21st May 2017

I write a regular blog called Obviously Olga on the online magazine englishinformerinfrance.com, which catalogues my weekly trials - especially now in limbo between France and the UK. Last week they kindly published an extra article on this topic, written a few weeks ago, reproduced below for those who haven't yet seen it. Hope you enjoy it.
From Brexit to Brentrance: an important year

 As I look out of the window, the Mediterranean sun is shining down and the trees are awash with white and pink blossom. The air is still, early season butterflies flit from leaf to leaf and the bees are busy, busy gefährlich. Chains of processionary caterpillars weave along the path on the perilous journey from their pinetree home. Are these tiny creatures warning me of dangers on the road ahead? Why would anyone want to move from the South of France to Birmingham? That’s what everyone asks us. Ah, if only they knew. What a year it’s proving to be. The number 7 is considered a lucky number in some religions. For us, 2017 is, PG, the year that we each hit 70 and it’s the year where in July, the 7th month, we hope to mark both our Golden wedding and our return to Birmingham. So, where did it all start? For those who read the earlier version of Pensioners in Paradis, we moved to France in 2005 following a disastrous fire at the indoor market in Birmingham where Him indoors had his DIY market stall. The full story of our French adventures is detailed in the new, published edition of Pensioners in Paradis, released by crookedcatbooks.com later this year. (Full details will be posted on my weekly blog olgaswan.blogspot.com.) Certainly we’ve enjoyed the last twelve years. But slowly, slowly cracks in our French idyll have started to appear, coinciding with Brexit. Much has been reported in the UK press, but little on the actual implications for British expats living in France. The biggest issue for us is future health care provision. The French health system is the best in the world, but our access to it as pensioners is via reciprocal arrangements between the UK and France. Already many are warning that, post-Brexit, we may lose this and be required to take up mandatory, private health insurance. However, after a calamitous year when Him indoors required a prostatectomy due to cancer, he is unlikely to qualify. Additionally we would probably lose the annual index-linking of our state pensions. Following his operation, we briefly considered convalescence in the lovely seaside resort of St. Annes in Lancs. However, a large fracking company’s proposals were approved by government, and drilling for gas (with the potential for carcinogenic radon gas leaks) is due to start imminently. So, that put paid to that idea. Additionally as I write this there’s the possibility of a certain Mme Le Pen of the Far-Right Front Nationale becoming the new French President. Already she’s won through to the second stage, but there lies the rub. Whoever wins, should any rational person consider living in a country where a large part of the population will vote for a fascist? So, in the end, it had to be Birmingham – the place where we both grew up and where we belong. As I’ve written about in Lamplight (authl.it/4q0), it’s where we, my parents and grandparents were married.  It’s something that is meant to be, but how to achieve it? Nothing comes easy as we struggle to unravel our lives in France, reversing the process of twelve years ago.  Someone old said to me recently:  if you’re going to do it, it has to be while you’re still fit and relatively healthy. If you wait too long, it’ll be too late. Following Brexit, there were basically only two choices for British expats: take up French citizenship or go back home. Him indoors knew his French would never be good enough to pass the hour-long interview test, so the die was cast. Others we know contemplating returning have discovered to their dismay that they’ve fallen off the housing ladder and will have to face renting in the UK. Certainly our new home in Birmingham will be nowhere near as nice as our French property with its acre of land and four bedrooms, but a decision had to be made. A realistic selling price was advertised via several local French immobiliers. Result? Zero interest. The French are canny. They don’t want to pay the exorbitant agent fees of 8% of the selling price, nor the ridiculous notaire costs of c.16,000 euros! I knew this so put our house on the LebonCoin internet site (like Ebay), advertising zero agent fees and splitting our property into separate house and land plots. Result? Voila. Both now sold. One in the eye for our unfriendly neighbour (see my blog for the full story – a man whom none of our other neighbours like either) when he realises a new house will shortly be constructed right next to his fence, but by then we’ll be long gone.Where will we live in Birmingham? Will we have to rent?  Fortunately we’ve found somewhere for a modest price not too far out, en route to the Lickeys – and with a lucky number 7 on the door. Of course, nothing ever runs smooth. Did I mention our two difficult rescue dogs?  Couldn’t possibly leave them behind as they’re old and a bit crazy – like us! Are they bilingual, I hear you say? There’s a joke in French – oui, ils sont bilangue; ils n’ecoutent ni en anglais ni en francais. (Yes, they’re bilingual; they listen neither in English nor in French.) But what can you do? We love them and they’re now part of the family.With a shake of my head, I turn away from the beautiful scene outside the window and contemplate all the packing boxes everywhere.  Yes, the sunshine, tranquillity and good food are nice here. But, for complete peace of mind, don’t ignore the inner self.  At the end of the day, it’s mixing with like-minded people in a community where you feel at home (and not forever foreign) that’s the most important. And for us, as we approach the final quarter of our lives, this seems like the right time to return to our roots. Brentrance – here we come!http://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B013IBD4PU 

1 comment:

Pipérade said...

Just re-discovered your blog after wading through my bookmarks to delete non-working links. Interesting to read your rationale for returning to England.
My wife is French and so I'm in a slightly different position to the one you were in - in that I'm covered by her Mutuelle..
As regards taking out dual nationality, if the applicant is 60+, there's no official requirement to take a language test. I realise this is now too late to influence your "shall I stay or shall I go" decision. (I'm in the process of applying for French nationality)
We don't have children either so that particular 'pull' isn't a factor.
I like France and the French, warts and all.. We came here in Sept 2007 and I've often been asked by English visitors - "What do you miss about England?" I've always answered "Nothing.." but at the same time, there's that indefinable sense of belonging - of understanding the humour, the references, the wordplay without having to think about it. But - I'm not sure I could settle back in England if anything happened to my wife.. A loong time ago it ceased to be the country I grew up. Nevertheless, there's always going to be that unanswerable question: would we/I be better off there?
Having fund your blog again, I'm looking forward to reading how your return to your roots goes.
I wish you luck!