I have almost given up expecting that things will go to plan, especially this year, and this week was another case in point. It all seemed so simple – Tom would finish his online lecture with Uni at 3pm on Tuesday, by which time the car would be loaded, and as soon as he finished, we would hop in the car and head off back to Provence. The tunnel crossing was booked, as well as a night in a hotel at Arras en route home, with the aim of nicely breaking the journey, aiming to arrive back in the Luberon by late afternoon.
I really should have known better, and it soon became clear that this year still hadn’t quite finished with us, and once again, the best laid plans were ripped apart at the last minute. The car was ready, I was ready and I was waiting for the final few minutes of Tom’s lecture to finish, when all of a sudden there was a loud pop in the house and all the plug sockets on the ground floor failed.
We tried everything… Turning everything off, unplugging all the appliances, even giving them a ‘really good talking to’, accompanied by my best ‘Paddington Bear stare’… I may even have raised my voice at it a bit too! But nothing worked, it was determined to have its moment and throw another spoke in the wheel of life.
A call was made to the emergency homecare number, with an appointment made for a visit later that evening, and once again I pulled myself together and got on with the task of changing the tunnel booking and resigning myself to not getting home to Provence, and Andy, for another day or so.
As you can probably imagine, I was not in the best of moods by this time, and after chatting to Andy, who managed to calm me down a bit, Tom grabbed me and dragged me out for a walk, just to pass time before the electrician arrived.
Two hours later, and feeling slightly less stressed, we arrived home, and I had one final, hopeless flick of the circuit breaker, this time though it stayed on. I could almost hear it laughing at me shouting ‘gotcha’ as everything fired back into life. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but the day was over. It was certainly too late to start driving, (especially with all the overnight road closures) but at least everything was working again, we had a provisional appointment just in case it all failed again overnight and could head off first thing in the morning, leaving George in charge.
An early night was followed by an early start, with us pulling off the drive at 5.30 and finally starting the long-awaited trip home, with Tom driving the first stage to Andover, where we would swap over.
It felt so good to be on our way, and as we started heading out of Exeter, I finally started to relax as the miles started dropping away. We were almost through the Black Downs, about 30 miles from home when Tom mentioned he hadn’t bought his card wallet, I laughed realising this would be a great ploy to rely on ‘bank of mum and dad’ over Christmas, until I realised his driving licence was in it too…. A quick U-turn followed, with a frantic call to George, who leapt into action (not bad for 6am) found the wallet, and drove out to meet us in Honiton.
About 40 minutes later we were on our way again, and slowly got back into the drive, passing Stonehenge with the sun rising just above the horizon, casting a soft pink light across the sky and stones of the ancient site. As I was enjoying the view, our next problem loomed large, with the announcement that the motorway approaching London was closed, due to a serious accident, with hour-long queues already.
Stopping for a break, to swap drivers, we took a few minutes to look at our options, finding a new route through, before setting off again, doing battle with Guildford at rush hour. It was far from ideal, but at least we were moving again, and finally arrived at the Channel Tunnel just a couple of hours later than planned, which after the last few weeks seemed pretty good – the main thing was that we were there, and our next stop was France.
Although there was still one last thing in the way. A car had been weaving between the lanes at the entrance and finally pulled in front of us at the automatic check-in. It quickly became clear that something was very wrong, when the doors opened and the driver got out looking slightly perplexed, spending a couple of minutes of pressing buttons on the gate. He then walked back to us and said ‘ I think you’re going to want to kill me … I didn’t mean to come up here’ , At first, I thought he meant that he had come into the wrong check-in lane, but no, he went on to explain that he didn’t want to cross the channel at all and had come off at the wrong junction and was now trapped and couldn’t get out.
By now there was a queue of cars behind us and we all started reversing to try to let him out, so that he would be able to get to a check-in position where he may be able to speak to someone. Just as we had all cleared the lane though, someone arrived, lifted the barrier for him and told him how to get out and back to the motorway.
I’m still not sure how he had managed it, but he had and at least he didn’t find himself having to cross the channel, just to save face, but it did mean we missed the first crossing and had to wait another hour, before Tom finally drove us onto the train and we pulled away from the station.
Thirty five minutes later we were back in France, with just a 10 hour drive home ahead of us, but the autoroutes were quiet and we just shared the driving, watching the miles melt away.
Ten hours later, just few minutes before midnight, after driving through the valley, and Apt, which was sparkling with its superb Christmas lights, we drove up the final hill to the house, where Andy was waiting for us with the fire lit and a well-chilled bottle of pink fizz from friends, to welcome us home.
I almost felt as if I had to pinch myself, to make sure I wasn’t dreaming – it has been such a chaotic, and unexpected few weeks back in the UK, and at times it had felt that I just wouldn’t get back, but there I was back in Provence…. back home.
It didn’t matter that it was after midnight, I was just so happy to be back, and wanted to see for myself all the work that Andy has done over the last few weeks. The photos he’d been sending me had given me a sense of what it was like, but seeing it in person, was just so different. The new kitchen space is light, bright and ready for the doors and units to be fitted; the old kitchen looks so much better with the new floor, and the door he has opened up in the corner looks as if it has always been there. And the terrace, with its new wall is just beautiful, even in the dark with the stars stretched out above us, and the lights of Caseneuve twinkling in the distance, it was easy to see what a superb space he had created, and how it will quickly become a well-used and much-loved sitting place.
Within minutes of being back, the last few weeks, and the stress of the drive back melted away, and it felt as if we had never been away, in fact I had my first full night’s sleep, since leaving nearly 7 weeks ago.
The following morning, it was just lovely to sit on the terrace, and see everything in daylight. I really have to take my hat off to Andy, and what he has managed to achieve by himself over lockdown – he has succeeded in turning our long-held dreams into reality, and the house is so different to the one I left (in a good way).
Being back home also seemed to switch my luck. The first email I saw was from French Property News magazine to tell me I had won a bottle of wine, having been selected as their ‘Star Photo’ for the month, with an image I had sent in of the view from Saint Saturnin back towards the Luberon. What a lovely way to start the day.
Then the second was confirmation that we had successfully registered our Honda in France and simply had to pay 236 euros in tax, before the registration number would be allocated, which was fantastic news.
The next step was to return to the hospital to see someone about my clavicle. I had been forced to cancel a review appointment when I had to head back to the UK, but had been told to go to Urgences when I got back. I must admit, I was really worried, as it was examined, prodded and poked by the doctors, but was quickly reassured that it was healing nicely, was actually joined now and I came away with a prescription for intensive physiotherapy. All being well I will be back on my bike early in 2021 ……. as I say it really felt as if my luck had changed!
We’re still in the midst of the strict COVID restrictions, and I have quickly got into the habit of completing my attestation whenever I head out shopping, or we go for a walk, and within 24 hours of arriving home, it felt as if I had never been away.
That first evening, we were sitting in front of the fire, enjoying a glass of wine and just chatting about what we had planned for the next few days, when I thought I heard a knock at the door, which seemed rather strange as it was just past 8pm and nothing ever happens here at that time in the evening. Then it happened again, so I popped down and found Pascal outside with the doors for the ‘porte-fenetre’ that will be fitted from the new kitchen onto the terrace.
It was a totally unexpected, and rather wonderful surprise, and it really started to dawn on us that we may well be able to use the new kitchen space by Christmas. The doors, in solid French oak were just so elegant, with Pascal having worked hard to maximise the amount of glass, creating narrow-framed, but incredibly sturdy doors. With them leaning up against the wall, we got a sense of the transformation that would take place, when they are fitted and smiled as Pascal said he would be back first thing the next morning with the frame.
As promised, he arrived by 8.30 the following morning and checked the frame for size, before it too, was left by the wall, ready to be fitted. He still has the porch to make and will be back once that is completed, but as expected the doors he has made so far are just wonderful and will make such a difference to the new space.
Since then, the days have passed in a blur of getting on top of the paperwork, preparing for Christmas and simply relaxing back into life in Provence. We’re certainly making the most of the 3 hours of permitted outdoor exercise each day, taking Millie on long walks and just enjoying catching up with Tom about his first (rather disrupted) term at Uni.
I’ve been back to the market in Apt, enjoying ambling around, filling my basket with the fresh fruit and veg that we love, and treating us to a rather large lump of truffle cheese, which is simply divine. It was also lovely to see the first branches of Mimosa blooms on the flower stalls, their yellow, fluffy flowers, a sure sign that the end of the year is nearly upon us, and that Spring is just around the corner.
It’s been such a strange year in so many ways, but being back, it feels, quite rightly, that I am home and I’m just keen to be able to really get our feet under the table and establish ourselves properly. There is so much to be done … my jewellery business will have to be registered, we have so much work to finish on the house, and we have acres of paperwork to wade through too.
But today, as the Christmas tree went up…..
… And Andy fitted our new registration plates, it really hit me that we are here, and are here to stay……..