PREY SILENCE  

Stone fermette (Quercy style) to restore.
Big potential in quiet friendly hamlet.
Convenient all amenities. 6 hectares grazing.
Private sale. Telephone B. Metz. (0033) 05 61 47 05 40.

READERS' PROBLEM PAGE

I've heard from ex-pat friends in Paris that French red tape is horrendous for anyone hoping to set up in business in France. We intend opening a B&B in the Vendeé. Can any of your readers give us some practical advice on this?

James Dowell by email.

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Our family has just moved to an idyllic barn restoration in the Charente, but are increasingly peturbed by the 'froideur' of the locals toward us. We are learning French as quickly as we can and our son attends the local Ecole Primaire. Has anyone any similar experiences? What are we doing wrong?

Gill Marr. Soljuste.

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URGENT. Two black cockers missing near Lodève. Please contact Live France if seen.

Grieving owners, Nick and Jenny Green by email.

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My wife and I learnt from friends in Deux-Sèvres that the French will shoot anything that moves. We are understandably very anxious for the safety of our cat who'll be moving to the Ardeche with us next month. What are other readers' experiences?

M. Porter. Essex

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My Packard Bell pc simply won't function here. Do I have to buy a French make?

Susie Taylor. Beziérs.

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Our second home has been burgled twice in the Dordogne (near Souillac) and we now seek a reliable British keyholder/security personnel in that area.

David Farrar. Epsom

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We have just found our dream home in the Quercy region near Cahors, and would like to be put in touch with local artisans who would do the renovations, including a new septic tank. All suggestions much appreciated.

Tom Wardle-Smith by email.

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Help! Tics everywhere. We have lost three precious dogs to these pernicious pests and now feel we can't subject any more pets to the suffering they bring. Any specialist vetinerary advice most welcome.

Nancy Lodge. Agen

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Chapter 1

Tom Wardle-Smith followed his own shadow up his neighbour's driveway feeling the impossibly smooth gravel under his shoes, noting the shaved grass on either side, the neat beds of miniature narcissus and green-budded tulips, all serving to slow him up, reminding him what he and his young family were about to leave behind. The springs summers, autumns and winters amongst the Scots pines and chesnuts which everyone on Berris Hill Road possessed at the ends of their gardens. The sheer material ease of life in Surrey. The convenience of everything. from takeaway aromatic duck to repeat prescriptions for Prozac. (Not for him, you understand. For his wife, Kathy.) The companiable but non-intrusive neighbours, the House Watch Scheme which he'd help set up last autumn before he'd spotted Hibou in Live France's Christmas edition. A wreck of a fermette deep in the midi-Pyrenees.

He paused. Could hear music pulsing from the Simiston's house - a frequently upgraded version of his - boasting two extensions and a heated outdoor pool where on summer evenings from his upper windows, he could see Una Simiston breasting the turquoise water, length after length, while her husband's drinking progressed, slackening his body in the sun lounger.

And this now, on Friday 22nd March, 2002 was the farewell party.

Tom glanced back at the rear of his own newly-rendered home which had just netted three hundred and fifty grand in a sticky market. Its whiteness gleamed in the sunshine; its leaded windows prettily reflecting blue, enough to trigger another tug of regret. What the hell was he doing? he asked himself yet again, because now there really was no going back. Yesterday in Chertsey had not only been Completion Day on the sale, but also when Right Move removals were paid their interim balance. Soon the Puris, a Sikh family from Totteridge would be enjoying the power showers, the integral dishwasher and already had plans for the kind of conservatory that Kathy had always wanted.

Her hourly mantra about why hadn't he waited to see how things panned out at work once his goddam awful boss had gone, now stuck in his brain, while the kids loyalty was less constant, veering from one parent to the other like some skiff on a stormy sea.

By the time he reached the Simiston's front door, a knot of panic had lodged in his stomach and, if he searched his soul, the real reason for it being there was that wherever he and she holed up, she'd probably still be the same. Overprotective of Max and Flora, plus a raft of compulsive cleanliness disorders from skirting boards to light bulbs and loo seats. But maybe, he'd reasoned during the signing of the compromis de vente in Cahors, a different environment with its slower pace of life, good food, good wine, would change her back to the woman he'd once fallen in love with. Funny, spontaneous, addicted to his own special brand of foreplay...

When had they last done it? he mused, ringing the neighbour's bell. When he'd first talked about living in France; living the dream. Just before the Prozac had started. Six months ago. Jesus Christ, was it that long?

"Tom. Great to see you." Ben Simiston interrupted his calculations by holding his front door open as wide as it would go. What more hint was needed that Tom's desk-bound job as IT Consultant with Prestige People had done his body no favours? Just then, under Simiston's gaze, his leather jacket seemed to cling too tightly, his belt invade his stomach. He breathed in to lose a few inches while the music subsided.

"Johnny Halliday. Just for you." Simiston's breath was neat whisky.

"Thanks."

"All set to go then, are we?"

"Once the Carte de Sejour's been sorted."

"They like their bureaucracy do the frogs. You'd never guess they'd had a revolution."

"It's been less than I thought, actually." Tom glanced around at the expensive tat which to him looked like typical Show Home stuff. Money can't buy good taste, he thought, suddenly needing a drink.

"Kathy seems okay about it. That's half the battle." The former BA executive gave him a knowing look, before leading the way along the parquet hallway into a huge lounge where most of the residents of Berris Hill Road clustered around a heaving buffet table. Una had been busy, Tom thought ungratefully. Una, the perfect wife.

"Bon voyage," said someone.

"Arrivederci," another.

"Cheers," Tom wheeled out his five-teeth IT smile, and made his way towards his kids who were busy trying to poke each others' eyes out with a cocktail sausage apiece. Then he noticed Kathy standing by the pink-quilted bar looking more like an upright corpse than someone about to embark on an exciting journey. Her apple juice lay untouched in her glass, her gaze fixed on what he couldn't fathom, except that to him, the word catatonic came to mind.

 

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