‘Not knowing where you’ll be tomorrow must be liberating.’ Indeed
French leave: My ‘sale agreed’ house in Dublin is ready to go but I still can’t the perfect village house in France
The hunt goes on for a French village house. Photograph: Getty Images
Friends, discouraging over Christmas, had become enthusiastic about my plans by the time I returned in February. Couldn’t wait to see the back of me, in fact. Lucky you, they said, escaping Dublin’s winter. We’ll be down to visit, they said. None of them said anything about selling up and this, you could say, was the proof of the pudding.
My Sale Agreed house had never been so comfortably familiar, neighbourhood never so desirable, streets never so dismally wet. It was hard to align with life around me, impossible to take part in the one I was hoping to join; a surreal feeling and not recommended. A neighbour stopped to encourage as I did a bit of winter gardening. “Not knowing where you’ll be tomorrow must be liberating,” said he. Indeed.
Dublin City Council carried out long-overdue repairs on the road fronting the house and the weather, just like in the south of France, turned bright and cold. Perfection arriving as I was leaving. You can’t win ’em all.
The new owner came calling and revealed a feel for the house and locality. It was a relief when he liked the garden too; bricks and stone have memories but plants live and breathe. The growth of years wasn’t going to be laid waste. The neighbours, predictably, reminded me it was none of my business, I’d sold the place. They were right, of course. They were rarely wrong.
I continued my search for a home in France online, signing up with new immobiliers, Googling mountain and coastal villages, Montpellier again. Houses everywhere seemed more ideal and cheaper than anything in the village to which my heart made a wandering return.
Poignancy, always an unreliable emotion, pounced at the slightest provocation. The dog’s ghost haunted his one-time bed, memories howled from the Christmas tree location, family moments jostled everywhere. The house had done good service, and knew it.
The exhilaration of structural surveys, searches for house deeds, insurance policies, life’s certificates (who knew selling a house bought in my own name required marriage and divorce certs?) finalising facility contracts (gas, electricity, waste, security, Wi-Fi, TV, phone, house insurance – life’s a contract) decisions about what to take and what to dump all kept me on my toes.
In high springtime, as days got longer and brighter, as cherry blossom bloomed in my street and children came outside to play, houses began selling along Bath Avenue. But mine had done me proud, held its own in a wobbly market, found an appreciative new owner so I didn’t, once, check on those other house prices.
Contract of sale
We signed the contract of sale. Everything’s relative, of course, and on the same day, by way of context, Nissan moved out of the UK, Bernie Saunders threw his hat into the US presidential race and Donald Trump became excited about socialism taking over the US. In France, Karl Lagerfeld died.
My doctor, thinking for me, provided my medical records. These would have to be passed on to her French counterpart, she said, when I found one. That would be after I found a place to live. I gave up on the online search. I would head for France, rent for as long as it took to find somewhere, store my belongings in the meantime. I called the highly recommended Tony Kavanagh of AK Movers & Shipping and began packing up the house.
It was confidence at first sight. Tony knew France well, the Occitanie very well. We sat in the comfort of my familiar kitchen and talked French towns and villages, wines, sunshine and what a great place Dublin was.
Better to store in Dublin, Tony said, until I knew where exactly I would settle in France. Better to deal with one company, to work in one language. He checked what I intended taking, was discreetly silent about nostalgic choices, and two days later gave me a reasonable quote. He was a building block in place.
Empty, the house looked bigger and began to let me go. Friends, arriving with a mattress, sighed at desolate floorboards where there had been a wine-stained rug and at the lack of an accommodating table in the kitchen. Sleeping on the mattress greatly increased the speed of letting go. So did scrubbing and hoovering.
Everything changed with the arrival of a mail from my patient friend in my preferred village. A shared office space in the village had rentable desks, plus a nice apartment was being refurbished for renting in the village. Like a timely bang to the head, this made everything clear and obvious. I would rent. Permanently.
Renting was a secure proposition in France. It was what people did. Renting would give me a place to live and money left over for the high life. I didn’t need to own property. Not at my age.
I emailed the cooperative offices and secured a bureau/desk. I emailed Chloe and Martin, the apartment owners. Chloe got back with pictures of the work in progress, of soon-to-be rooms filled with sunlight, 400-year-old stone walls revealed and, as far as I could see, a Versailles-like terrace. In an earlier life, I’d bought a house over the phone and it had worked out. So I said yes, I would rent the apartment. Chloe and Martin asked an agent for a rental figure and we agreed that too.
“You’ll be missed,” the neighbours said, “but it’ll work out grand. It’s only two hours away.” It’s less. Montpellier is an hour and 45 minutes from Dublin.