Karen Wheeler's last column
PUBLISHED: 15:06 01 December 2014 | UPDATED: 15:06 01 December 2014
In the last of her popular columns, Karen Wheeler has a meeting with the estate agent for a new chapter of her life in France
The end of the summer marks the eighth anniversary of my move to France. It is also the moment that I decide – for reasons that I don’t have space to go into here – that the time has come to move on from Maison Coquelicot.
I contact Charles, the dynamic local estate agent and ask him to sell the charming village house that I bought on impulse one weekend, while visiting a friend in Poitou-Charentes.
Sitting in the courtyard, in the honey-coloured light of an Indian summer, surrounded by pale-pink hollyhocks, he tells me that it is very much a buyer’s market at the moment. It is important to set a realistic price, he says.
As I sign the instruction form, I reassure myself that Maison Coquelicot will take at least a year to sell, which will give me time to pack up my books and Le Creuset cooking pots in a leisurely fashion.
It sells in two weeks, to the first couple who come through the door: a petite Frenchwoman and her smiling husband. They are in the house for 40 minutes, while I walk my dog Biff up and down in the street outside.
On the second visit, they arrive with tape measures and an architect, and are there for more than an hour. I begin to wonder if they’ve already moved in. Perhaps there is an odd French law by which they can claim squatting rights.
They make an offer, which I accept, and on a bright morning in early autumn, I go to Charles’s office to sign the compromis de vente, the legally binding document of sale.
Charles greets me with a beaming smile and runs through the key points of the contract. There is a plate of croissants on his desk. I assume that they are there just for decoration, as he doesn’t offer me one.
Then a funny thing happens. Just as I’m about to add my signature to the document, a loud sorrowful wailing comes from under the desk. Biff. My heart sinks. This is obviously a sign. But then I realise why he is crying: someone has just taken away the plate of mouthwatering croissants.
“Don’t worry, soon you’re going to have a garden to dig holes in,” I tell him. For as luck would have it, a friend has offered us his house in a nearby village as our temporary abode.
It is in the middle of the countryside – la France profonde. My friend Pierre-Antoine finds this hilarious. “Oh là là, it’s not the metropolis, that’s for sure,” he says, doubled up with laughter as he unpacks a boxed consignment of embroidered boleros for his shop.
He finds it especially funny that I will have to make a 30-kilometre round trip for a carton of milk. I don’t have the heart to tell him that under no circumstances would I travel even one kilometre for a carton of milk as I never use the stuff. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc? That’s a different matter.
During my eight years in France, I’ve made some wonderful friends, met the love of my life (the one with big paws and a shiny black nose) and written four books. And for several of those years, I’ve had the pleasure of writing this column. It is wonderful to have been part of Living France’s 25-year history, but as I begin a new chapter in my life, this seems like an appropriate moment to sign off.
I cannot reveal where my next move will be. But, as many readers who are themselves contemplating a new life in France will know, there is nothing more exciting than a new beginning.
Read about Karen’s autumn mushroom-picking experience