Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Sunday, June 28, 2009

French Magazine subscription offer

Back in April I passed on details of a special subscription offer for France Magazine, this time it's the turn of French Magazine for a subscription offer.

And this time it really is a bargain subscription offer !

French Magazine retails at £3.99 in the shops and normally an annual subscription is £23.94, but courtesy of CA Britline and Norfolkline (who probably see this as cheap promotional advertising), you can subscribe to French Magazine for just £9.99.

That's 12 copies for £9.99 - or 83p per issue - a great price for French lovers everywhere.

Or, if like me your wedding anniversary is coming up next week, this'd make a perfect wedding anniversary present from your wife (big hint to Liz !!!)


Wednesday, June 24, 2009 - Brittany Ferries Enthusiasts

Just come across the Brittany Ferries enthusiasts website, an unofficial website that in their own words was "created by ferry enthusiasts for other enthusiasts and travellers who have an interest in the day to day operations of Brittany Ferries".

There's quite a lot of information on the site about the different ferries that BF operate, the different routes, the company history and onboard facilities, etc, but the main energy and updates in the site goes on in the BFenthusiasts forum.

Browsing through the forum tonight I found articles musing on a sister ship for Mont St Michel, the savings to be had with the Brittany Ferries Owners Club and the cheapest time to buy a BF crossing ticket.

Personally after using them extensively for the first couple of years of owning our French holiday home we've now stopped using Brittany Ferries because the ticket prices were so high, but having said that I know other people who love their boats and cross with them to France every year. The summary on the enthusiasts site of the Brittany Ferries onboard accommodation sums it up quite well
Their ships can be described as cruise ferries offering facilities and standards of comfort expected of a cruise ship rather than a cross channel ferry. Facilities include shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants, bars, tourist offices and even swimming pools.

As with much in life you pays your money you takes your choice. But anyway, the BF enthusiasts site is worth a read and there's even a forum section on news and views about other ferry companies.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 22, 2009

Euroferries - no sign of ferry service starting from Ramsgate to Boulogne

Last time I blogged back in March 2009 there was no news of Euroferries launch despite their website announcing in was starting in Spring 2009 and then would 'commence imminently'.

June 2009 and no update on the Euroferries website.

There is speculation and counter refutation of any news following a recent announcement on This is Kent (news), photos apparently showing the boat recently painted in Euroferries colours, but the most discussion is on The Big Blog's Euroferries announcement posting where they are up to 250 comments to date.

Summary seems to be that the proposed boat the 'Bonanza Express' has been berthed at Las Palmas in Gran Canaria for the past 6 months and that the Port of Boulogne have confirmed that they're not in active discussions with Euroferries as to starting a service.

So don't hold your breath on this one ...

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 21, 2009

C'est La Folie - Book Review

Amazingly despite seemingly working all hours possible I have actually found enough 'me' time to read a book. Normally I only get such luxuries when on holiday so perhaps I'm finally learning to manage my work/life balance or is that my work/work/work/life balance?

Anyway, onto the book review.

On reaching his thirties Michael Wright decides that there's more to life than his job as a theatre critic and together with his long suffering cat sets off moving from his comfortable existence in South London to start a new altogether grittier life in rural France.

Michael plumps on moving to Limousin on the basis that it's far enough South that the cat'll notice the improvement in the weather and yet close enough to England that he can pop back to see his parents from time to time. Nearness to an Aerodrome is also an essential pre-requisite because Michael's also got to bring his aircraft, a yellow 1946 Luscombe Silvaire, over to France and his tale of searching to find a local aerodrome in the rain sets the tone with a wry sense of humour for the rest of the book:
The barman's moustache twitches as he slides a smoking coffee towards me.
'Il n'y a pas d'aerodrome ici, Monsieur.' He rolls his eyes at the other men in the bar as I repeat a scenario I have played out in countless bars and tabacs all over France, where aerodrome denial is rife.
'But what's this?' I ask, pointing to the little star beside the name Jolibois on my aeronautical chart.
'Ah, you mean the landing-strip that the pilots use?' he huffs, sulkily polishing a glass.
I nod.
'Well, why didn't you say so Monsieur?' he says. 'It's up the road, on the left-hand side.'

And so Michael settles on Jolibois and ends up buying La Folie, a dilapidated farmhouse in need of serious TLC. By his own admission Michael is no 'level 5' DIY expert so there's plenty of stories of waiting for local tradesmen to firstly come to the house, secondly waiting for them to provide a quote, and thirdly waiting for them to actually turn up to do the work!

Jolibois is a made-up name for the nearest town to La Folie but it could equally be any small rural town anywhere in France. Michael's told that it'll take 6 months before the locals welcome him as being "one of them" and as the chapters unfold you're taken through the transformation journey. Fortunately Michael has a couple of advantages over many other Brits relocating to France, firstly he took A level French and seems to have a pretty good grasp of the language beforehand - although there are a few 'mouth in foot' moments where he gets the wrong word or the wrong pronunciation - and secondly Michael can play the organ. Now playing the organ might not strike you as an obvious way of integrating with the local community but Michael jumps in feet first and volunteers to play in the local church, and despite not knowing anything about Catholic Mass and the incumbent organist playing everything from memory without any written music, he's soon trusted enough to play at Saturday's Midnight Mass.

The book's full of lovely little stories about the ups and downs of becoming a sheep and chicken owner, of taming the wilderness that is La Folie's garden, of bureaucracy at the local flying club in allocating space in the newly built hanger for Michael's beloved Luscombe, and of the search for a French soul-mate to share Michael's new life with him.

All in all this is a lovely and enjoyable book and one I can recommend even if you don't personally have the desire to up sticks and move permanently to France.

After enjoying reading C'est La Folie I've now found out that the story doesn't end there and the author's written a follow-on book,
Je t'aime a la Folie, where three years later Michael's settled down in his isolated French life with his cat, chickens and the sheep, and he's just about decided to stop his sometimes over-enthusiastic search for a woman to complete his life, when fate intervenes with a re-introduction to Alice, an old school friend, who unfortunately lives in America, in Baltimore.

And so the stage is set for part-deux, conducting a long-distance love affair. Unfortunately Je t'aime a la Folie isn't released yet so I'll just have to put it on my Amazon wish list.

Labels: ,

Monday, June 15, 2009

SpeedOne sold for £8m and an update from SpeedFerries administrators

When SpeedFerries was put into administration last year I became one of the creditors of 'SpeedFerries Limited (in Administration)' because they owed me for prepaid tickets that I'd not been able to use.

Back in January I learnt of the administrators plans and last week I received the latest, and perhaps final, update from the administrators on reducing the company's debt through selling and realising what few assets SpeedFerries had.

It's interesting to read what value was placed on SpeedFerries customer details as their customer database and various web domain names (except which is being retained by the administrators) was sold to LD Lines for £150,000.

Approval was given in the High Court in March for a Judicial Sale of SpeedOne to try to clear some of the £15m company debt, of which £12m was owed to Bank of Scotland and Incat for the SpeedOne ferry.

The administrators letter continued with details that sealed bids were submitted by 21st April 2009 for SpeedOne and the vessel was eventually purchased by a company called "Prospect Number 70 Limited" for £8m; most of which has already been distributed to the Bank of Scotland as primary secured lender. Prospect Number 70 Limited have now also bought the complete spares inventory for SpeedOne at an additional price of £60k.

The administrators themselves will be paid some £726k for their time and expenses in winding up the company and their letter finishes with 'The Joint Administrators do not anticipate the realisation of further assets in relation to the Company ... there will be insufficient funds to completely discharge the debts of BoS and as such there will be no funds available to discharge the debts of Incat (manufacturers for SpeedOne) .... and there will not be any amounts available to the non-preferential creditors of the Company' (i.e. ordinary customers like me).

And so that pretty much completes the story of SpeedFerries.

But who or what is 'Prospect Number 70 Limited' I wondered? And what do they plan to do with SpeedOne?

I've managed to find a bit of information on the public records held with Companies House (search for 'Prospect Number 70' then 'order information on this company') which are available for £1 for each company filing. Similar information is yielded (for £18 a pop) with a UK data search for Prospect Number 70.

The company was incorporated earlier this year and is currently registered at 25 Moorgate, London. There's three mortgages outstanding on the company, the company secretary is Taqi Ullah Mir, and the company directors are Nicholas James White, Anthony Michael Dean and John Gordon Davis. I did a bit of searching for these names on Google but couldn't find anything that seemed relevant.

So my guess is that SpeedOne has been bought by some kind of venture capitalist or opportunist company and they'll be selling the vessel on to another ferry company.

But who knows?

Labels: ,

Monday, June 08, 2009

Toilets !

New French toilet valve mechanism
Perhaps not the most exciting of topics but the subject of toilet flush mechanisms and the inequalities of UK and French plumbing price differences has been vexing me lately.

When we were over in Brittany at Easter I noticed that I could hear the sound of running water coming from the Gite's upstairs toilet.

'Not a problem' I thought, just need to adjust the ballcock which is probably out of alignment and causing the toilet to overfill slightly.

So I took the top off the toilet, found the polystyrene float, and bent down slightly the metal arm that connects the float to the incoming water valve.

Job done.

Or rather job not done. The next day I noticed that the toilet was only half full of water so I bent the arm up a bit and later on found the same problem with the toilet over-filling.

Thereafter I continued playing the same game of adjusting the arm up a bit, down a bit, pushing the polystyrene float up the arm, down the arm, round the arm, and all ultimately to no avail. It was only when the toilet was once again overfilling but yet the polystyrene float was fully submerged under the water level that I concluded that perhaps the problem was not the float at all but rather the valve that had worn inside and now wasn't shutting off properly.

So next day I went off to a big builders merchant in Loudeac that I've used a few times before. It's not the absolutely nearest builders merchant but its got a bigger range than the nearest one in La Trinite Porhoet and I figured the prices would be more reasonable than Mr Bricolage which is a sort of French equivalent to Homebase - i.e. lots of DIY stuff interspersed with pretty scatter cushions and attractive wall prints, and thus not the cheapest option.

I thought the builders merchant would be my most economical option - ha !

They didn't seem to have any ball valve type of float mechanism but instead had a nice range of valves that closed by means of a sort of inverted little cup. The cup is held upside down in the toilet cistern when as the water level rises the air trapped in the cup causes the cup to rise, pushing up a bar that then closes the valve. Looked simple and effective but came with an eye watering €25 price tag. Actually the price on the shelf edge said €24.80 but then they charged me less than that, added tax (TVA) and 'English DIYer supplement' (or whatever, I couldn't understand the printed invoice), and so I ended up paying slightly over €25.

Well at the time it seemed a bit steep, 25 quid or near enough for a toilet valve, but I needed one and I couldn't think that it would be all that much cheaper elsewhere so I stumped up, paid me money and took my new gadget back to the Gite.

10 minutes and a bit of PTFE tape around the toilet inlet pipe later the job was done. Water back on, no floods, and the toilet works a treat. The inverted cup mechanism seems to work beautifully and the new toilet flushes, fills and shuts off really silently.

When I got back to the UK I thought I'd investigate prices a bit further as I was sure £25 was a bit too high for what was a simple bit of plastic plumbing.

Looking on Screwfix's website who I've used quite a bit in the past for DIY materials (they started off as a trade mail order company with free P&P if you spend over £45 and now have a number of retail outlets across the UK), and a quick search of their website turned up a Torbeck side entry toilet cistern valve which looks identical to my French purchase except it costs just £5.77 including VAT.
Or for less than half the price of the Torbeck if could go for the 'old fashioned' side entry toilet cistern ball valve then this is just £2.28 plus 68p for the ball float that goes on the end of the arm.

As I thought at the time, my French plumbing purchase was expensive, but I hadn't figured on it being over 4 times the price of an equivalent British part! And of course the irony is that both toilet valves are probably made on some production line in China or the far East.

So next time you go to the toilet and flush, especially if you do stay in our Brittany Holiday Home, spare a thought to the expense that goes into running and renovating a French house!

Labels: ,

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Google Wave launched - with the potential to replace email, blogging and more

Last week Google announced at their 'Google IO' developers conference something I'm sure we're going to be hearing a lot more over the next year, Google Wave.

How do I describe Google Wave?

It's basically a reinvention of how to electronically interact with other people and documents, done afresh from the ground up. It combines collaboration tools and document sharing and editing in what could well be the replacement for email, twittering, blogging, wiki's, teamsites, instant messaging and many other forms of disjointed communication.

You have to go and watch the Google Wave launch video, and although it runs to an hour and twenty minutes you'll soon realise why this could be the "next big thing".

Google have apparently been working on this for the last two years, and although the software is still in a pre-beta state it's still a fairly impressive demo.

Google say they will launch Google Wave later on this year but the Wave APIs and interface protocol have already been made freely available under an open source licence.

One to watch methinks ...

(and I'm not the only one to think this, I just noticed that there's already 3,200 RSS subscribers to the Google Wave Developer Blog)

Labels: ,

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Weak pound causing Brits to go home?

I read an interesting article just now on StarNews online (an online newspaper from Wilmington, USA) entitled Crisis Stings Britons in France and Spain.

The article tells how the recent falling in value of the pound (or if you prefer, strengthening of the Euro) by some 30% over the last year has pushed up the cost of living and as a result is causing an outflow of British expats to return home from France and Spain.

The problem for many the article points out is that a stagnant housing market on both sides of the Channel is meaning many can't sell their overseas home and neither can buy in the UK and are thus stuck with dwindling finances, especially if they've taken retirement abroad and are finding that their pension doesn't go as far as it used to.

What do you think? If you're living overseas are you pushed into moving back or are you happy to ride out the storm? French house prices have been traditionally far more stable than their UK (and I believe Spanish) counterparts, most parts of France have seen steady year on year property price growth of around 5% rather than the boom or bust we've seen over here.

Labels: ,

Friday, June 05, 2009

If not France then flying a Microlight to somewhere else over the sea ...

A couple of days ago I wrote about my cancelled Microlight flight to France due to strong winds.

Afterwards I kicked my heels at home for a couple of days, moped about not doing very much, and got in my wife's way quite a bit. On Wednesday we went to the garden centre to buy some plants to fill in the gaps where the weeds used to be (Liz has been busy tackling the new garden), and when I got back I gave the Microlight centre a ring to see if anything was happening.

France was still off but they'd decided to go to the Isle of Wight for the day if I was interested - absolutely! - and I had to get down to the centre that evening to plan the route.

And so all of a sudden it was action stations again, hurrah.

The route down to the Isle of Wight was (on paper) reasonably straight forward, I would fly the first leg down to Popham (near Basingstoke), another student would then fly to the Isle of Wight and I'd get a lift with another experienced pilot, then we'd swap over, I'd fly along the coast to The Needles and to Clench Common (near Marlborough), then swap around again and the other student would fly the final return leg to Sandy. We spent hours pouring over the maps, marking the key waypoints and things we expected to fly over like railway lines, motorway junctions, high-voltage cables and big towns, etc.

Next morning I was at the airfield at an unreasonably early 6:30am to the sight of almost complete cloud cover at 2,000 feet. Occasionally it briefly cleared a bit until the next wave of cloud came in.

Nevertheless off we set off on our adventure into the wild blue (well grey) yonder.

All the route and map planning and preparation obviously paid off as I was very successful in following the pre-prepared route. My navigation was pretty much spot on as we marked off waypoint after waypoint, flying along just under the bottom of the clouds with occasional drops a bit lower when the clouds descended. Flying over the Chiltern's and opening up over the M40 cutting (as seen in the opening credits for 'Vicar of Dibley') was especially great as the ground rises up considerably and with low cloud and a tall radio transmission mast to get past it all got a bit interesting!

With the low cloudbase we weren't able to fly high enough over Aylesbury, Reading and Basingstoke as planned so I had to skirt round them. And then right in front of me was Popham airfield as expected. One circuit round overhead, a call on the radio to the control tower who couldn't hear us even though we could hear them OK, then I was on finals, turning past the petrol station to land with a bit of a bump on the long grass runway.

Not the gentlest of landings but quite safe. I taxied the plane up to the refuelling point and as I turned the engine off I was surprised to see that the Microlight behind me had been caught by a gust of wind on landing and had turned over on its side. Fortunately neither the experienced pilot or his passenger were hurt but the plane took a bit of damage and has had to go off for some rather expensive repairs.

I found out afterwards that not only had my instructor let me fly and land all the way on my own but he'd also been sitting on his map so had been totally reliant on my navigation skills!

After the obligatory coffee and bacon sandwich break we took off again due South towards Portsmouth, the Solent and the Isle of Wight.

This time I was sitting in the back as passenger so was able to take some photos of the journey as we flew down the A33, over Portsmouth, past the naval docks and Spinnaker Tower, and over the Solent. Flying over Ryde we soon arrived at Sandown airport.

More coffee, bacon sandwiches, some chilling out in the sun, some of the group went to Sandown itself but unfortunately we didn't get time to make sandcastles on the beach!

By the afternoon we were running out of time so had to change route plans, opting instead for the direct route back home stopping off at Popham again for fuel. This time I flew over the Solent up to Popham and was the passenger for the return leg from Popham to Sandy, flying over Leighton Buzzard, Woburn Park and past the mighty airship hangers at Cardington.

All together I flew the Microlight for over 115 miles in one day so it was a well deserved beer when we finally landed back at Sandy at 8pm.

The next day I was absolutely exhausted and got up very late so it was a good job I didn't have to go to work !

I've filed a few more photos from my Microlight trip to Popham and the Isle of Wight over on Flickr.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Strong winds prevented a French flying break

I've mentioned before on this Blog that I have been learning to fly a Microlight aircraft over the last year or so.

Admittedly I've not really written all that much about my new-found weekend pastime, partly because I do try (at least occasionally) to keep this Blog on-message (i.e. keep my ramblings focussed on 'running a French holiday Gite in Rural Brittany'), and partly my lack of postings on this subject has been because I've not had much interesting or exciting to write about.

Until last week that is.

So far my Microlight flying has been proceeding fairly well and I'm at the "circuit bashing" stage of practising flying circuits around the airfield. The take-off's are fine, the flying round in the prescribed rectangular route on a straight and level attitude is fine, but the tricky bit is the landings! Basically I just need more practice to get them consistent. And boy have I been practising flying circuits and in particular the landings for some time now.

Last week though was different as my Microlight Club had organised a trip to France.

My previous flying excursions have been limited to bits of Bedfordshire in and around where we live so I tend to have at least some familiarity with the area, and one cross-country journey of some 40 miles or so up to Deenethorpe airfield in Northamptonshire where it has to be said that I got somewhat lost and it was by more luck (and the instructor in the back of the Microlight) that we got there and back at all.

Flying to France was to be on a whole different league - of getting lost on a really advanced scale if nothing else!

We were all due to fly out on Tuesday morning, down to Headcorn in Kent, refuel there then continue on to Folkestone, fly straight over the channel to Cap Gris-Nez, round the back of Le Touquet, and then on to Abbeville where we'd land and stay over at the airfield. All going well we would do some local flying in France, perhaps up and down the French coast, then fly back to the UK on either Wednesday or Thursday.

As I'm not qualified yet I was taking an instructor with me and was planning to swap over at the different way points with another student who was travelling with an experienced pilot.

All in all I was really really looking forward to it, it was to be quite an adventure. Everything was ready for the trip, I'd bought a couple of brand new life-jackets off ebay as apparently there's a 15 minute or so 'bit in the middle' of the channel where if you have an engine failure in the Microlight you're too far out to glide down to a dry landing (ulp); I'd bought a 2 man tent from a car boot sale; I'd packed the absolute minimum needed for the journey and we were all set to go.

Unfortunately the weather didn't play ball and it was clear from the Met Office forecast that it was going to be high winds with 30mph gusts for our designated departure day.

And for once the man from the Met was right the weather was lousy and so instead of an enjoyable flight across the channel and an evening enjoying French wine and food I kicked my heels around at home, bored and very despondent. After all the build-up and excitement of the trip this was a mega-anticlimax.

Couldn't face doing any more unpacking at home (still 8 months after our house move there's plenty to unpack still) so I grumpily turned on my laptop and got on with doing some work.

Grumble grumble

Labels: ,