And even the kitchen sink!


I’ve decided, quite excitingly ( for me anyway) to give my blog a face-lift, and so next time I post you may find a few changes to the layout and header, but for today I’m going to tell you about the much needed face- lift for our very neglected kitchen!

Anyone that’s rented in France will know that the ‘oh so’ well known english expression, “taking everything but the kitchen sink” is not a figurative expression here when it comes to house moving, but a very big reality. It’s very common to arrive at a new rental or purchase property to find that in the kitchen there is only one item- quite literally a sink, often without even a cabinet below it.

Annonce1-photo4 (2)It was almost the case when we first moved into our house. The elderly Monsieur from whom we’d bought it had gaily lived his life using the top of his mini fridge as his work top, with a small wooden table in the centre of the room. The sink, on a very dilapidated cabinet in the corner was built for a very diminutive person, and washing up bent double to achieve the right height was not a pleasant experience. For three years we nevertheless continued with his tradition.WP_20150103_006I made a very half hearted attempt to paint the cupboard.WP_20160115_002It wasn’t strictly necessary to struggle on, but ‘husband a l’étranger ‘, as he was at the time , and I had come to an impasse over what would be the replacement sink. Husband ‘a l’étranger’ was very fond of the old battered ceramic sink, complete with chips, yellowing and scratches, and I was all for a modern but similar replacement. Gradually he begun to comment about the presence of some interminable flies which seem to appear from nowhere just after he had cleared the last lot through the door. For my part, I was anxious about the damp under the sink which turned out dishwasher salt into a nasty clump, and let’s not even mention the wet patch in the cellar which had convinced me that we had an major underground drain leak.

At the same time as we bought our island unit to give us a decent worktop, I bought a matching base unit for a future sink. I also searched around for quite some time, looking for a new ceramic sink. It took a lot of finding as I wanted 2 bowls, and Husband ‘a l’étranger ‘ wanted an integral draining board. It had to be as near to a metre long to fit into the space I calculated would be available after the base cupboard was modified. Eventually, at great cost I found one.When it arrived on the truck it took 2 strong men to lift it, and it was put in the corner of the dining room…where it stayed for nearly for two years! Husband ‘a l’étranger ‘ cocked a snook at the lovely new white ceramic sink declaring that my idea of converting the base unit cupboard, which was designed for a single Belfast sink, into a double Belfast sink was nigh on impossible. He went to Emmaus and bought a competing sink for 15 € in a style circa 1970, which would involve, yes you guessed it, modifying the base unit as his was a “sit- on”, rather than a “sit-in” style.

The stand off lasted longer than I bear to think about, but approximately two years! Half the trouble was that ripping out a kitchen sink completely handicaps the functioning of a kitchen and there wasn’t quite enough impetus to make it happen. At some point into the second year I disappeared into the garage, and only came back inside once the base unit had been completely painted, – except for the area which needed to be modified and cut away.

Husband ‘a l’étranger went into the garage and balanced his sit-on sink on top of the base unit, and gradually the whole turned into a new dumping ground for various bike helmets, tools and ‘odds and sods’!

And so the stand-off continued.

And then, in November, the mighty ‘hand of god’ intervened with his ‘acte de dieu’ and our dishwasher spontaneously went up in flames at five o’clock in the morning. And there’s nothing like being forced to wash up for a family of six at a very low sink to focus the mind.

The following Sunday, Husband ‘a l’étranger’ rose from his seat in the sitting room and disappeared into the garage and suddenly the sound of a saw could be heard. Within a couple of hours the offending piece of base unit was removed and a double sink size space was created in its place.

The following day the cupboard and sink from the kitchen saw their last.And from that moment we haven’t looked back!A support was made for the new heavy sink:You can see how we cut away the right-hand drawer to increase the space for the sink.The biggest detail issue was how to close of the space between the sides of the sink and the base unit, which we did with a thin piece of timber panel, slightly recessed and painted the same colour.We closed of the left hand end of the freestanding base unit with the wall with another piece of recessed painted panel, placed the new dishwasher in its position with a temporary door and laid on the oak worktop.

The next issue was how to deal with the small spaces either side of the cooker.

Matching the feet of the freestanding unit we made a faux left-hand panel and a fixed right hand panel. The centre part of the left hand side panel opens with a narrow pull-out bottle drawer.On-line I had discovered a company who made paneled dishwasher doors in a shaker-style. Their excellent design with identical feet to our kitchen units would have been ideal but unfortunately theirs was designed for a higher worktop and an XXL dishwasher. Neither of which we had.

Husband ‘a l’étranger’ thought I was more than a little mad (and rather demanding) when I suggested copying the design and making it ourselves.The idea was to make the dishwasher door resemble a free-standing unit, and therefore a door within a frame. However the door and frame are actually just a door!Here it is with the leg part of the frame cut off, fixed to the dishwasher and with painting just underway.And here it is fully painted with the legs in place. If you look carefully you can see the horizontal cut across the legs which is where the dishwasher door opens at its hinges. Without the cut the dishwasher would never open!

The full width of the dishwasher door runs from washing machine on the right to sink unit on the left, but yet it looks like a freestanding unit in itself. I think you’ll agree it’s a great design, (and build), neither of which I can take credit for.

….and the flies, well they had made their nice home in the old overflow pipe of the old sink, and the old waste pipe had been silently dripping for years into the sink cupboard and down to the cellar below. Now both issues are something of the past.

There’s something about creating and building for oneself, I get a little bit of pleasure each time I have to open the dishwasher and load it up…

….and that’s got to be a first!

Making Sense of it All – It’s All in the Translation!


When we arrived in France seven years ago we threw our four children into french school. They were aged between six and twelve at the time. Normal, you might say – well not really, as they didn’t have a word of french between them. When I picked up my daughter on the first day after a couple of hours she was looking decidedly stressed, if not a little close to tears. In an attempt to soften the blow we gave them all mobile phones, thinking that they might be able to text us for translations of the more tricky words..

…well that might be all of them!

But those phones were confiscated by the well-meaning staff in order to force them to integrate. And amazingly, integrate they did. One by one the language got under their skin and by about a year they were fabulous french speakers.

Being fabulous french speakers, and being fluent and bilingual are not the same things. There are still days, seven years on where words do not come, coloquial meanings are a little ambiguous or words simply do not exist in the alternative language.

Incredibly my children haven’t really complained about the process although there are certainly days when they have felt tested, and in those moments they have muttered inwardly, and outwardly,

“why”?

And I in those moments have boyed them up in motherly fashion saying,

“because one day, and you never know when, this will all make sense, this will become an advantage and suddenly a door will open for you”,

and I always hoped it would!

And then suddenly, just when it was least expected, an opportunity came. An email popped in my inbox from the organisers of “Terres de Paroles” with a tentative question,

“can you interpret”.

Only days earlier my sister-in-law and I had been messaging about a canadian author, a friend that she knew from her home town of Waterloo who was touring Northern France for her book tour. Carrie Snyder, author of “Girl-runner’, or more poetically known in France, “Invisible sous la lumière”(Invisible in the light) was in Rouen. At the last moment the organisers of the event had found themselves without a translator. I volunteered my daughter, now 19 for the opportunity.WP_20160407_002[1]

Translating is always easier from the foreign language to your native one, but this event required translating in both directions which involves remodulating, interpreting and rephrasing the dialogue on the spur of the moment in front of an audience avidly waiting for the ‘raison d’être’, the inspiration, the motivation and the explanations  that the author wants to share about their book.

And as much as I was intrigued by the book, the characters, the setting and the plot, I was also thinking,

“This is why,…. this is why you have braved what we inflicted on you all those years ago”

..for my daughter seemingly effortlessly translated the long dialogues and questions from the french presenter to Carrie, and took to the microphone to return to french the canadian author’s responses for us. IMG_5653

Carrie signed for us a copy of her book, which we are excited to read. The french title seeming so much more succinct to us, a finger on the nerve fibre of the book, the raising of the achievements of a sportswoman, hitherto hidden in plain light of day under the discriminations of the era she lived and performed in, into the conciousness of today.

IMG_5650So to Carrie’s four children, a month without their mother in Canada, I say thanks for lending your mother to us, and for allowing this experience to show our four children just what a skill they possess; and to Carrie, thank you for coming to Rouen and sharing your book with us,

..and to everyone else, read this book -it promises to be good,

“Girl Runner” by Carrie Snyder,

or

“Invisible sous la Lumière” – for us, we are, after all in France!

girl runner

Dans Son Jus!


Last week was such a social whirl it left my head spinning. After the move, Christmas, swiftly followed by the gastro, and then the flu and finally several weeks of intense cleaning I felt it was high time to open my doors to all my french girl-friends and give them a guided tour!

My first arrival, possibly slightly shocked at the rather dilapudated state, barely blinked but declared enthusiastically “Ahh, c’est dans son jus!”, 

The memory of this wonderful expression, and may I say typically french way of associating everything with food, my house like a plump duck basting in its own juices – nothing added, nothing taken away,  will probably stay with me forever. And I will cherish it, because my friend was exactly right. Nothing in the house has been changed, it survived the 1960’s and 70’s without modification: from the doors and their handles and the glass in the windows with its uneven and fragile surface, to the panelling on the walls and the iron railings onto the street.

Petit à petit (little by little) I hope to restore the house without losing its original charm. So today I am posting some “before” images and as time goes on will start to show you the changes. What I am really looking forward to is shopping for furniture at local brocantes (antiques/junk shops) once the work is done but for now one of the greatest modifications has been the installation of fibre into the house today, and my son predicts that my photos will upload instantaneously and that updating my blog will be heaven. Lets see if he is right!

The balcony in beautiful spring sunshine!WP_20150311_007

The steps and landing by the front door:WP_20140906_039

The entrance hall:WP_20140906_040

and looking back from the stairs:WP_20140906_021

The salon:WP_20140906_042

and the salle à manger:WP_20140906_046

The conservatory:Annonce1-photo6 (3)

One of the bedrooms:WP_20140906_002

and another:WP_20140906_010

and the master bedroom with “coin lavabo” (ante-room with basin):

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The attic beadrooms:WP_20140906_012

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and the “chambre d’amis” (guest room)! (I’m not too keen on sleeping there myself!

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WP_20140906_019the landing and the bathroom:WP_20140906_020

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and last but very much not least, the kitchen – hub of the house!! (Did I mention it doesn’t have hot water?)WP_20150103_006

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As you can see there is plenty to do! For the most part these photos were taken before we moved in and as such, none of the furniture belongs to me with the exception of the cooker which was carefully placed in the space my super electrician hacked out for me! I have 12 sockets which work in the house and the rest are condemned with sticky black tape, which makes plugging in power-tools an interesting experience and I have already been blown off my step-ladder by an explosive hand-sander, so the next few months look to be interesting!

But watch this space because changes are already starting to take shape, and the garden shows great promise now that the spring is nearly here!Annonce1-photo1 (6)

 

What Have I Done!


The first night in the new house I lay awake until the early hours. “Husband à l’etranger” was still held up in Canada and the house was frankly just a little bit scarey. While furnished the house had had a certain charm, but once the furniture had been removed it was altogether a different story. I lay in bed oscillating between extreme guilt for having asked the kids to sleep in this “god-forsaken” place, and the horror of touching anything. At the same time I was actually just a little bit worried about what “husband à l’etranger” would say when he finally arrived to see it for himself. I rehearsed ‘ad infinitum’, “shall we put it back on the market” before succumbing to a comatosed sleep.

Thankfully our friend and electrician arrived early the next morning and set to work checking the power supply. Over the day he increased the number of sockets by 1000% since we had arrived to find only 1 safe and operational. By the end of the day we had 10 sockets at our disposal, five in the kitchen, one each for the children and one for the sitting-room, which, since there was no pendant light-fitting meant that at least we could plug in a lamp. The rest of the sockets in existance were hastily covered in black tape to prevent us using them, and by consequence, risking burning our house down!

The afternoon saw me buying a new freestanding cooker and freezer, and when I arrived back at the house I discovered that Gerald had gone beyond the call of duty, smashing out the build-in and lethally dangerous oven and  hob and the decrepid units that they were built into. Since the cooker wasn’t to be delivered for a further three days, and France is not a country known for pre-packaged ready meals, cooking dinner was a test of creativity and determination.

The kids were appeased by the fact that the internet was up and running from day one. This, a remarkable feat since the ADSL line into the house dated to at least a half century and had been bizarrely wired through the swinging part of the external door, meaning that on his arrival, “Husband à l’etranger” opened the door with rather too much force  and ripped the cables out of their connection and to the horror of the kids killed the internet stone dead.

Contrary to my expectations, “Husband à l’etranger” wandered around the house exclaiming every few moments how much he loved it, then rooted around for a mop-bucket, scourers and magic cleaning solution and got stuck in.

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If you think I was exagerating about the dirt, you may want a closer look!

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Not convinced?WP_20141231_002So there you have it – dirt at its grimiest!

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And me with the ‘wonder-fluid’. If you look very closely you can see the ‘before’ to the right- hand- side of the window, and the ‘after’ on the left.

So if you ever have a bad day, and feel that you are not keeping up with the housework, take another good look at these photos, and I can assure you that you will quickly feel a whole lot better!20150106_154912

 

 

Demenageurs, Cartons and a Rainy Removal Day


I’ve got a few minutes free this morning while I let my flue-ridden children sleep on a bit before I can get down to the second phase of sanding my new bedroom floor. I have a head-ache and am aching all over, but i’m not sure whether to atribute that to a day of lugging a heavy drum-sander around, or whether “la grippe” has also got me in its clutches.

I haven’t written for weeks because I seem to have an endless stream of things to do, and my 18 year old has already asked me if I will decorate her room before she leaves home. Since her Baccalaureat is in 4 months, that has certainly put the pressure on.

The removal day from the appartment was, as it should be in Normandy, drizzly and wet. Two days before the move, “husband à l’etranger” was blocked from coming home and the reinforcements arrived in the form of my in-laws. I think they were somewhat relieved to find that the boxes were all but done, and I think they had been more than a bit anxious that they might find themselves carting all my belongings down four flights of stairs to a waiting van. In fact I had booked demenageurs (removal men) and they turned out to be a real gem.

One of the most difficult thing about moving in the city centre is of course where to park a removal van since the streets are never free of parked cars, even for a nano-second. I kept an eagle eye on the street the majority of the afternoon before the move, and each time a car moved I made my way down and blocked the space with my car and then a series of rubbish bins, tying the lot together with a long piece of string and  attached notices to warn off any hopeful driver of pinching a space. It was late in the afternoon when the resident of the second floor appartment peered out of his window and asked me what was going on, only to find that we had both hired large removal vans and were moving on the same day. For what-ever reason the Mairie had not correctly checked their itinerary, and given the go-ahead for a tandem move. Unluckily for the second floor, I had the space for the van and the “monte-meuble” and they were forced to take to the stairs!WP_20141211_001

Never under-estimate a frenchman who takes his work seriously. Due at 8am, the men arrived at 7 whilst I was still in my pyjamas, hastily trying to shoo my kids off to school. Before I had blinked, the “monte-meuble” was installed and my belongings were departing with such a speed that I was lucky to actually find some clothes to put on at all.

WP_20141211_004the monte-meuble in situ
WP_20141211_007my table descends
WP_20141211_014a simple flat platform with no sides, nor straps to hold objects in place
WP_20141211_015on its way down
WP_20141211_016is that a bus below!

Since our local café sells take-out coffee, I was a frequent visitor to keep the men’s morale up, while the raindrops trickled down their necks, and by 3 that afternoon, without so much as a pause for lunch the flat was empty of all but our mattresses and our diningroom table and chairs. We had decided that trying to move into the house and sleep the first night was too much, and frankly, with the fatigue setting in from a gruelling day, and the dirt and grime of a house uncleaned for 40 years, I wasn’t sure I wanted to move in at all! It doesn’t take any persuading to tell a group of french-men that the family need somewhere to eat dinner, and by 8 pm were were all comfortably sitting around the table with a good bottle of red wine!

The “demenageurs” decided that to move the van back to the depot would be a great mistake bearing in mind the other family chomping at the bit to park up their own removal van, and so all my worldly goods remained parked up in the street just outside my appartment for the night.

The next morning the last items were gone before 8am and were unloaded into the new house. The movers did look at me somewhat astonished when I asked them to protect the sittingroom carpet from their damp feet, but clearly they did not appreciate the back-breaking job that my excellent friend and I had done with a carpet cleaner only a couple of days before. And if they’d seen the colour of the water that came out of it they might have been marginally more sympathetic. As it was, when the last item was removed from the van, they had only one thing left to say,

“Bon courage”

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Buying a House in France – The ‘Acte de Vente’ – exhaustion sets in!


keysThe ‘Acte de Vente’ for the final stage in the purchase of our new home seems many moons ago, even though only a month has passed since I met with the owner and the notaire in their grand offices of Rouen Gare. This time, as my wordly wealth was flashed up on the overhead projector I was manfully ready for the ordeal, and contentedly absorbed the praise:

“Bien jouée Madame, ce taux, c’est bien” – “Well played, Madame, that’a a good interest rate you’ve managed to haggle for yourself!”

And indeed it wasn’t at all bad. After visiting 13 banks, and narrowing them down to 4, casting one very slow and officious manager aside, we came out with 3 offers. At the last moment, having been rejected, one of the final two came back to us with a “new and improved” offer to try to clinch pole position and knock the courtier off his winning perch. But by that point I was too exhausted to care if they could knock off another 1/2% or not.  I’d already scanned, sent and received back via exocet missile mail the signed offer documents by husband à l’etranger in Canada, and nothing could persuade me to go through the process again, especially with only a day remaining until the ‘Acte de vente’ itself, although the bank assurred me that changing offers at such a late stage could be done…

So the proprietaire and I shook hands, signed our names on the dotted line and I walked out into the crisp December air with 3 ancient long keys dangling from my fingers.

It was a moment for a celebratory drink in the “cafe du square”, but husband à l’etranger was missing, and actually, if truth be known, I was dying for the loo, desperate actually, so ideas of a drink would have been  ‘un verre debordé’ (the proverbial straw that would break the camel…) and since home was equidistant, home I scurried, thinking, oh foolish me, that husband à l’etranger would be back to celebrate with me in style the very next day.

Not so fast, crazy English woman, when does anything go according to plan!

I received a phone call that very same afternoon….

A plus tard (till later), husband à l’étranger, A bientôt (see you soon) in-laws”

and settled down to pack up the appartement single handed, whilst waiting for a dual, more elderly set of reinforcements to arrive.WP_20140906_036

 

Buying a House in France – Getting a Mortgage or Prêt Immobilier


Yesterday a large fat white envelope appeared in my letterbox. After all the all the effort taken to get this far you would think that I would be dancing around the room, but the mortgage process in France has been such an exhausting journey that I gave the envelope the kind of look you would reserve for a very wilful and difficult child that has had a month-long tantrum! And perhaps thankfully I was too worn down to rip the contents out of that envelope as, had I done so, I would have surely annulled the mortgage offer inside, since in small black letters were the words,

“Do not fold or tear. This envelope is to be used for the signed return documents”

When you have lived in France as long as I have, you learn to be very very careful about all official correspondence as, no matter what, you must comply with the seemingly most bizarre requirements. I have learnt not just to read things through once, but to do it ten times, to never ever fill in a form with blue ink when it stipulates black, and always, always provide copies of every official certificate, plus a few extras, even when applying for something as mundane as a rail travel card!

But I digress!

You may remember that in September I “bought” a house without my husband ever having seen it, and underwent the scrutiny of the 87 year old owner and the notaire in a particularly transparent overview of my financial capability to buy the said house on an overhead projector screen! At the time both notaire and owner declared that the mortgage interest simulation rates obtained  so far were simply not good enough and that I needed to “have another go” at the process.

I confess to being a “detail” person, and frequently drive my husband to distraction, which is perhaps why he spends most of his time half-way across the planet, but that aside, I took the notaire at his word, and minutes after having signed the “compromis de vente“,  was striding down the main banking street of Rouen determined to come up with a deal.

There are a good 12 or so banks on the main thoroughfare, and by the end of the afternoon I had visited each and every one of them, and left with a date and time of “rendez-vous” with most and already in posession mortgage simulations from three. Last stop of the day was with the “Courtier” (mortgage broker) recommended by the notaire.

By the time I finally met with the courtier three days later I had 9 mortgage simulations in my ever expanding “dossier” file.

“Well”, said the cheerful and energetic Courtier, “have you passed by any banks yet?”

Proudly I nodded the affirmative, and proceeded to rattle off the names of all that  i’d visited, noticing that as I did so his face becoming less and less cheerful in proportion to the number of visits that i’d made.

“Vous étès sportive, alors” (you’ve been very proactive!) “what banks haven’t you seen?”

What I then came to learn was that once a client has passed directly to a bank, a mortgage broker cannot “solicite” the same bank for a further month. Since a time delay is stipulated in the “Compromis de Vente”, this put a finite limit on the length of time available to the courtier. Consequently he was left with my own bank, the post office and one “bottom of the market” bank, the only meetings that I had organised after that of the Courtier. While I held the lead players, the Courtier had his work cut out!

To cut a long story short, I selected three banks from my 9 simulations for the best interest rates and made second appointments to create a “dossier” (mortgage application) With my now enormous cereal packet sized folder, I supplied each bank manager with page after page of official documents; “Bulletins de salaire” (salary statements), “contrats de travail” (work contracts), I had several hundreds of those since each guided tour is covered under a separate contract. They photo-copied each and every one!), “relevés de compte bancaire” (bank statements), passports, electricity bills, and “attestations for Allocation familiales” (family allowance statements). I even had a “Bilan cardiaque” (ECG) up my sleeve and they took that too! And then I left thinking that that would be it……

 

 

But no!

I received emails from the bank managers; some wanted a copy of my “Carte de Sejour” (Residency card), even though EU nationals  don’t need one, others asked for “Avis d’Impots” (Tax records) going back three years, and all wanted proof of our “apport personnel” (personnal contribution), and I sent them all in and thought that would be it…..

But no!

It turned out that to take out a mortgage with a bank, we had to open up a bank account, which meant reims and reims more paperwork, no matter whether we might actually be offered a mortgage, and then the final crunch……

“Monsieur doit signer”.

Aha, I said, flourishing under their noses our “procuration” (Power of Attorney) specially drawn up by the notaire. But on this all three banks could agree,

“NON” they said, “Monsieur doit signer”

Since Monsieur was in Canada, and likely to remain there for several more months, this caused something of a dilemma. But since the “Compromis de Vente” required me to provide a mortgage offer by the middle of November, or lose our deposit, there was nothing left to do but fly Monsieur back. And Monsieur duly arrived for a whistle-stop four day “signing schedule”, and finally, the opportunity to finally see what house his wife had bought!

In France  a life assurance policy is obligatory when buying a house. A buildings insurance policy is only advisory. Having received an “accord de prêt”, a nod from the bank that the loan to income ratio is approved, the next stage is to be approved by the life assurers. This involves a detailed medical questionaire, and dependant upon the age of the applicant, a huge array of medical tests. In order to anticipate the assurers requirements, I had organised a appointment with out médecin généraliste to coincide with the “signing schedule”. All of the banks had already provided us with a medical questionaire, one of which needed completing by the doctor, and we requested that the doctor gave us an “ordonnance” (prescription) for every blood test he could think of. Husband à l’etranger lost the majority of his blood to the syringe that afternoon and the results were ready by the following morning. We duly supplied each bank with the results and questionaires, husband à l’etranger had just about time to sip one coffee in his favorite bar before he was back on the plane,  and sat back to wait for our offers….

And one duly arrived several days later from one of my banks …but with strings attached!

No sooner was husband à l’etranger back on Canadian soil than the bank, who hadn’t originally required a questionaire completed by the doctor, posted one out to us,…. and requested two further blood tests,…. and a ECG done within the last six months. When I informed the bank that there was a four month waiting list for an ECG, and provided an ECG done in the last 12 months as an alternative, the assurer gave us the standard response:

“Mais NON!, Monsieur” and the name of a cardiac clinic who could deal with the matter the same week….

..in France!

My own personal charms were no match for the Courtier’s contacts, and thankfully several days later I received a message that his medical assurers had no need for further information and that his bank’s offer would be soon in the post; and I sat with my fingers crossed hoping it would arrive before the ever approaching deadline.

So when the envelope arrived on saturday, you can probably understand why I was too exhausted to dance a merry jig round the hall!

After all, all that’s left to do now is to get Husband à l’etranger to initial every page and sign the darn thing and return it within the deadline, and despite the fact that I have the “procuration ” (power of attorney) to do it for him, it says quite clearly in bold black print:

“A remplir de la main de Monsieur” (to fill in in Monsieur’s own hand)

And you know what that means don’t you…?

But maybe this time he’ll get time for a second coffee!