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The Move: Hell and Horseboxes
"Investment? What investment? You cancelled it in April."
It was now September. September 22nd 1995.
I froze. I’d only called Simon, our financial adviser, to ask a few routine questions. I hadn’t expected this. He was talking about our investment bond – the bulk of the proceeds from our house sale, our life savings, the money that was going to fund our new life in France.
"No, I didn't," I replied, hoping that there'd been some kind of mistake.
I could hear a riffling of papers, pages being turned, a note of panic in Simon’s voice.
"I ... er ... have the correspondence here. Yes ... April. You wanted the bond encashed and the money sent to your business account in Spain."
What business account in Spain? I didn’t have any accounts in Spain. I didn’t have any business accounts anywhere!
I couldn’t believe it. This could not be happening. Not to me. Things like this happened to other people!
And then I thought about the chaos that marked our first seven months in France – the move from Hell, the neurotic car, the police roadblock, the fire, the ten foot long caterpillar, the day I accidentally signed for the local football team ... and realised ... I'm just the kind of person this does happen to.
It was a shock. That sudden shift in my internal picture. I was no longer the person who sat safe and warm watching events unfold upon the television screen. I was the person in front of the camera. The man standing in the doorway as the getaway car mounts the pavement. The man eating his sandwiches in the park when the sniper opens the attic window.
They're all me.
Seven months earlier…
It was the day before our move and doubt was sitting on my shoulder, whispering. Was moving to France a terrible mistake or just the result of unpardonable crimes in a previous life? Even the weather was against us. The latest forecast for Wednesday – the day of our ferry crossing – had the English Channel buried in isobars and lashed by gale force winds. What if the ferry was cancelled? The Channel Tunnel wasn’t finished yet. We couldn’t take a plane – unless British Airways considered two horses, one dog and three cats acceptable cabin luggage. And we’d have nowhere to stay either – the new owner would be moving into our farm tomorrow morning.
All we’d have were a single change of clothes and a collection of dog and cat bowls – our clothes and furniture having gone ahead of us. They were being loaded into the removal van today.
But moving to France had to be the right thing to do. We'd spent three years with more money going out than was coming in. Which gave rise to The Plan – sell our farm, free up the capital and move to rural France where we could buy a similar property for a third of the price and use the balance to live off of. Simple and brilliant. All problems solved and a better climate thrown in for good measure.
Even though it was a nightmare to organise.
We lived in Devon; the new house was in the foothills of the Pyrenees – an 800-mile drive and a six-hour ferry trip distant. We had a jeep and a thirty year-old tractor. Neither excelled at long journeys.
And then there were the animals. Two horses, three cats and an enormous puppy.
Even if we could fit the dog and cats into the Suzuki – which I doubted – could we all survive an eighteen-hour journey cooped up together and remain sane?
This thought fuelled a recurring nightmare – me behind the wheel of our jeep with my face being licked by the dog on my lap and a cat fight filling the rear-view mirror.