EEC 13, 19th April 2005

I had a few queries for the estate agent. He's always charming, and promises to ring me back, but doesn't. So I sat outside his office until he returned. No big deal, I had lunch while I waited. It's can be real handy carrying your house around with you.

Anyway Jean-Marc gave me some good pointers for the presentation of my garage plans, one point needed a change of location of the garage. I rang the carpenter in the village, it was he who had put the new roof on the house, and arranged to meet him at 10 am the next day, Saturday.

Everyone was asleep when I got there. Patrick, who is selling the house, and his parents, my new to be neighbours. They had all been to a dance until 3 am the night before. We had coffee, and the carpenter went away with the plans, to give a quote in a couple of weeks or so. He has to liase with a builder to do part of the work. Patrick has also found a builder interested in the job, he took a copy of the plans for his contact. That is really useful, I will get 2 quotes for the job. As time goes on though, I am getting more interested in doing the building work myself, especially if there are to be delays with builders starting. Nicolas from Mirande said he booked his builder a year in advance and that builders often promised a starting date but did not appear. I'll wait and see what the quotations are like.

I wandered around the garden and stuck some sticks in the ground where I planned to put the garage. The building, the drive, and the parking space in front, will take about half the back garden. That's no problem, I have no plans to grow vegetables, or even to spend a chunk of my time rushing around with a grass cutter.

I managed to catch Nicolas Chabbert at home, a balloon pilot who lives in Mirande, the town 8 km from my house, we met at Albuquerque in 2003 when he was working in Texas. Anyway. we had a chat, we'll meet up again sometime. I also phoned Roland Martin, I earlier showed you photos of his super house, I'm calling there next Wednesday to say hello. It being Saturday I decided to go to the local Aeroclub's Saturday dinner, I had an open invitation, so I called in to reserve a place, then worked some more on the garage plans. It's not that the plans are complicated, it's the program, it's not really user friendly, and all the information being in French does not help.

The dinner at the Aeroclub was superb. About 15 people, mostly local pilots and wives, that's airplane pilots of course. We started with a couple of bottles of champagne from a Belgian pilot living close by, to celebrate gaining his private pilot's licence. Seems it didn't count that he already had 4,500 hours flying jets in the Belgian airforce, he still had to go though a full course of instruction for his PPL. A real nice bunch of people, a real nice dinner, about 6 courses, lots of wine followed by a liqueur, I forget which, but it was good. Then they wouldn't let me pay for anything. What nice people, what a nice welcome to the area!

Sunday I took a little tour to explore the area some more.

The mountains above cannot be properly seen from a photo, just as one cannot show the view from a balloon with a photo. The views are all much too wide to capture in this way. The mountains in the photos cover more than 90 degrees of the view. Try it. Swing your head to the left, then to the right. Then imagine. All the way, from left to right, you would see the distant mountains. They run for 150 miles.

Only about 30 miles deep, I am sure at some stage I will be tempted to fly over them. Well already I am tempted but I need to be more in current practice with flying before I could properly consider it.

This is the best place in the world that I have found to fly balloons. Gentle, endlessly rolling hills. Gentle winds, the gentlest in France. No big forests. No cows, no animals to frighten. There are ducks, they watch, but they don't worry. Lots of summer sun. I think I will like living here.

There are towns here too.

I wouldn't have made this below in my American RV. Nor in any of the normal French camping cars. It's why I like have a vehicle of more or less regular size rather than camping car size.

I don't remember if I have mentioned before but the registration number of my van, DCB 121, is somewhat special. I have kept this same registration number for around 45 years and with the funny English registration systems it is now actually worth more than the van.

Later, it came on to rain. Like just now, as I write. Rain is beating down on the roof, and the van is from time to time rocking in the wind. You can't win them all

I noticed some 4WD vehicles coming back to their trailers just round the corner. These were rather special 4 WD cars, I wish I'd taken a photo. I followed the mud spots backward and found there had been a 4 WD event. 4 x 4, or quatre quatre they call it here. I did see a couple of runs over what I would have thought was an impossible course.

Monday found me visiting the local market. I bought 5 litres of wine,11%, the highest quality they had, 1 per litre. There are without doubt some advantages to living in France. I also bought another flower in a pot for the dashboard to replace my now died down daffodils.

It's nice to be already getting to know people, in the market I met a local farmer who had been at the aeroclub dinner, then later Claud Peres, balloonist from Auch, recognised my van and stopped by to say hello. Driving through St Michel I swapped a wave with the carpenter who is giving me a quote, and whilst measuring a bit of the garden of "my" house was spotted by my neighbours to be, and dragged in not unwillingly for a coffee.

Patrick, I'm buying the house from him, had asked a quote to build a garage from a contact. I think its a bit high. For example, one item, to supply and erect 600 concrete blocks for the walls. They are 50 cm long x 20 cm x 20 cm. I got a quote for the blocks from a supplier, 400. The builder quoted 2,400 to supply and build. That means he wants 3.50 just to put one block in place. Oh come on! For 3.50 ($4) each block I'll do it myself. To get 30 an hour ( a good rate for a builder) he will have to lay blocks at the rate of just 10 an hour. My estate agent reckoned he could lay blocks faster than that himself. If my other quotes are like that I guess I will get to find how fast I can lay them myself.

One of the disadvantages of living in France, or, more exactly, working in France, is that social security contributions are very high. The more or less free health system is very good, but costs a fortune to run. If you are self employed, about 50% of your net profit goes in social security contributions, then you pay regular income tax on the remainder. That's like 50% of your income disappears. It means that prices from the independent operator, self employed, are often higher than you would reasonably imagine. I don't have to pay these contributions myself, fortunately, since I don't work.

I have now finished my garage plans, with some help filling in the forms from Jean-Marc, the estate agent, and have lodged them with the Marie, that's like the town hall, the headquarters of this thriving little community. It's only open Tuesday afternoons.

We've provisionally fixed the change over date, and final signing of the house, for next Wednesday. That's provided my money has got there by then, and the notaire has finished the required searches. So I'm planning to head north tomorrow to collect the first load of my things from Marie's barn. The round trip will probably take 3 days, allowing for a day loading up, and a 7 hour drive each way. If I load carefully I might manage with 4 van and trailer loads.

I'll leave the furniture of my motor home conversion down here, it won't take long to take out, I need to undo about a dozen screws, that's all, then the van will revert to a real van. Rather a pity in a way, I'm was getting to like living in it. I think I'll leave my new flower in place. It's not such good company as Little Cat but it'll do!

Best regards

David Barker

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