Guest Blog by Fruitcake @barjan
On the 11th December it was all systems go after hearing the news that we would complete on 13th. We had got the dog’s export certificates & sedatives for the journey from the vet’s, next it was to the solicitor’s to sign, the bank likewise and to say goodbye, travel agents to pay for the crossing and pharmacy for all prescriptions to be made up.
We started sorting out the van, packing and making a bed up in it for the dogs on the journey. Packed some of the caravan stuff, removed and packed the house curtains, washed, dried and rehung nets, leaving fridge/freezer and freezer defrsoting. In between lots of phone calls were made, especially to the girls, final accounts were done waiting to be posted to accountant and, of course, more packing ,then everything else had to be left until the following day with fingers crossed that it would all go on the lorry!
Thursday December 12th – Lorry loading day! We were up sharp and Mr. F. went to fill up with petrol, check tyres, oil etc. and got caravan hitched up. I removed the bedding from our bed and made up the one in the caravan and dismantled all beds ready to go, during which time the phone didn’t stop ringing with people saying goodbye!
Lorry arrived and loading begun, I carried on with last minute packing and then helped with the loading. We stopped for lunch which Carol had thoughtfully provided for all of us (me, Mr. F, our friend who had come to help (without whom I don’t know how we would have managed!) and, of course, her son-in-law).
Back on with the loading after lunch, messages on the answerphone, but no time to ring them back. We finished loading at 6.30pm when Carol kindly provided us with an evening meal too (our friend went home for his). After the evening meal we carried on with all the last minute bits that were going in the caravan and van. The girls came to say goodbye but we were rushing about and didn’t have time to chat properly, in the end I said “Okay let’s get this over with” and we had a very teary farewell from them, me telling them that we were not going to Australia fortunately!
By the time we’d finished, both had a bath, given the dogs their sedatives and were ready for the off it was 11.30pm, exactly the time we should leave. We said our goodbyes to Carol (son-in-law had long gone home and Jim had long ago gone to bed as those two were to drive the lorry) and gave her the keys to hand in to the solicitor’s tomorrow morning for us and off we went – but only to the end of the road! The caravan was making a funny noise and Mr. F. thought we had too much weight in it, it was starting to drizzle, but there was nothing for it but to unload some of the stuff to the side of the road and re-arrange the van to put more in there, Mr. F. still didn’t think there was enough clearance so we turned round & headed back!
Mr. F. re-arranged everything, Carol had heard us and made us a drink, bless her and, once we were satisfied all was okay, I rang the ferry company to book us onto the next ferry, due to leave at 3.45am and at 1.15am we set off again. All seemed okay with the caravan, the dogs were nice and sleepy and we arrived at the port at 2.30am, we sailed at 3.35am.
It was a very strange sensation, as we saw the harbour lights of Dover fading into the distance, to realise that we would not be living there any more and wondering if all would go well wih the completion of the sale & money transactions etc knowing that, as the house was in negative equity, there wouldn’t be much left after the mortgage was paid off and the rate of exchange meant we wouldn’t get too many francs for what pounds we did end up with, still we were filled with the tingling of excitement thinking of the great adventure we were embarking on!
Once on board we were worried about the dogs being left alone in the van on the car deck and asked a member of staff if we could go down and see if all was well, he kindly accompanied us, we didn’t want them to see us and get upset so hid behind a post to peep at the van and were greatly amused to see one of the little ones sitting in the driver’s seat “clocking” us in the wing mirror!!
We left Calais at about 5am and began our journey, it was freezing cold, rain and fog making it worse and the heater in the van packed up. We wrapped the two small dogs up, one in my cardigan the other in Mr.F’s jacket, one on my lap, the other on the engine cover, the two big ones were quite cosy in the back. They were all brilliant for the whole journey, we made lots of stops on the way and on one occasion Sophie, the Doberman/Border Collie cross, was so dopey and cold she had to lean against the van, bless her! Mr. F. almost fell asleep once, I made him pull over, telling him it wasn’t just our lives at risk but others and particularly our 4 dogs! So we stopped and catnapped for half an hour on some stops – it took us 12 hours to reach the cottage!
Because of Mr. F’s marvellous anti burglary precautions it took a while for him to get in the cottage, with me holding the four dogs on their leads and a torch for him to see! We were pleased with the condition of the cottage, expecting it to smell dank, but it didn’t.
The lorry arrived not long after we did, even though they had caught a much later ferry ensuring they’d had sleep first! Fortunately I had brought easy to prepare food to rustle up a meal for us all on our little 2 burner caravan cooker, which we had with a drink and they went off to their hotel for the night and we bedded down in the caravan as we needed to air the mattress in the cottage – we still could not believe that we actually lived there!
The next day, after a frosty start it became beautiful and sunny and at about 9am, when Jim and son-in-law came back, we put the dogs in the caravan to keep them safe and out of our way and proceeded to unload the lorry. Bernard, the apple farmer who used one of Louis and Gisele’s barns, kindly unloaded all the plasterboard with his forklift truck and stored it in the barn. Unloading was finished by 1.30pm! After lunch Jim and son-in-law said their goodbyes and left us
We put boards down on the grass and stacked all but the small items, to go up in the loft, on them and sheeted it all up. We put up a temporary fence across the one bit of garden that wasn’t fenced so that the dogs could run free in it. By the time we’d tidied outside, made the bed up and lit the fire it was time for our evening meal, after which we sat and opened all the cards that we’d been given.
Sunday 15th December was another beautiful day, after a very hard frost and we had a lovely walk in the frost with the dogs before breakfast. Our day was spent, unloading the van and caravan, sorting everything out, what could go up in the loft space, what we needed for use. The dogs loved it! After charging around all day they were out for the count in the evenings!
We found homes for things, sorted the room out a bit better and, because the fire smokes so much that we have to have the door open a bit, Mr. F. fixed a curtain across the back of the sofa, so that we didn’t get so much cold air down our necks (I don’t know how the last occupants of the cottage coped with the smoke! – 50+ years previously we’re told, since there were any occupants! )
From then until Christmas Eve we worked outside shifting brambles and Russian vine, sorted things out inside, made a log shelter, cut logs, used the phonebox in the village to ring girls and my Dad, enjoyed receiving Christams cards from all and sundry, regularly emptied the chemical toilet, emptied boxes, found homes for things, putting some up in the loft, during one such exercise Mr. F’s
leg appeared through the ceiling, showering rubble down into the kitchen sink below! After I asked if he was okay I asked him to do it again so that I could take a photo!
Lots of walks with the dogs in between, lifting water from the well, stacked timber from the stable outside & sheeted it, leaving some space in there for us to move a few items from under the tarpaulin and stack in there on pallets (fridge & a couple of beds etc), ate breakfast by candlelight one morning, which was delightful. Chores included filling the oil and tilly lamps.
One morning we went to try and find the water company to see about getting the water meter re-connected, after much demanding of directions we finally found it, only to find it was closed until 1.30pm. So we went to the town where we told we could find France Telecom to arrange for the telephone connection – couldn’t find it so a wasted morning!
Bernard gave us some old apple boxes for the fire. Mr.F. stripped the tiles from the “bad” part of the stable roof and we sheeted that up to keep dry the furniture stored there. We continued to pull out apple wood from the tangled pile and cut it into logs. Soaking the washing in big, white tubs, then rinsing and putting through the mangle.
We marvelled each day at the fact that we actually live here, enjoyed seeing deer on the hill, not telling Louis that we were thrilled to see them running one way while he and his hunting dogs were running in another direction.
Finally on 23rd December we got to the water company (we’d tried another day but the van wouldn’t start!) They said it would be connected the next day, Christmas Eve. The 23rd was also the day that we finally treated ourselves to a chansaw, to make log cutting much easier. It was a cold night and the fire was smoking more than ever because the wind was in the wrong direction, we had chicken curry to warm us up!
Christmas Eve we awoke early but lay in bed chatting as it was too dark to get up too early, I looked out of the window to see everywhere was covered in about 5” of snow! It was quite magical! Our heap of furniture under the tarpaulin was a wonderful igloo! We went for a walk, the dogs went berserk in it and we took lots of photos. Too risky to go out for petrol for the chainsaw or to the village to make phone calls from the call box so Mr. F. cut up lots of logs from the tangled pile with the handsaw and as I was trudging up the hill pulling a barrow load through the snow I collapsed with an uncontrollable fit of the giggles! M.r. F. now giggling because I was asked what was so funny “Us” I said “We’re like the old settlers!” and we both dissolved into more laughter!
The man from the water company came, poor soul was frozen! He connected the water but we found that the tap didn’t work, so still no water. Oh well we decided, will have to wait until after Christmas and perhaps better weather.
Louis & Gisele came along for an aperitif, we gave them a calendar with scenes of Kent, they gave us a bottle of Eau de vie and we passed a pleasant hour, they said we were to go along on Christmas morning to use their phone and ring the family, bless them!
Christmas Day 1996! I was awake at 3.30am thinking “It’s Christmas!” I did go back to sleep for a while. We took the dogs for a lovely walk, used Louis and Gisele’s phone to ring family, our fir tree in the pot was decorated complete with old fashioned candles, I decorated the Christmas table while Mr. F. was outside and we ate turkey and beef and all the trimmings, washed down with bubbly, had a visit from Marcel & Alice and finshed our day by the fire, blissfully happy at having our first, magical Christmas in our delightful cottage.