Life after 60!

MANY remember them as the friendly faces behind the bar at the Moon & Mushroom pub in Swilland. But after the age of 60 CLIVE GOODALL and his wife Adrienne embarked up on a new challenge, and today report on their new life in France.

MANY remember them as the friendly faces behind the bar at the Moon & Mushroom pub in Swilland. But after the age of 60 CLIVE GOODALL and his wife Adrienne embarked up on a new challenge, and upped sticks to live in France. So far it has included an intriguing encounter with the mayor, and a protest against being hospitalised, as Clive reports.

OVER a year ago, on February 5 2005, my long suffering wife, Adrienne and I braced our over 60-year-old bodies for what was for us, a great adventure. We were going to live in the south of France!

Why? Were we dissatisfied with life in the UK?

No, not particularly. It was just that we thought, “you pass this way but once,” and adding to life's rich tapestry by spending a few years of our allotted span in foreign climes would be an exciting way of winding down our working lives to retirement.

I am a Suffolk lad, educated at Copleston High School long before they had languages on the curriculum, but Adrienne had, at least schoolgirl French from her London upbringing. Life had been kind to me, having just spent 14 wonderful years as licensee of the Moon & Mushroom at Swilland, and before that, spells at the Maypole, Ipswich and the White Horse at Tattingstone.

The holiday home that we had owned in the Pyrenean area of France for five years had already given us a taste of the place to which we were moving, and we had already upgraded to a staggeringly beautiful house in a village called Vernet les Bains. Rudyard Kipling had been moved to describe the village as: “the Paradise of the Pyrenees” where we intended to start a very low key B&B!

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So, on that cold February morning, we packed all our worldly chattels in to the largest pantechnicon rural Suffolk has ever seen. We shed many tears on leaving the dear people of Swilland, I tucked my elephant gun under my arm in case of emergencies, and “Collin's Dictionary of Essential Phrases” in to my back pocket, and set forth. Marco Polo, David Livingstone - now me!

Our first task was to totally re-wire, re-plumb and re-decorate our new home, and install en-suite facilities for our intended guests.

It was in doing this that I first came into contact with the renowned 'laid back' French artisan. Did I say 'laid back'? I meant 'impossible!' Three hours lunch break is paramount in the French culture, and tools are downed on the dot of 12, even if it means leaving one with an unattached pipe spewing gunge onto the lounge floor.

Timekeeping is simply not in the vocabulary. Their trick is to keep you guessing as to what time, or what day, they will deign to arrive, hence making your life as awkward as possible. Prices depend on whether you are charged French rate or English rate. I will leave you to surmise as to which rate I paid.

The French do not have the same pride in home and garden that we have. They have an altogether more hedonistic approach, being principally concerned with fine cuisine, fine wine and one other activity that is unmentionable on these pages. Our builders attitude therefore was, near enough is good enough!

Eventually however, all the wrinkles were ironed out, and now we are settling down to ordinary life. Our home is beautiful. The vista from our house front is what I truly believe to be one of the most amazing in the world - snow capped mountains and tumbling streams greet me every morning. The weather is very warm indeed, in fact, too hot in July and August.

The Mediterranean, Spain and Andorra are all just over an hours drive away and get frequent visits.

Best of all, for our old bones, is the lack of damp! That awful dampness that seems to penetrate ones very being (not to mention creating the mud that makes ones wellies weigh twice as much!) I am truly, a very lucky man.

It is important to understand that there are many differences in the culture of the French and English peoples. In England the emphasis is on efficiency and drive and a continual quest for a better standard of living. The French, on the other hand are totally content with their lot in life and neither desire nor seek anything more.

This can be illustrated quite clearly by the two bakers in our village, both of whom close for one day a week. This, I imagined, in my British way of thinking, would enable the remaining 'open' baker to take advantage of the lack of competition. Not so. Instead of baking more bread, they produce exactly the same amount that they always do, knowing that it will run out about midday and thereby enabling them to close for the afternoon. Enough has been earned to suffice!

Another glaring difference is that every community from the tiniest hamlets, to the largest metropolises have their own mayor (and it is normally a “he” as emancipation seems not to have reached the French yet!).

He is not the ceremonial figurehead that the British mayor has become, but a very important person, to whom all alterations, house painting and garden design must be referred.

As tending the garden was one of the hobbies I wished to follow in my semi-retirement, I decided a shed was essential. Every man should have one. Duly I conformed to the requirement of asking the mayor for permission, but had reckoned without the French inability to understand anything other than a patch of rough grass that is strimmed only when it becomes impossible to reach the front gate. Baffled as to why anyone should want such a thing, the mayor called on me in person.

I explained it was to keep rake, spade, wheelbarrow and other equipment for maintaining the garden. I can only assume that he did not fully grasp the situation, for even after considerable pleading and bargaining, I was only granted permission for a 4ft high shed! All tools have to be kept horizontally, causing me to constantly trip over them, even from the ridiculously bent over position I am forced to adopt, while my head is always bleeding from violent contacts with the shed roof.

There is much discussion in the UK about the French National health system. Having given my shoulder an awful wrench throwing a stone for the dog, would give me my first experience of the system. Knowing that a reciprocal arrangement between governments would ensure that the treatment was free, I presented myself at the local clinic. Every area has many of these where one can go for every conceivable reason, without having to go through ones GP.

On entering I was immediately surrounded by a gaggle of doctors and various ancillary staff, who, most excited to have a patient, whisked me at breakneck speed through a plethora of diagnostic departments. After fully 20 minutes I was presented to the team of medics and told that I had torn a tendon in my shoulder. It was only after much protestation that I persuaded them that a spell in hospital was not necessary. They released me on a strict diet of anti-inflammatory pills, a promise to rest and an undertaking to return in one week to ensure that all was well.

I have maybe been a tad flippant with my description of events, but nevertheless, the stark contrast between them and the staff of our own overworked, harassed NHS hospitals was starkly evident.

In conclusion, my stay in France has been wonderful in some ways, not so good in others, but I am very glad I have done it.

My overriding emotion however is that I do miss the wonderful folk of Suffolk very much, and unless I have a radical change of opinion, “I shall”, as General MacArthur once said; “return”.

N

Have you swapped Suffolk for an exciting new life? Call Star features on 01473 324798.

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