Gently into Retirement No 6 – Frantic with Flatpacks

Bringing Mum and Dad out at the autumn half-term for their first visit since we’d bought our French home was quite emotional bearing in mind how anxious they’d been all along about our plans, but they’re game old birds and were determined to do their best. Due to severe lack of furniture chez nous they were booked into the relative comfort of the Arcades while we were virtually camping with just our new kingsize bed (only delivered half an hour before departure on our previous visit), and the terrace furniture, table and four chairs, that our kind vendors had left behind for us. The journey over had been great using the Ryanair mobility scheme (no charge but you do have to register at the time of booking the flights) for Mum and Dad; after check in we’d handed them over to two ‘carers’ with wheelchairs and didn’t see them again until we were on the plane! Bit scary, but it all worked well. There was one carer and one wheelchair waiting at Perpignan but as the terminal building is only 50 yards from the bottom of the ‘plane’s steps they both managed very well unaided. We’d hired a nice big people mover for the two weeks, not only so we could get them in and out easily but looking ahead to our second week when we knew we’d be in furniture buying mode.

By the end of their week they both seemed a lot happier, enjoying the good weather, visiting all our local favourite places, meeting some of our new friends and helping us to recce likely items of furniture. They set off on the return flight feeling confident about the Ryanair support and, indeed, it worked a treat again at the Stansted end where friends were waiting to take them back to Newmarket. First hurdle over – they CAN manage the flight by themselves!

So there we were, even on the way back from the airport, diving into Fly and But to pick up lots of small items that we’d spied on earlier visits and experiencing the trek up 36 steps to the apartment that was to become a feature of our first few visits – 44 if you count the ones from the basement car park – carrying heavy items. Hernia Hill (Hell?) we named it after that second week! By the end of it the hire car was driving itself to the main drag of But/Fly/Pier Import/Castorama and beyond to Conforama – where, dear reader, abides Monsieur Planterose; what a complete star he is! Seek out this man; ask for him by name because he is wonderful and quite used to dealing with English customers. He speaks passable English too so if we came unstuck he helped us out. Some of the furniture we chose wasn’t in stock so we ordered ahead for collection on our Christmas trip and it was Monsieur P who told us to be sure to book the self-drive courtesy van for 11 o’clock-ish to allow the maximum time to get home and back bearing in mind their 2 hour closing for lunch. Sound advice!

We drove down at Christmas bringing a laden car with stuff from Ely; we did the Troyes, Lyon route, ie east of Paris which was OK but went back the Clermont Ferrand, Orléans, Rouen route, again avoiding Paris, which we like better and have used subsequently. David flew out to Perpignan on Christmas Eve to join us for a week which was lovely (felt SO cool meeting someone at the airport, just like we were residents!) only little did he know that he’d be flat-packing (rather than back-packing) for his keep!

Flatpacks are just God’s little joke aren’t they? A way to really confuse and annoy most of the male population. I say male population because most of the time us ladies aren’t really allowed a look in. Take the husband – we’re trying to set up the apartment and there are many many things to do and to sort out. What does he decide is the most important job? To get the spare bedroom wardrobe units up and working from the seven boxes it currently sits in even though we’re not expecting visitors to stay in that room until probably 2009. No, no I said calmly you go ahead and do that and I’ll negotiate my way round the small space that’s left to me and bring all our belongings, currently in even bigger boxes, up the forty-odd stairs from our basement store room. I don’t mind breaking my back while you muck about with tiny screws and Swedish instructions, you go ahead. Can’t you be doing something else – it’ll take 50 minutes max stated S and D confidently as they set their wares out around them. I silently added an hour on to that for the point halfway through when they would no doubt realise they’d missed a vital bit and have to start again.

Three hours later I crept into the living room excited about seeing my new dining room unit and thinking perhaps they’d gone to sleep as it was so quiet. David had indeed, but no such luck for Stephen. He was on the floor, head in hands, two drawers completed out of the five. Errr, everything OK? I said using the tentative female approach that works so well – the last thing you need mid-flatpack is someone wondering out loud why it’s not finished yet apparently. Well, I must say since watching Billy Connolly I’ve learned some words I’d never heard before but they were a dip in the ocean compared with the torrent of abuse that came out of the mouth of my almost always mild-mannered Glaswegian beloved. Would you like me to help you I offered stupidly? Whoops, maybe not the ideal timing.

Apparently I can’t be trusted to put up a flatpack ‘cos the last time I offered to help it resulted in the CD rack that fell forward every time you stood it up and he had to take it apart again on Christmas Eve as it was a Christmas present for son and heir the next morning. So there was no way on earth that he needed my help as he wanted it done properly and it’s his job to put together flatpacks so if he could just be left in peace, please, then he could get it done a lot quicker instead of having these constant interruptions to put up with.

I slunk out, muttering about how ridiculous is the male ego and how, frankly, they can take their allen keys and shove them up their shelf brackets and left him to it. Needless to say it’s another two hours on and I’ve managed to unpack the boxes, put away all the crockery and pots and pans, put up the curtains, decide where to hang the pictures and mirrors and cook a meal. I daren’t say that perhaps we should have settled for the Conforama ready-made units just in case the atmosphere changes into something more evil than that in the Big Brother house…………

It was a lovely Christmas, being together and slowly getting organised, and seeing in New Year at the Collioure festivities and fireworks was very special. Our February and Easter trips saw us more or less sorted (got lost again coming off the A9 trying to get to Ikea in Montpellier, couldn’t believe it) and so the summer half-term break was pretty much our first restful trip, although the weather was grim which was a real shame when we’d been looking forward to some beach trips.

This time we’d come down in my Golf, the idea being to leave it behind for us to use on our trips over the next year. It had a year’s MOT and tax and I’d managed to get breakdown and regular insurance via Europe Assistance and Norwich Union respectively at good rates for multi-stays not exceeding 90 days in total (both only available though if you’re UK resident). Disconnecting the battery at the end of each stay would, fingers crossed, ensure that we’d be mobile each time. Next year when our ‘transition’ period is over we’ll need to think again – whether to go down the route of re-registering it in France (herein madness lies I’m told!) or to bring it back to sell and buy a French car. Regular visitors to this site may well have read my account of how we got back to the UK at the end of this trip – by Eurolines coach! Not bad, not bad at all…….just slow! and I’ll be doing a there and back version in September with Mum and Dad to see if it’s another travel option for them.

We often think back and wonder if, with hindsight (always a wonderful thing) we’d have done anything differently, carried on looking longer and chosen somewhere or something else but at the moment I can honestly say we really have no regrets whatsoever. That said, and as I’ve said before in these notes, we were incredibly lucky with the help and support we had from members of this site, our immobiliers, our vendors and our new neighbours who have made us so welcome. We agonised over whether or not to take on someone who would oversee the whole project (there was a particularly gruesome spate of relocation programmes going out on Channel 4 at that time I seem to remember!) or at the very least should we use a UK-based solicitor?, but it’s another big cost on top of already big costs when you’re selling up here and buying there, so we didn’t, although if it’d been a less than straightforward transaction we probably would have.

Sto, end of May and retirement was almost upon me and it couldn’t come soon enough; the months since the start of the year had dragged and to be honest, I was mentally out of there! It was going to be some farewell ‘do’ as four other members of the senior admin team were also leaving in that summer term. My successor had been appointed (don’t get me started!!…..) and after a four-week handover I was looking forward to bowing out in the middle of June. My first adventure was to be my first solo trip to Céret at the end of the month, and beyond that I couldn’t really imagine but Stephen had told me that we’d be ‘away’ for a week around my 60th birthday and was being very secretive, so something’s up!!…………

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