Old Buyer just had to have this house.

So we sold it to her. Again.


Having chosen the triangular search area between Perigueux, Bergerac and Sarlat, we booked a two-week holiday. Something I’ve never done in all my freelance years. But once you’ve made the decision to leave the country, everything becomes easier. And when you’re planning to cash-in your house to pay for your new life, it becomes very easy indeed.

After much browsing, umming and ahhing, we booked two gites. One just South of our search area, with a kids’ play area, swimming pool, hot tub, satellite TV and all that. And one just to the North, with a wood-burning stove.

For me and the kids, the crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe was very pleasant. For Clare, with her violent travel sickness and, now, detailed knowledge of the inside of a toilet cubicle near the play area, it was less so. Good job we’d booked a cabin for the way back then. Maybe.

We spent the night in a fantastic B&B from Alastair Sawday’s book and website, and made it to the all-mod-cons gite the following evening. Already beginning to realise that two weeks of driving around looking for land, in an old Renault, might be a bit much to ask of our two kids.

COINCIDENCE WATCH: On the morning of day one, we went into nearby Beaumont to find an estate agent. The first one we saw was an Orpi. Inside was Nicolas, who spoke English, went to school in Brighton and knew the road we live in. Having said our land requirements would be difficult to fulfil, he phoned his brother, who said something exactly matching our brief had come on the market the night before. He then pulled a few more properties off the printer and away we went.

To the land(s)!

The first place was almost entirely wooded. But there was a caravan, with paving already laid – and a kind of lean-to thing. I thought this was pretty great, but I’m easily pleased and Clare needed to see more.

The second place (the one that had only just come on the market) had a steep zig-zag-zig road leading down to a freshly mown field of a few acres, surrounded on both sides by woodland. It, too, had a caravan with a small paved area.

The third place, which I had seen on the InterWeb and emailed another branch of Orpi about, was densely wooded and right in the middle of nowhere. Unusually, it did not have a caravan – it had two – although it was impossible to see how they got there.

Because Clare was feeding our youngest (something I am not biologically equipped to do), she hadn’t seen the second place. But my description was enough to prompt a second viewing, which we did the following day. Apart from the facts that it was a bit expensive and not quite expansive enough, it was perfect. Even in the rain. Especially as it was only a few hundred yards from the Dordogne and a beautiful 13th Century bastide town.

Before we had time to voice our concerns to Nicolas, he said he was very sorry, but the price he had given us was too high and the land included an extra couple of fields and some more woodland.

As we all walked the boundaries together, which took considerably longer than the few seconds it takes to walk between the front and back doors of this house, we decided to buy. The ten and a half acres of heaven, in the heart of the Dordogne, with one field already perfect for our yurts and polytunnel, and another already perfect for our guests was just 45,000 of your Earth Pounds. Five grand under budget.

And we were only a few days into our two-week break, which meant we could have a holiday, too.

Looking back, it’s possible we could have found our new home a bit quicker. The clue is in the name of the bastide town on the other side of the river: Lalinde. Pronounced as you would with a broad English accent: “La Land”.

For the last several years, we’ve been driving around in a Renault 19 Biarritz.

And it’s been fab.

The left elastic on the parcel shelf didn’t work. Every six months, a bit of trim fell off. And every year, something went wrong that cost around £500 to put right – a radiator here, a clutch or exhaust there – just enough to make you wonder if you shouldn’t sell the car and join a car club, or take cabs when you really need to. But not quite enough to push you over the edge.

You maybe, but not us. Not yet.

A few weeks ago, the car started making terminal noises. We thought it might take us on our final, one-way trip to the Dordogne before dying in the land of its inception, but it was not to be. Too many things were going wrong at once. The clutch again. The exhaust again. And at 1.4, the engine probably wasn’t strong enough to pull the trailer I was ordering, anyway.

We needed a car. Fast. Preferably left-hand drive. French (almost everyone in France drives a French car). Decent-sized engine. For under four grand.

To the InterWeb!

I found a few left-hand drive garages – bizarrely, none near the Southern ports – and was set to take our old Renault on its final journey to Chesham, when I had an idea. My older brother, who I haven’t got on with since my teens, has a friend in the car trade. Maybe I could make the budget stretch a bit further and enlist his help.

So I made the call.

And took the predictable abuse. (What it must be like to have a brother who can say: “Sorry, mate. Can’t help you there.” or “I dunno. I’ll ask around.” Ah, well.)

I ended up giving myself a hard time for calling. When I got home, I told Clare not to let me be so stupid again.

Then my brother called me.

“This is spooky,” he said.

Now spooky, we like. This whole project has been what you might call spooky. We wouldn’t. But you might.

Apparently, my brother had gone to the pub and continued to slag me off for being whatever enough to think there’d be a left-hand drive car in Leicestershire. What a whatever I must be. What a complete and utter…

And the guy sitting next to him tapped him on the shoulder said he had a friend who was thinking of selling a left-hand drive Renault Scenic. Not just a French car, but a French-born-and-bought car with English plates.

It’s sitting outside our house now. With a shiny new towbar. Well under budget.

And it’s fab.

For those with an interest in “coincidences”, and you’ll see plenty on this blog, the MOT is due on my birthday. And the left elastic on the parcel shelf doesn’t work.

On the Friday before last, me and Clare were talking over dinner. Our estate agent had told us that the person buying our house was good to move in on the 21st. Of this month.

So we needed to find somewhere to rent in Brighton for a couple of months, before going down to France as we’d always planned. My suggestions of a caravan in a trailer park and a houseboat were swiftly rejected on the grounds of comfort and sanity. Short-term lets being non-existent in this part of the world, I’d found a campsite near Hassocks where we could pitch a yurt. It had washing facilities for clothes and people, but Clare wasn’t crazy about spending the first part of the summer holidays with two kids, in a field, while making yurt covers, just so I could carry on commuting to pay our still-considerable bills.


Then Clare had the radical idea of going to France, instead. We looked at the figures. It would cost half as much to live in France as it does here. And if we stayed, we’d probably have to sign a six-month lease, only to leave after a couple of months and risk losing a few precious grand. Why not lose those few grand in France?

Look after the thousands and the hundreds of thousands will look after themselves, as my grandmother never said.

Not to be outdone on the ideas front, I remembered the wwoofing network. We could go and stay on an organic farm – for nothing. And learn valuable skills about working the land. And meet people. And get an early start on our French. And start working on our land. And other ands.

Like: And turn our three grand a month of bills into… zero.

We slept off the wine we’d drunk on the way to having this idea, and we were still happy. So after a very excitable weekend, I went into work on the Monday and told them it would be my last week. Then we started getting ready to move to France. On the 20th. Of this month.

I sourced a trailer – a nearly new Daxara 238 if you want to know – eight by four – very handy – and we talked to a company about moving everything else. We found a car to replace the one that had decided to die in this country. (More on this, later.) We brought the deadline for our guest yurts forward and Clare started making a cover for 18-foot yurt we were going to take to the organic farm.

Now the reason I’ve been writing in the past tense.

Two days ago, our buyer’s buyer dropped out of the sale.

So we’re not going to France. On the 20th. Of this month.