by Marian Thornley

How not to move to France

Our cycling/house-buying adventure was taking place only a few weeks before the first of various financial crashes hit the world. Luckily for us, we managed to sell our cottage in Bowness within a matter of weeks, and we somehow scraped, borrowed and begged the rest of the money – but only just. Later that summer, having agreed a sale on our Cumbrian home, it was time to return to Ceret. Not sure whether the owner had understood our pigeon French when we had asked if we could move in to the most derelict part of the house, we planned to just turn up. With no means of communicating with him, and no backup plan but vaguely hoping for the best, we set off.

Our son drove us to Manchester airport through teeming rain and at 10 o’clock the following morning we were stepping out into the bright sunlight of Perpignan.

As we dismounted from the bus in Ceret the heat hit us in the face, and we were soon boiling in our Lakeland walking gear. It was such a relief to sit in the shade of those same plane trees outside the Marie, to flop onto a bench with a croissant in hand, and to take in the atmosphere of this typically French town – our new home. More importantly, it gave us time to decide what to do next. We had not really thought this through. Hoping she might take pity on us and drive us up to the house, we waited for the estate agency to open at 2, but our friendly agent had disappeared. Nothing for it then, but to walk the 3 miles in the blazing sun, up a very steep hillside, dragging and carrying our suitcases. 

Four hundred metres of ascent later (it felt like we had scaled Everest), we arrived at Mas Pallagourdi, exhausted and with heads throbbing. The place was empty, the owner nowhere to be seen. We tried the door and were surprised to find it open, so in we went. The floor was freshly mopped and thankfully it was obvious that we had been expected, although this was the habitable end, not the derelict end where we had expected to stay. We were very pleased to find that he had left most of the furniture, including tables, chairs and most important of all – two beds.

We wandered around and gazed in awe at the swimming pool. We hadn’t really remembered that there was one, and certainly had never dreamed we would be the owners of such a thing.  Undeterred by the thick green pea-soupy appearance, we jumped in. The cool water was delicious. I wandered around, inspecting the house, then found Bill fast asleep in bed, so I found another bed in another room and soon I too was fast asleep. 

I woke up to hear someone downstairs shouting ‘Ello!”  How embarrassing to have been caught sleeping in the owner’s bed, but he didn’t seem perturbed and after fussing around us, bringing sheets and towels, he disappeared through a doorway into the ‘other side’ of the house, where it seemed that he and his teenage daughters were living. Although we hadn’t eaten, we couldn’t face the walk downhill and uphill again so had a little walk around the garden and woodland and watched a beautiful sunset from a swing seat next to the pool. We still couldn’t quite believe our luck to be living in the place of our dreams. Despite our throbbing heads and empty stomachs we closed the shutters and fell into bed, wondering what the days to come would bring.

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To be continued.

Read ‘Letting Go of Love‘ Marian’s first  novel based on the lives of her grandparents during WW1.

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