From the UK to France and Back Again
Following the sale of our UK house, we realised that the French experience was now a reality. Little did we realise just how many changes were to come when we moved to Puy L’Eveque in 2003!
Our two removal vans completely blocked Grande Rue for most of the delivery day, we wondered if our French neighbours would even introduce themselves to us. It was a long day. Even worse, our tired removal drivers had had lunch with wine, forgetting that with the hot mid-day sun this would not be a good idea. We thought back to this as we surveyed the broken items, mainly glasses, contained within our newly opened boxes – obviously dropped by these ‘careful’ removers. We had also discovered that the ‘newly retiled roof’ was just a ruse, once we had the first real rains in France but, apart from this, we settled down to a wonderful way of life. Iona put in a courtyard garden and tried to tame the back garden, we finally had a courtyard that actually contained gravel, we now understood the term ‘outside living’, had wonderful neighbours and Chez Henry across the road – what more could we ask for!
Stefan had trained in the UK as an Alternative Health Practitioner and started putting his hard work and certificates to good effect; after all, we had bought a former Doctor’s House. We realised it would never be Chez Spencer – all knew it as Dr Blazac’s. The treatment room was as he left it, all 34 metres squared with a full 4 metre height! Shiatsu and Qi Gong therapy massage – or Acupressure massage to you and I, this would be the treatment offered. We advertised as best as we could with our limited French and business started to pick up. Iona was the perfect advertisement and the reason for Stefan’s interest in this, following a serious car accident. We began to put our plans into actions for the gite next door, turning the top floor into 2 double en-suite bedrooms, and downstairs a ‘Provencal’ kitchen, and open plan dining room and sitting room. ‘Petite Maison Bleue’ took shape and we booked the first of our many holiday reservations.
As the Euro climbed, we began to realise that life was becoming more expensive – we could still enjoy excellent meals and wonderful food, but this was all costing more. Our mostly UK clients were also finding life tougher and were now spending holidays, if taken, at home.
Stefan was headhunted by a Charity company within the UK and headed back to the usual long hours and awful travelling that is part of the UK work code. Even Charities now have to be run on a Commercial level, and where was their charity to their workers anyway? Life had returned to the grind again.
The recession bit into life in a big way. Now potential clients were worried about their jobs – how could they think of having holidays abroad? The euro almost equalled a pound sterling – how life had changed. We could still remember when Sterling was double that of the Euro.
Iona also returned to the UK returning to her Advertising former past – no changes to this way of life. It was good to see the family again, but, however much time was spent in the UK, France was always ‘Home’. We would have to fall back on Plan B – to spend enough time in the UK during this awful economic climate to return to France for good – and do something that we could carry on with in France.
Stefan has a Catering Degree; he worked as a Casino Manager in the long ago time of the ‘Playboy Club’ etc, and had a good working knowledge of both wine and food. We then thought about the opportunities ahead, we did, after all, live in the Cahors valley, full of wonderful aromatic red wine and were surrounded by Vineyards. We loved returning ‘home’ where our neighbours would greet us as if they had last seen us the week before. The rose garden still bloomed, whether we were there or not. The house was being covered by the wonderful wisteria, grown from one thin stem found within a tree in 2003. We couldn’t leave permanently – we would have to think of this as an extended leave of absence.
Stefan decided to learn about the wine trade. He agreed that the long hours would be worth it and returned to study hard. He took the wine trade acknowledged international examination – Wine & Spirit Education Trust, both Intermediate and Advanced – passing with distinction. Even Iona seemed to learn some of it, or she just guesses well!
So what next? Years of working, maybe 5 and then maybe we can both live the dream of retiring to France. Perhaps we tried it too early before, but one thing we can say is that life in France is what we want – it is home.
Stefan and Iona Spencer 2009
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