A View From The Farmhouse, Part One

Artificial port at Arromanches-les-Bains
Photo: Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

This is the first of an occasional series looking at life in Northern France in general and plotting progress with the farm.

Setting the scene:

Here in rural Lower Normandy things move at a slow pace; very little enrichment and there is an air of calm and apparent contentment. My overall impression is that life here can be very agreeable.

Lots of British people around: most have bought and renovated houses for permanent occupation or as holiday homes. The downside is that prices have risen to the detriment of the locals. I was discussing this recently with my French conversation tutor who lived and taught in England for several years.

One upside is that some small villages would die without investment like this – my first location was a tiny village in mid France where this was very apparent.

We are a few miles from a small medieval town which tends to grow on you. A lot of the daily routine centres on Le Bar Central run by a Chinese family (others around the area are also Chinese owned!), it is on the main road through town, very popular and does a good trade. The town is a tourist destination and also a stopping off place for motor cycle clubs passing through. We are about sixty miles from Caen and not much further from St Malo, Cherbourg and Le Havre. Dieppe is about a four hour drive away.

The parking area across the road from the bar hosts a small market each Friday morning and is the site of occasional festivities. The old town is very attractive with narrow winding streets, colourful houses and is built on a hill with ramparts still visible and also the remains of the manor house/castle which is open to visitors.

There was a Medieval Fete recently which was well attended despite the rain. The people really do love these events and many get into the spirit of the whole thing and dress accordingly.

I believe I have come to understand the French quite well; having lived here for three years now and also over the course of many visits since my first trip in 1963 all of which has given me some perspective.

I do not profess to be an expert on France and how everything works and I have made some mistakes which have been a little costly. But live and learn – any brush with authority can be painful and the bureaucracy is something to be wondered at – but their country – their rules. When in Rome etc….

Difficult to find the latest numbers but it appears at least 24 percent of workers are government employees. It comes as no surprise to note that the bureaucracy is horrendous. Nothing will be done without the requisite bit(s) of paper properly completed and signed off.  Things we take for granted, for instance DVLA transactions online, are paper-based still.

Overall, for me, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. I went back to the UK last year primarily because my last remaining brother was ill. I had also decided to return to living there. Following his death in October I looked around the town centre and the local environment and thought – This is no longer the Home Town I grew up in – bewildered, miserable people wandering around, streets full of litter, the demographic totally changed. Not for me!

I had a doctor’s appointment this morning – a follow up to the last one a month ago. She talked about a procedure which has been booked for me in a couple of months time – the same as I have had twice before in England. She outlined the prep required (I have a big explanatory dossier from the hospital which I have not looked at yet) – I was surprised at the additional steps mandated here, as a safety precaution, which form no part of the process in England!

I can book a GP appointment within a day or two – consultants, scans and diagnostic services normally at a few weeks notice and the pharmacies are very efficient. There is a transfer of entitlement from UK to the system here for basic care. Additionally most take out a form of health insurance; any paid for treatment is then re-imbursed by claim to the health service at about 70%. Prescriptions appear to be free for routine medicines and I understand optical and audiology and other specialist services are also covered,

Next. Carving out a vegetable garden.

© text & images except where indicated Gillygangle 2023