Well, this will be my last post for 2012. I don't know about you but on New Year's Eve I always like to reflect back on the year that is drawing to a close and I think that's partly why I keep a diary.
This has been a rollercoaster of a year for us. This time last year, our house in Thundersley was all but packed up; we took the dogs and cats to their respective kennels and cattery and drove up to Lowestoft to spend New Year's Eve with friends; Yvonne, who had planned a surprise birthday party for husband Mick.
So much has happened since then. We spent the first three months in a rented gîte just outside a beautiful village called Verteuil-sur-Charente in the Charente, one of the four departments of Poitou-Charentes. When I look back to that time, I think of it as having been wrapped in a soothing balm. You can plan and research all you like but until you actually come to live here you have no idea of what your everyday life might be like or what difficulties and obstacles you might meet. The couple who owned the gîte were incredibly helpful and I simply can't imagine what those first few months would have been like without their help, advice and guidance. I think it's lovely that we are still in touch with them (although we live over 80 miles away from them now) and also the couple who were in the other gîte, having been there for six months while they too looked for and bought their own house.
We were lucky that we found our house within that first few months and lucky too that the purchase went through so quickly. Over here, you pay a 10% deposit and then have a seven-day cooling off period during which the purchaser may change their mind and receive their deposit back. If the vendor changes their mind (which is almost unheard of here), they have to pay you back an amount over and above that deposit and we heard that it can be as much as another 10% of the purchase price! But the point is that after that week, the deal is confirmed and it's just a matter of agreeing a completion date which allows time for various searches and tests to be carried out by the notaire who handles the legal transfer for both parties.
We moved into the house on 24th March and hardly a day goes by when we don't feel blessed to live in such a beautiful place. Of course it's been busy, unpacking all of our belongings, buying new furniture, planning changes etc. From the beginning of June to the end of September we had lots of visitors, both family and friends and I thoroughly enjoyed being hostess and looking after them. We went back to the UK in May for my brother Tony's wedding and that was another highlight of the year. While there we were able to see other family and friends too.
There were sad times this year too. Danny lost two of his Aunts in quick succesion as well as a good friend, who died too young from an aggressive cancer. All of this happened between February and April and each time he went back to the UK on his own for the funerals. Friends both in the UK and other parts of the world had their share of sad times and we felt for them too. There were times when things didn't seem to be going right, times when one of us would feel isolated or lonely and times when being able to live here seemed like a huge mountain to climb. But always, the good outweighed the bad and now, at the end of that rollercoaster year we still know we did the right thing in moving here. I think the hardest things to cope with are the language barrier and being so far from our family and friends. But gradually, we are learning French (and we have both resolved to spend more time studying it in 2013!) and with modern technology we are in constant touch with everyone. Also, slowly but surely we are making new friends here...... just a couple of nights ago we were invited for dinner with some people we've come to know and it's a start!
We have hopes and dreams for 2013. Of course, the most important thing is that we, our family and our friends all have good health. But as well as that we have hopes that the coming year will see lots of you coming out to visit us; we hope to have a swimming pool installed in the Spring and with a bit of luck, we'll achieve some other changes to the house too. I hope that by this time next year, my French will be vastly improved, that I'll feel more integrated and that I'll have some new French and British friends!