Diary of a move: Part 3 - Settling in
The only thing to do is make a start somewhere, so I attack the kitchen while Eddie clears the lounge so we can move our camp beds out of the barn and into the house. As all of the habitable rooms need a good clean, and a fresh coat of paint as an interim measure, and as several window panes are missing in the bedroom, the lounge will have to be the Centre of Operations to begin with.
We make good progress in the morning, and after a trip to the supermarket to get some basic provisions, and a leisurely lunch in the sunshine, we have just got going again when we hear a vehicle coming up the drive. It’s a tractor, driven by our new neighbour who owns the vineyard next door. He has come to introduce himself and explain that he plans to collect the hay bales from the fields the following week. He has a pretty strong Gascon accent but I manage to understand most of what he says. Needless to say, in such a small community, word of what has gone on in the previous week has reached him. He asks us about the animals and I offer to show them to him. He seems impressed – particularly by the sheep, which compared to the local French breeds around here do look pretty good.
I ask him if he would like a beer (stupid question!) and just as we’re getting to find out a bit about him, and tell him a bit about us we hear another vehicle coming up the driveway. It’s the gendarmes, a man and a woman. They get out of the car and ask me if I am Mme Gowen. Yes. Have we brought animals from England? Yes. Then I think he says that our animals are sick. No, I say, they’re not sick. No, he says, there is a “maladie en Angleterre”. What disease? I ask, but even as the words are leaving my mouth I know what he’s going to say. I don’t know, he says. Foot & Mouth? I ask. Yes, he says.
I feel sick. During the last outbreak we were living in Cornwall, and I worked in Devon, where most of my clients were farmers. Many of them lost their entire herd or flock and I saw sights and heard tales I never want to experience again. I can’t believe the disease has returned to the UK.
The gendarme asks me to show him on a map where we came from in England. He explains the outbreak is in Guildford – that’s a good couple of hundred miles from Bedford, but of course we don’t know the route the livestock lorry took. It’s highly unlikely they went through the area, but even so, it’s bloody worrying. The gendarme then makes a phone call, and explains to me that someone from the state veterinary service will be coming to inspect the animals. The gendarme also explains to our neighbour that it would be safest if he left. Great introduction to the community: “Hi, we’re Mr & Mrs Gowen and we might have brought foot & mouth to France!”
Within an hour the guy from the state veterinary service turns up with the local vet. They get out of the car, don protective overalls, hairnets, plastic bags over their shoes, and gloves. Life on Planet Gowen just took another detour into Surrealsville. They inspect the goats and sheep and tell us we are now under restrictions. The animals must not leave the barn. We must handle them as little as possible – just feed and water them but that’s it. We must wear protective clothing which must be taken off immediately after going into the barn, and we must set up a disinfection area. The dogs must not leave the farm. We should only make essential journeys. And so it goes on and on. To be fair they were both very pleasant, and only doing their job, but it made us feel as though there was something wrong with the animals even though we were sure there wasn’t.
After they had gone I rushed for my Blackberry and logged on to the BBC’s website. There it all was in black and white. Only time would tell if the disease would spread as it had in 2001.
Ok, l think that’s enough doom and gloom. Let’s fast forward a bit to today, 2nd September. We’ve been in the house a month. The kitchen, lounge, bedroom and office have been scoured and given a fresh coat of white paint. The revolting bathroom fittings have been jettisoned and Eddie has fitted a brand new shower, basin and toilet. It has been scrubbed clean, painted and tiled. We have unpacked a good proportion of our belongings (though the barn still seems to have an awful lot of stuff in it) and it is so nice to have our things around us. The events of a month ago have dimmed and they’re no longer important.
Last Monday I returned to the UK for my first week back at work. It was a wrench to leave, but it’s the job that enables us to be here, and all in all it really wasn’t bad. The weather wasn’t great, but the time went quickly and just before midnight on Friday I was back home. While I was away, France Telecom activated our ADSL (apologies to those of you who have emailed me – I’m not ignoring you, just couldn’t actually access my emails until yesterday afternoon! I will reply soon, I promise!) which means working from home is a reality.
On the foot & mouth front, we had an inspection by the vet in the week following the outbreak, and then the following week, once we were well outside the incubation period, another state veterinary official came with the vet for another inspection. They verbally gave us the ok, but after checking with the powers that be rang to say that they needed to take blood samples from every animal, which they came back and did the same day. A week later, we officially got the all clear, in writing and our restrictions were lifted.
So, what’s life like here at A Pedemont? In a word, wonderful. We’ve had a few minor problems to cope with getting the various utilities sorted, and a troublesome boiler, but without exception everyone we have dealt with has been friendly, helpful, patient with my less than perfect French (though it’s a damn sight better than it was a month ago!) and efficient. Life definitely moves at a much slower pace here, yet things still get done. I’m sure there’ll be a few more curved balls headed our way, but after that first week I think, and hope, that we should be able to cope.
No knitting has been done, but perhaps that's no surprise! Now that we're settled though, the lure of the pointy sticks is starting to tempt me, so I think I'll be clickety clacking away again before too long.
As I write this I’m sitting under the shade of the umbrella at our garden table. It’s a balmy 78F with a gentle breeze. The angoras and the sheep are lying in the shade of the oak tree, happily chewing the cud. The pigmy goats are lying out in the full sun, which they love. In the distance I can see the faint outline of the Pyrenees in the heat haze. It’s all exactly how I imagined it would be.
We’ve come home.