EEC 8, 25th March 2005

Since it was dark when I finished my shopping at IKEA I just stopped at the car park in the centre of the next town. My, don't people get up early to start work! I used to start at 9.30 am, I've never been good at early starts, although this camping car touring stuff in the past few years has got me into getting up earlier. I probably hold the world record for any balloonist for the smallest percentage of early morning flights.

Soon after starting in the morning I pulled off the road to make a minor adjustment, I forget what, and found myself in a discount store car park. First thing I noticed was a cupboard unit, just right to make a base for my hand basin unit, and at my sort of price too, 25.

I hope by the way that you can read this sign "", which stands for Euros. Windows XP users should have it OK, others might have to download a patch from Microsoft. It's probably not shown on US keyboards, to create it you press alt Gr and 4. The Alt Gr key is the alt key just to the right of the spacebar.

So I bought the base unit, and another saucepan, 4.95. The second saucepan came in handy earlier than planned. I've mentioned that I like oysters but I also like mussels, cooked as moules marinieres. I bought some a few days ago, pre cooked, they just needed heating up, they were fine. I bought some more that were in a sealed pack but just tonight found out they were just mussels not pre prepared. I had to rush to the local store and buy more onions and parsley, I already have garlic. There were too many for my saucepan so I had to cook them in shifts, using my frying pan as saucepan lid and tipping the cooked mussels into my new pan. Well worth all the bother, they were delicious.

The electric cooler box has been working. I had one before. It keeps things cool. No chance of freezing anything. When I can get the car batteries fixed up so that it can run all the time it will be better.

The new radio/MP3 player has been working fine. Except it showed up a fault on one of the speakers. Tonight I managed to prise the cover off the speaker and pushed a bit back in place, that fixed the problem.

I reached Castelnau-Magnoac. Not sure it would be a good idea to buy a house here, I can't even pronounce the name of the place. I found, I think, the house that I had come to see. The view from the house looks as though it will be stupendous, the house is on the side of a hill overlooking the Pyrénées. The house itself does not look great, much more run down than I thought. I've made an appointment to see it tomorrow 2 pm. The asking price 63,000 is well within my budget which appeals greatly.

I filled in time by going to see a house just outside my planned price limit, with a local agent, Corrine, but it did not set me on fire. I arranged to see another house with her next morning. I parked for the night just off the square in Castelnau-Magnoac overlooking a superb view and phoned a contact, another balloon pilot in Mirande, just a little way to the north. He was out but I spoke with his wife, Stephanie. We have to meet soon she said, but in the meantime we have a friend, an estate agent, English, who had some lovely houses on his books. I phoned, and next morning spoke with his colleague. 120,000 maximum she said? Oh no she said somewhat haughtily. We only deal in restored properties, we have nothing below 250,000. End of contact.

I'd earlier discovered that English estate agents in France are best avoided, if you are buying, their prices being somewhat high. UK prices for houses are around double French prices, English agents in France have cottoned on to this, and have asking prices around 50% above French norm, but still well below UK equivalent. Me, I'd rather pay real French prices, thank you. I'll put up with a house agent who does not speak English, no big problem. When I'm selling I'll go to an English agent ha ha!

This is the house I went to see with Corrine next morning.


It's very tiny, total 63 m2. (Go see that program I mentioned, convert.exe) (Oh heck. I'll tell you. It's 670 ft 2) One bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, workshop. It's very old, the walls are about a mile thick. Well, that's a slight exaggeration. Say 2 ft thick. It's liveable now, things to tidy up that's for sure, and I need to build a garage, aka balloon store, at the back. Below 20 m3 I don't need planning permission, but I would like a bit larger than that. But I would need a right of way access to the back, from an adjacent farm road.

In the afternoon I went to see the house I had come here to see. There was a super view over the Pyrenees from the bedroom window. But everywhere there were small works that needed doing, everywhere you looked there were things to do. You would never finish. So although the price was super I said no. I really don't want to spend the rest of my life renovating a house.

I went back to Corrine, the estate agent from this morning's visit. Asking price for the house we saw was 84,500. I offered 75,000 but Corinne said they had already refused 80,000 last November so I equalled that figure and remarked I had the funds available, I did not need mortgage or to sell another house.

For the night I went to a spot I had found 3 years ago, when I was exploring the region in my van. It's a spot beside a country track overlooking a superb view.

Dinner was magret de canard. You can't buy this in the US. You can't buy lamb chops, you can't buy decent cheese. I love lots about the US, I love lots about France, lots about the UK, and don't forget Mexico, oh, if only, you could put the best bits together then you'd have one superb country!

The owner thought about my offer to buy his house over night and said yes. So it seems I have bought a house. We sign next Wednesday and final completion will be about 2 months time. The right of way access was agreed, the owner of the farm is the father of the man selling the house.

I went shopping. There was a special offer on oysters, 2 dozen large oysters for 5.50. I couldn't resist. They managed to last from Lunch and again for dinner, accompanied by delicious French baguettes. I also managed to buy some wire and attachments for the second battery so I can start to wire it in. I think I've got everything I need.

I called in by the house to work out where I could put the garage, and while there met the father of the owner, the man who had granted the right of access, my neighbour to be, a superbly pleasant man. He is a farmer, a producer of foie gras, which is a speciality of this region. His son is selling the house because he wants to go and live in the town instead of the country. Me, I like the country.

These are ducks. About to become foie gras.

This is the evening view from my parking spot, with the mist creeping in, it's the same place as last night.

Best regards

David Barker

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