Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, December 28, 2007

Gerber christmas present - tools for men

As usual at Christmas I can never think what I really would like for a present* and so as my mother-in-law says I end up receiving "lump-it" for a present.

This year's lump it was a very useful Gerber multi-tool which combines pliers, screw drivers, scissors, mini-saw and various tools you don't really know what they are used for - similar in many respects to a Swiss army knife, but instead made of Titanium and with a life-time guarantee.

Anyway, enough about the pliers, what amused me about them, and the reason I'm blogging about it, was the warning note on the back:
WARNING: Open carefully and tackle the project the way your old man would have. Build a deck, change the lawnmower oil, construct a lean-to, catch dinner from a creek, repair the fence, unclog the drain and discover that you are the handyman you've been looking for.
And remember, it's not worth doing unless it gets dirt, grease or splinters under your nails.

I loved the last line - a job's not worth doing unless you get dirt, grease or splinters under your nails. What a superb quote, definitely a great lump-it present.

* Oh yes, the "can't think what I would like for a present" problem usually lasts until about the week after Christmas when I then think of several things I would like. Fortunately it's my birthday in February so I can write a really good birthday present list.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Forthcoming Gite holiday price rise in January

For the last couple of months I've been advertising on our French Holiday Home that all 2008 holiday bookings taken in 2007 would be held at 2007 prices.

So far this year advance bookings are running at pretty much the same rate as they were at the same stage in 2006, we've taken 8 bookings already for 2008 starting with the first in August 2007 - a massive 363 days before their holiday, then continuing with one or two bookings a month through August, September, October, November and the most recent booking we took just before Christmas.

We've now taken bookings for a week in May, two in June, two in July and all of August 2008.

So although most of the peak school holiday periods have already been booked (which is great news from a rental perspective but does mean we won't be able to enjoy the Gite ourselves ) there's still plenty of available dates to rent our holiday home through May, June, July, September and October. The weather in Brittany's milder than it is in the UK so there's quite an extended booking season - we've enjoyed eating lunch outside on the patio as early in the year as Easter-time!

So book now to avoid the price rise !

(thanks to Get Smiley Face for the great sad smiley face icon)

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Greetings /Joyeux Noël !

Courtesy of French Owners Direct I came across this rather amusing flash-based Christmas greeting. Turn the volume up !

Hope you're all having a very merry one and enjoying all the festivities of the season.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Unexpected ebay search results
I've been looking to buy a copy of "Lockyears FarmStrips & Private Airfields Flight Guide" which lists small private airfields and farm landing strips on ebay but unfortunately missed out by not quite bidding high enough on a recently auctioned copy on ebay.

So although I've got an ebay search setup to automatically email me when other books matching "lockyears farm*" are listed on ebay, I thought I'd try the "View Similar Items" search on MyEbay and ended up with some very unexpected results ... not what I was expecting at all ....

The joys of the global market place that is ebay! In amongst the 18-rated DVD's (presumably found because of the search word 'private'), I did find one copy listed on ebay, but at a higher price than I wanted to pay so I'll keep on searching.

And why am I looking for this book? Well I've been learning to fly a Microlight airplane for the past few months. Still practising flying circuits and trying to land without crashing the air plane at the moment so it's not as if I am going solo or will be needing the book for just awhile.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

No success with advertising on RentPropertyDirect

Back in December 2006 I wrote about a year's free holiday home advertising on Rent Property Direct, and just a couple of weeks ago I received the 4-weeks-to-go, 2-weeks-to-go, 1-week-to-go, renew-today automatic reminder emails telling me that my first year's advert (which was free) was coming to an end.

Well when I put the advert up I commented that as it hadn't cost me anything to list then if I didn't get any bookings as a result I wasn't losing anything, and perhaps as I half expected, that's exactly what I gained from the year's advert - nothing at all.

According to the RPD statistics for my Gite advert we've been viewed 320 times over the last year (and doubtless one or two of those were from me checking the advert looked right), but I've had zero enquiries, not one, absolutely nothing, zip, zilch, nada, nowt.

So I won't be passing £99 of my children's inheritance onto RPD for a second year's listing and I'll try somewhere else instead. They're still doing the free listing for the first year offer so good luck to any prospective other clients, and sorry it didn't work out for me.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

French take direct action in their hate of speed cameras

Speed camera
Over on Times Online an interesting article about how France's Nationalist Revolutionary Army Faction (FNAR) are apparently taking direct action in their dislike of speed cameras and have taken to blowing them up with home-made explosive and timer mechanisms.

France has comparatively few speed cameras with roughly 2 cameras per 1000 square kilometers, compared to 7 per 1000 square kilometers in Italy and nearly 21 in the UK, but they're catching up fast since former President Jacques Chirac started getting tough with France’s high road death toll and instigated a programme of installing cameras at known problem spots.

Of course the best way of not getting caught speeding is to not speed in the first place, but if you're worried there's the useful Controle Radar site which details speed camera locations across France including Brittany, links to maps of speed camera locations provided by the government's sécurité routière and details of the potentially substantial speeding fines if you're unlucky enough to be caught.

Fixed speed cameras are always signposted in advance in France (although the mobile patrols aren't) so keep an eye out when trundling along the usually empty roads and be careful out there!


Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Year in The Merde - Holiday reading book review

One of the good things about being away on holiday myself is that I actually get enough relaxation time to sit down and read books. I used to love reading as a child and it's just something that I never seem to get enough time to do these days.

So it was nice to be able to read on holiday, and in fact it became doubly nice to read Stephen Clarke's "A Year in The Merde" which (according to the introduction page) is an "almost-true account of the things that may or may not have occurred to the author in his ten years he has lived in France".

Basically the story tells a complete year in month-by-month chapters (running from September to May for reasons which are explained in the book) of how the Englishman Paul West arrives in Paris to launch an English tea-shop chain as a new venture for France's largest hamburger manufacturing company.

Paul starts off being hardly able to speak a word of French and struggling to understand anything of the country and the culture. When he goes for lunch with his impeccably dressed boss Jean Marie he thinks that eating "Chèvre Chaud" (literally translated as "Hot Goat") means he's going to get a horned goat's head served on a plate, and when the waiter asks "Et comme boisson?" (and what to drink) he mis-hears boisson as poisson and wonders why he's being asked about fish with the goat's head ... ?

There's a series of comic stories throughout the book as Paul tries to get to grips with his French team who try to converse with him in absolutely awful English, and who turn out to be completely useless and were only assigned to the tea-shop venture as France's employment laws prevent Jean Paul from firing them.
The team includes Bernard 'the Walrus' (with moustache to match), Marc who is "ed of hah tee" (head of IT), Stéphanie who's "responsa bull ov poorshassing" (responsible for purchasing for the meat-processing part of the company, and it turns out is having an affair with Jean Paul) and Christine, Jean Paul's assistant who Paul instantly fancies.

Christine it turns out becomes one of the few women in the book that Paul fails to seduce, but there's plenty of others including Jean Paul's daughter who becomes Paul's landlord, Alexa who Paul nearly buys a country cottage with (but the cottage turns out to be on the site of a proposed new Nuclear power station) and Marie his "cinq á Sept" - the person you meet to make love with between five o'clock in the afternoon and seven, before you go home to your spouse.

The story's littered with snippets of Parisian life like the frequent strikes and industrial disputes such as the metro drivers, the street cleaners, the police, the teachers and the porn stars on French TV (don't ask!).

I found that it was a book I couldn't really put down, the story just flowed by, and before I knew it I'd got to the end. It's not a side-splitingly laugh out loud book but instead gives a wry insiders look onto French culture and learning why the Parisians are the world's best at not caring with a massive Gallic shrug of the shoulders.

So Stephen Clarke's A Year in The Merde is well recommended, definitely a 4-star read.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

What country does P&O get their customers from?

Travelling back from Brittany on Sunday via P&O due to high winds in the channel I was amused to read on my booking reference how I collected my ferry ticket:

In English
Dear Passenger,
You will collect your tickets at check-in by quoting this reference number

In French
Cher Passager,
Votre billet vous sera remis à l'enregistrement sur présentation de ce numéro de référence

And in a third language.

Guess which it was ....

Guess which language P&O obviously believe its customers is most likely to speak?

Drozdy Pasazerowie,
Podezas kontroli prosze zebrac bilety wedlug przypisanych numerow

And the answer is ... Polish !

Says something for the world that P&O think they'll have more Polish speakers than Belgian's, Spaniard's, Dutchmen, German, Italians, etc, etc.

(Oh yes, and Google translate doesn't offer any translation options to/from Polish, so they don't believe much of the world speaks Polish !)

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Another week in France and a blowy trip home

Just got back on Sunday from being away in Brittany for a week at our Gite to give me a well deserved break from work and to get on with some work in the second house.

The week's break was really good, very relaxing, and I didn't think about work at all! Instead I spent the week sorting out the wiring for two of the new bedrooms in the second house; this sounds somewhat easier than it actually was as I had to move light switches from where they were positioned, put in new sockets for bedside lights, additional power and aerial sockets so we've flexibility to put a TV in the bedroom if we want, re-do the cabling for the lights from being central ceiling pendants to now be halogen tracks across the room, putting additional wooden braces into the plasterboard walls to take the weight of the halogen light transformer, etc, etc.

I also of course managed to watch some TV and drink a fair amount of red wine in the evenings !

All in all, a wonderful time.

Not everything went according to plan though, putting the cover on the swimming pool proved to be impossible and after two hours of struggling I eventually decided I probably had the wrong sized cover, but far and away the most exciting time was getting back home on Sunday morning.

I'd travelled over to Brittany using one of the Speedferries 10-trip Flex vouchers I bought in September 2006 for £24 each. No problems at all, a nice easy run over and drive down, arriving at the Gite on Saturday evening, just under 12 hours door-to-door elapsed time (including ferry, petrol station and stop-off's enroute).

On Saturday 1st I saw the weather forecast was not good and that there were strong winds and gales building up on Saturday evening. Phoning the Speedferries customer service desk they couldn't tell me that anything was going to be cancelled until the morning of the crossing itself.

When I got up at 3am on Sunday morning there was still no news of cancelled services on BBCi so I set off hoping that the weather forecast had proven to be wrong. Driving up from Brittany the weather was pretty good until I got to close to the port when the rain started. By the time I got to the dockside the rain was lashing down and the wind had picked up, so sure enough the boat was cancelled. Apparently Speedferries had sent me a text to tell me of this but for some reason I never received it.

Fortunately although speedferries had had to cancel their high-speed catamaran, they thought that the larger ferry boats were still operating so I drove on to Calais and sure enough both P&O and Sea France were still running.

I was a bit shocked by the "112" I was quoted for P&O until I found out the price was 112 Euro's (£78), not quite as good as my £24 with speedferries but not too outrageous so I paid up and booked a slot on the next boat over. Sea France wanted €119 and I found out from another fellow traveller that Eurotunnel were charging €151 so by chance I'd ended up with the cheapest option.

And the crossing itself was pretty good despite the 60-65mph (gusting to 85mph) winds.

Took a bit longer than normal as the boat had it's stabilisers out (which are apparently 5m long "wings" that come out from the sides), it was a bit rocky at times but no-where near as bad as the ferry ships I travelled on years ago.

It did take us ages to get into port as we had to queue behind other ferries until we could be towed into our berth by the Dover port tug. Instead of being the scheduled 90 minute crossing it took over 3 hours before we were finally back on dry land, but at least I got back home in the end somewhat tired after such a long day.

Slept well that night!

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