United front

Miles Barrington followed his heart over to France and ended up falling for the department of H�rault that he now calls home, discovers Deborah Curtis

It was love pure and simple that led Miles Barrington to quit his job, sell his house and move across the Channel to start a new life in H�rault.

As manager of the mountain sports shop Ellis Brigham in Bristol, life was busy and stressful and one Sunday in the winter of 2009 everything came to a head.

“I’d been stood up by a date during the week,” Miles remembers. “I was in a foul mood and the shop had a power cut. I had too many staff in and I decided I was going to go home, send some emails to nice girls on the internet dating site I was a member of to cheer myself up and then watch a movie.”

So that’s exactly what he did except he never got to the movie. “One of the girls replied very quickly and we got into a conversation,” he says. “Then, after half an hour, we started chatting on Skype and we actually spoke for seven hours.

“The following morning I flew down to B�ziers to meet her. I stayed five days and then five months later, I had redecorated and rented out my house in the UK, quit my job at the ski shop and moved out to France.”

That was July 2009 and Miles now lives with the girl who changed his life, Annette Morris, in a maison de vigneron which they rent in the village of Cruzy. Their Weimaraner, Nibs, completes the family.

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“I didn’t have a plan when I got here. I didn’t have a job when I got here,” he says. “Annette always says I was terrified and I probably was!”

But faint heart never won fair lady and Miles was determined to stay in France. Over the next couple of years he harnessed all the skills acquired throughout a varied career as an engineer, salesman and in customer service to build up Franglo Fix It, a property maintenance company, which now has an established and growing client base in southern H�rault.

“My property management is basically anything from DIY to full changeovers to whatever,” Miles says. “I started out with the DIY and that led to me meeting a couple who were moving to Geneva. They had a couple of houses that they were looking after for people. They said: ‘Come and meet the people, see if you get on and if you’d like to take over.’ So they were the first two homes I was asked to look after. That was the beginning and it’s really taken off since then.”

The work is varied and can be anything from popping in on a regular basis to check for burst pipes to complete holiday changeovers and extensive repairs and renovations.

“The smaller end is making sure that the windows are all intact, the pipes haven’t burst and that no-one’s broken in,” says Miles. “At the more extreme end, I’ve got a changeover to do on an eight-bed villa on Saturday, for example. At the same villa, I’ve got to change the lock on the front gate because none of the keys work anymore because they’re so worn and I’ve also mended a shutter, cleaned the pool, changed the kitchen sink and mowed the lawn. My bunch of keys now weighs a couple of kilos.”

New business is coming in by word of mouth and also thanks to Annette’s expertise as an internet consultant. “As well as designing websites, she’s also very good at social media, marketing and graphic design,” says Miles.

“Her speciality is raising people’s online profile and that’s why it worked so well with Franglo because in six months everybody knew who we were. That’s all it took to get relatively well known in the area.”

Miles’ clients are mostly English with a smattering of French thrown in but what they all have in common is a love for the simple pleasures of life in H�rault and they have all fallen firmly under its spell.

“It’s very wild, very natural; one of the most untouched areas of France,” Miles says. “There is a huge amount of tourism here but it’s actually really unspoilt. I love the scenery, the lifestyle, the food. When I came over I was almost vegetarian and I’ve had steak tartare twice in the last 10 days.

“It’s the whole ambience really. We do have English friends but as we are both pretty good French speakers we like to try and naturalise ourselves as much as possible.”

They’re not too far away from the cosmopolitan centres of Narbonne or Montpellier but it’s the tranquillity of the countryside that is most appealing when they get time to themselves.

“We’ve finally got to the point where we can give ourselves enough leisure time to go swimming in the rivers at Roquebrun and R�als, which is near Cessenon-sur-Orb,” says Miles. “When I first came out I bought a second-hand road bike and the riding here is really fabulous. I try and get out twice a week and with the landscape and the heat, it’s stunning.

“We both love it here. The hound loves the sun and things are coming together very well but don’t let anybody think that it’s an easy choice. It’s hard work but worth it.”

Now in the process of buying a permanent base in H�rault, the couple feel very settled in their adopted community and Miles is enjoying the diversity of work that Franglo Fix It enables him to do.

His life now is a far cry from three years ago but in a strange way it seems that all paths were leading to where he is now.

“Annette and I have said all along that we were destined to meet at some point,” he says. “Ten years earlier would have been even better but now here I am with a lovely girl in the south of France.”

And there would be few who’d complain about that. LF

www.franglofixit.com