Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Speedferries price changes due in January

Half-way through Christmas (and calling home for one night in between visiting different relatives) I caught up on my 100 odd emails that have arrived in the 4 days we've been away (of which all too many are Spam - Thunderbird seems not to be catching them as well as it used to, but I digress...)

In amongst the emails was a press release from Speedferries which confusingly tells of fuel price increases and changes to their pricing structure, but at this stage doesn't actually say what the actual changes will be.

What they do announce is that they "have to end the Superticket product" and that the new pricing structure will still be low-cost (hurrah) and "will be recognised as ethical and 100% logic" - whatever that means.

So up to January 3rd you can buy Supertickets for just £29 each way for any 2007 sailings or £19 for January and February sailings. I just did a couple of random crossing price enquiries and all the dates I checked were coming up as £29 (even for peak August school holiday times) so it's an absolute bargain if you want to cross to France - and if you haven't fixed your crossing dates you can buy an Open Superticket which is amendable once for any 2007 crossing (as long as there is still availability on the boat).

Remember though that as they say, these are limited offers !

Be interesting to see what kind of new pricing structure they launch. Personally I'm all in favour of Speedferries, we've used them a few times, the boat's quick and convenient and above all else it's a good price for what you get. In comparison I went over with P&O in December, paid £60 for a single journey and it took longer to get there!

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Blogging off for Christmas break

Won't be around for a few days as we're off doing the "relatives run" around the UK and I'm going to practice being sociable instead of playing on the computer!

Seeya later

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Taken a booking for Christmas & New Year guests

Last year The Gite was booked by a couple for Christmas and I was rather hoping we'd get a similar booking this year - we'd even got a Christmas tree and lights ready for the guests!

Dutch Flag
Dutch flag courtesy of ITA's
Flags of All Countries
and used with permission
Three weeks ago and no bookings in sight (despite putting up some 'late availability' adverts) so I offered the Gite on ebay to no avail. Tried again a week later and this time got a couple of enquiries, one of which looked like they were going to book ... and then we received a booking via our holiday home listing on VillaRenters (so I had to cancel the ebay listing).

Our Christmas guests will be with us for 12 days and it turns out that they're from Holland. So far all bar one other couple (from Ireland) have been from the UK. I'm slightly surprised that we have not had more overseas guests (even though we do advertise via Google in Germany, France, Holland and Belgium) - a few website visitors but no booking enquiries at all.

We did have an enquiry in November from a French group that wanted the Gite over New Year but they wanted to book in a party of 12 which is rather too many for our 3 bedrooms. Even pressing the two children's cots into use wouldn't really suffice ...

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Monday, December 18, 2006

Trying out advertising on Rent Property Direct

I'm always keen to find more places to advertise our Holiday Home in rural France on, and places that offer a low (or even zero) cost price are particularly appealing on the basis that if I get no bookings as a result then I haven't lost anything in the process.

Earlier in the week I came across another new rental site, rent property direct, that normally charge £99 for a standard listing, but for the first year are offering the advert for the princely sum of £0.00 - my kind of price !

So here's the completed listing of our vacation rental home on the rentpropertydirect site, and here's hoping we get some more bookings as a result.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Went to give blood, but nothing came out

After two months with not being called since I was told I was a potential bone marrow match, I was free to go and give blood again so made an appointment to donate on Friday.

Both Liz and I believe in the benefits of giving blood, as did my father, and this was to be my 57th donation. After so many donations I still admit to not liking having the needle being put in but I do have a local anesthetic now which makes it much more comfortable than without.

Unfortunately for the first time ever when they put the needle in, a bit of blood came out, and then it stopped. The nurse wiggled the needle left, right, up and down, and still only a trickle of blood came out. So that was that, I was declared a 'no bleed', a plaster was put on and that was the end of my donation. I asked if they could try the other arm but they wouldn't (not quite sure why) so it was tea and biscuits time and then back home - somewhat disappointed.

I'm none the wiser as to why the blood didn't come out; can only assume that the needle got blocked or something. So donation #57 didn't happen and I'm no nearer getting my 75th donation award which is a crystal plate (I received my certificate and pen for 50 donations a couple of years ago).


Friday, December 15, 2006

Blogger thinks I may be spam

Last weekend I was making a blog post when I noticed that before I could publish, Blogger wanted me to type in a verification word. Alongside was a more information link which I duly clicked and was presented with a page that announced

Your blog requires word verification

Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that your blog has characteristics of a spam blog. (What is a spam blog?) Since you are an actual person reading this, your blog is probably not a spam blog. Automated spam detection is inherently fuzzy and we sincerely apologise for this false positive.

Before we can turn off mandatory word verification on your posts we will need to have a human being review your blog and verify that it is not a spam blog. Please fill out the form below to get a review.

Find out more about how Blogger is fighting spam blogs.

Well I didn't feel like I my Brittany tales and typing was spam (and in fact I have my own share of spam comments that I have to delete every week) so I duly entered the verification word, my email address, and waited for Blogger to "review my blog".

After a few days of continuing enter a verification word for each and every posting, and thinking that Blogger had forgotten me, I re-entered a verification word and my email address and waited again to be "reviewed".

Joy of joys yesterday I received two emails from Blogger support telling me


Your blog has been reviewed, verified, and cleared for regular use so that it will no longer appear as potential spam. If you sign out of Blogger and sign back in again, you should be able to post as normal. Thanks for your patience, and we apologize for any inconvenience this has caused.

The Blogger Team

Well I'm glad that that's over as I'm not sure what I could next have done if Blogger had reviewed me and judged my ramblings to be wanting. It's good that an effort is being made to stamp out irrelevance on the web but it's disconcerting when it's incorrectly targetted at you.

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The car's been declared sick

Following on from the story a couple of weeks ago about being rear-end shunted in my car, the insurance claim is still trundling through. The garage came out and surveyed the damage; good news is it's repairable, bad news (for the other driver) is that it's likely to cost about £2700.

As my car is due it's MOT in a couple of weeks time I took it down to the garage to see what chance there was of getting it through and unsuprisingly they declared it unsafe to go on the road. The bumper's broken and the jagged edges will mean an automatic fail.

Got onto the other guys insurance company on Friday and they agreed to provide a courtesy car which I went to collect today. Originally suggested I have an Astra but in the end I got a Vauxhall Zafira which has 2 foldaway seats in the boot (which doubtless the kids will love). The car goes OK but it's a bit too plasticky for my liking inside but at least it keeps me mobile until mine's repaired which is now not going to happen until the new year :-(

My back's also been playing up again after the accident. I was very stiff this morning and could hardly get out of bed so went to the docs and have been given some anti-inflamatory's. Supposedly the pain and stiffness will all recover eventually but may take some time.


Monday, December 11, 2006

I've been reading "A French Restoration"

As I wrote in September, a new Clive Kristen French Rennovation book was published with the rather long title "A French Restoration: The Pleasures and Perils of Renovating a Property in France". I've been enjoying reading the book myself for the last couple of weeks so I thought I'd pass on some thoughts in case anyone's thinking of getting a copy for Christmas.

So first off I should point out that the book is actually co-authored by David Johnson and Clive Kristen and tells the three year long tale of how David (and his wife Doris) decided to move to France, found their dream property in the Charente region, then lovingly renovated and turned it from an inhabitable shell into their family home.

The book has quite an easy style to read, each chapter (and there are lots) tells one aspect of their journey both with the house and with integrating into a rural French community - whether it's arriving to look at a property but the agent doesn't appear, knocking down walls in their house (and then needing to have an RSJ installed as the floor above started sagging), being given giant pumpkins by the neighbours or emptying their fosse for the first time, there's a good mixture of entertainment and facts mixed together.

There are many little anecdotes that I enjoyed throughout the book, quoting a couple of them ...

Firstly on buying a new washing machine
The salesman demonstrated a masterpiece of Teutonic engineering that could not only adjust to various water types but had programmes to perform all the laundry programmes you could imagine and some you may prefer not to. This was the cleansing equivalent of a NASA probe: smart, cutting edge, and ludicrously expensive. We went for it.

But I baulked at the delivery charge: an extra €20 to shift the machine a few kilometres.

'If it is so clever,' I argued, 'why not just give it a couple of euro and tell it to come on the bus?'

Either my French wasn't up to it, or washing machine salesmen are born with the humour switch jammed in the off position. We paid up.

Or on dealing with the problems of moles in the garden:
Fortunately the French have invented a cunning device to deal with moles. It comprises a small cylinder which contains batteries and two wires, which connect to a little red packet. This is the explosive charge.

All you have to do is open the mole run, drop in the cylinder, and change the setting button from securité to arme, and throw a little earth over the top. Then you take a comfy seat, open a can of 1664, and wait.

The theory is that the mole finds the obstacle in the run and tries to dig it out of the way. The vibration triggers the charge and the mole emerges from the hole like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The only snag is this. It doesn't work. It is actually less successful pro rata than trying to seduce the creature to the surface by singing in moleish.

Over a fortnight of waiting I downed the best part of two cases of beer. It seemed to me by then that the options were either traditional mole traps, or alcoholism. On the last evening of my vigil, in desperation I think, I cursed the mole in both slurred French and drunken English.

That did the trick. I have not seen a mole in the garden since.

About three-quarters of the book tells David and Doris's renovation journey, the remainder contains practical facts and advice about buying and living in France (water and electricity prices, how to insure a car, income tax rules, etc), with a final section being a useful vocabulary of English to French building terms (and vice versa).

As you've probably guessed by now I quite like the book and am happy to recommend it to others who are thinking about buying in France, or just would like a bit of bedtime entertainment about someone else's trials and tribulations abroad. If I had one niggly little point it's that most of the chapters are (in my view) a teeny bit short. I'd have liked a bit more about in each section such as how David got the fosse emptied and tested, how much it cost, etc (sad person that I am). I guess though that putting too much details in would have risked loosing the story flow and the book may have suffered as a result.

I've still got about ¼ of the book to go so I'll write about my final thoughts when I've got to the end.

So there you are, "A French Restoration: The Pleasures and Perils of Renovating a Property in France" RRP's for £9.99 but is available from places such as Amazon for less (Amazon have it on for £6.59).

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Free MP3's from Internet Radio stations with Avanquest software

Avanquest software are doing a Christmas advent calendar (gosh, how original) with a free gift every day in the run up to Christmas.

December 7th's gift caught my eye, it's a free download of RadioTracker SE which enables downloading and MP3 ripping of thousands of internet radio stations.

I've tried it out and it certainly does what it says on the tin; you select the genre (pop, funk, classics, easy listening, etc) and off it goes finds 3 matching radio stations and starts saving what they're playing as MP3 files. As well as ripping MP3 tracks it also downloads (to the integrated player) the album coverart and also the lyrics.

I was quite surprised with the results it produces, with a lowly 1/2Mbit ADSL line there seems to be no problems with downloading 3 simultaneous tracks and the quality's certainly no different from CD's I've ripped myself.

According to the RadioTracker website it's legal to save and listen to internet radio tracks as long it's only for personal use and that you don't share or sell them.

You can upgrade to premium and platinum editions of RadioTracker for €20 and €30 respectively which enable wishlists, favorite radio stations, downloading from unlimited stations (instead of 3), more music genre's, ringtone creation, etc. For my money though the SE edition's good enough.

I'll be looking to see what other goodies Avanquest's offering for the rest of December.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Plastering's well underway in our second Gite

Spoke to Bob the builder last night who has been putting in a new upstairs bathroom and replacing the downstairs ceiling to our second Brittany Holiday Home.

Apparently the weather's been quite wet and windy in France and some of the rivers have burst their banks (though fortunately the one near us is OK). As a result he's been concentrating on doing the inside work.

When I was last over the upstairs bathroom was just a plasterboard shell which Bob has now finished plastering and so now wants to know what colour wall and floor tiles we've decided on - we haven't yet so will have to get thinking. The downstairs ceiling has all been taken down, plasterboarded and Bob's most of the way through replastering it; and the electrician has completed most of the rewiring and putting in new sockets and lights.

Altogether it sounds like he's making good progress and on balance I'm glad that we're paying Bob to do it as there's been two of them working on the house for the last 4 weeks. Although I could have done the work myself it would have taken a year to do it with only being able to get a week's vacation from work at a time.

It does make me keen to go over and see for myself how its progressing - wonder if I can wangle a long weekend break?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

France 24 TV channel launches on the internet

France 24 (similar to BBC News 24) has just launched on the internet, offering live streamed 24 hour international news in English, French and Arabic.

Earlier tonight (when the news was on) the same item was being simultaneously broadcast in English and French so it gave a good opportunity to practice my French by trying to follow what the news items were about. I tried watching both the English and French news streams in two different Firefox tabs and managed to completely crash my PC with a blue screen of death! At the time I tried the Arabic channel wasn't broadcasting.

An interview is on right now and is only being broadcast in French (on all three feeds).

The full France 24's website is due to be launched tomorrow evening (8th December); right now there's just the TV feed being broadcast.


More house-hunting guests and more repairs needed

The last couple of weeks we've had a couple staying in our Britany cottage who (like our February guests) have been house-hunting themselves in the Morbihan/Cotes d'Armor regions of Brittany - in that respect our Gite is well positioned for both departments as we're literally 100 yards from the border line!

Whilst commuting to work this morning I received a text from the current guests to tell me that they've found and agreed the purchase of a house at the pretty village and lake of Jugon Les Lacs which is about 30 miles North of our Gite. Great news for them and we obviously wish them well in following their own french adventure.

Their text also went on to say that one of the driveway gates had snapped in half in strong winds!

Oh well, I'll add it to the repair/rennovation list for when we're over at Easter '07.

The photo shows the gates (in obviously happier times) and was taken in July this year after the driveway was finished. On the opposite side of the gates can be seen one of the neighbouring houses in the hamlet (there are only 5 houses in total including us) and rising up the hill behind the old swimming pool (which has now been replaced by a larger 15' one) is the garden - part of which I dug over and made into a bigger flowerbed whilst over in November.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Final Taxe D'Habitation payment due

As I wrote about last month, I chose to pay my 2006 Taxe D'Habitation by monthly payment (prélèvement mensuels), which is paid in advance of the tax being set in November. (Actually you may recall my electing to pay the 2006 tax in advance was a complete accident as I actually thought I was paying for my 2005 tax in arrears, and ended up in default with the tax office for not paying my 2005 tax).

Anyway, now that the 2006 tax has been calculated I've been sent a décompte des impositions (i.e. statement of account) to tell me that after deducting the 10 monthly payments I have already made from the 2006 Taxe D'Habitation bill I still owe €27 which will be automatically collected from my bank account in December.

They've also automatically assumed I want to pay my 2007 taxe in advance and so will continue to take monthly payments from January through to October, then presumably a balancing transaction in December 2007 for the 2007 account. Although it makes it convenient to pay this way there's no financial benefit to me to do so, and in fact I'd probably prefer to pay it as an annual lump sum rather than have to continue maintaining appropriate funds in our French bank account.

I also noticed that part of the taxe is based on the number of people occupying the property so I did wonder if I could get a rebate as it's not occupied full time? I'll have to do some more investigation into this before I pluck up the courage to telephone the Pontivy tax office as the last thing I want is for the bill to be increased rather than decreased!

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Shares in Speedferries

I received an email from SpeedFerries today which at first I thought was spam, but on careful reading I realised it wasn't as SpeedFerries Investor's page makes some similar points.

Here's the email:

Dear Customer,

Many of our loyal customers have asked for shares in our Dover-Boulogne ferry company, but Speedferries is legally prevented from issuing shares save to certain categories of investor. We are accordingly up-dating our records to establish whether any of our customers fall within any of the following permitted categories of investor:

(a) a high net worth individual;

(b) a sophisticated investor;

(c) a self certified sophisticated investor.

If you fall within any of the above categories and would be interested in investing in ordinary shares of Speedferries, please reply to this e-mail by sending an email to indicating which category you fall in. We will then be able to check with you your paperwork supporting your category. Please note that the minimum investment will be £50,000.

A high net worth individual must have an annual income to the value of £100,000 or more or hold net assets to the value of £250,000 or more [excluding for these purposes the primary residence, any loans secured on the primary residence, and all pensions benefits] and sign a confirmatory certificate in the required format.

A certified sophisticated investor is a person who has a current certificate in writing in the required format signed by a person authorised by the Financial Services Authority to the effect that he or she is sufficiently knowledgeable to understand the risks associated with investments in an unlisted company.

A self-certified sophisticated investor is a person who is a member of a network or syndicate of business angels and has been for at least the last six months before the date of the certificate; or made more than one investment in an unlisted company in the two years before that date; or is working, or has worked in the two years before that date, in a professional capacity in the private equity sector, or in the provision of finance for small or medium enterprises; or is currently, or has been in the two years before that date, a director of a company with an annual turnover of at least £1 million.

Kind regards

Curt Stavis
Chief Executive

I've been quite impressed and pleased with the service that Speedferries offer and would possibly have considered investing in them. Regrettably though I don't qualify for the 'high net worth' and 'minimum £50,000 investment'


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Friday, December 01, 2006

Bumps and property sales

I'm not having a good week this week as some kind person ran into the back of my car whilst I was going to work on Tuesday.

It was a typical UK commute run - raining, heavy traffic and roadworks so it was stop/start/move forward a bit/wait a bit longer/etc. Just the kind of reason why I don't like living in the UK. Anyway at one of these times when I was stopped I looked in the rear view mirror to see that the car behind had decided not to stop - crunch! My poor old car is now somewhat dinted and will need a new bumper, number plate, under-bumper panel, rear light and probably a boot lid as well. All in all it's going to be expensive but fortunately not for me or my insurance.

Of course I couldn't find the insurance policy details that evening as I'd forgotten that I'm with an internet based insurance company, Swiftcover who don't provide paper copies of the policy. I eventually found my login details, registered the claim, and yesterday arranged with the garage to get them to come and inspect the damage.

Swiftcover are not going to provide a hire car whilst it's being repaired (as I didn't select that option on the policy) but I spoke to the other guy's insurance company and they're happy to arrange one for me as it's going to end up being a fault claim against him. Insurance settlement times must have improved because Swiftcover said that they expect the claim to be settled against him in about 3 weeks. Many years ago when my father had a claim against another driver it took 3 years to settle.

The other problem I'm now having is that after the jolt my back is starting to play up again. I'm getting a lot of pain around the shoulders, the neck muscles are stiffening and I can hardly turn my head from side to side. Typing on the computer is not good either. I've had similar back problems before but after osteopath and physio who gave me accupuncture it's been OK for over a year. I'm thinking that if this doesn't settle on its own in a day or so I will have to go back for more treatment and make a claim against the other insurance for the cost - Swiftcover are again not helping me with that claim as I didn't select legal cover with my policy (bum).

On a more positive front we heard yesterday that our friends Angela and John who live near our Brittany Gite have sold one of their houses. I say one because they currently own 3 properties opposite each other in a small hamlet. They emigrated to France in 2004, bought a house which they had rennovated and settled down to enjoy their retirement. Last year they were lucky enough to buy two houses opposite them, one made of stone and one made of cob, and had the stone house rennovated by Bob the Builder (who's currently doing some building work for us).

Their plan is to sell the stone house and the house they're in now then rennovate and move into the cob house. The French property market seems to have slowed down this year as the agents report a reduction in the number of buyers both local and from the UK. John and Angela hadn't had any offers on either property until Monday when an English couple came round the stone house, loved it, and agreed a sale pretty much there and then. They've still got their original 3 Brittany bedroom house for sale so if you fancy a holiday home of your own in a lovely part of rural France, drop their agent a line (and I want a commission charge for the referral!)

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