This is an extract from her new book At Home in the Pays d’Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner.
She will be launching it at Arundel Museum, West Sussex on 30th April 2017.
Patricia is our new contributing author.


Shortened extract from At Home in the Pays d’Oc by Patricia Feinberg Stoner

On Friday October 23rd 1987my husband Patrick and I closed the door on our London flat and embarked on an adventure that was to last for 27 years. At the end of it, our lives would be transformed beyond all recognition. Of course, we knew none of that at the time. All we knew was that we were setting out, with enormous excitement, to complete the formalities and furnish and settle in to our new holiday home in the Pays d’Oc.

A savvy friend had put me wise to les permis. Innocents that we were, we thought that transporting half a ton of assorted tables, chairs, lampshades and bath mats into France – a newly-acquired partner in the great adventure of the EEC – would be a breeze. What were we thinking?  If there is one thing that makes a French official’s eyes light up with glee it is an unauthorised undertaking. Paperwork must be completed in triplicate. Tampons (rubber stamps) must be applied with vigour. And a spot of grovelling does not go amiss.

First I had to consult the French consulate in London. Yes, of course, they said, you may take your furniture to France, but there is paperwork…


Then:  ‘You’ll need an inventory,’ counselled the same savvy friend, who had already been through the whole bureaucratic process. ‘And make sure it’s detailed, if you want to get through customs without too much delay.’

And that’s when I decided to out-French the French. Taking a deep breath and a large notebook I plunged into the depths of what had been our dining room, now a furniture repository. Two hours later I emerged, bleary-eyed but satisfied with my labours. ‘Two arm chairs, leather,’ I had written. ‘One sofa, matching arm chairs; three side tables; two lamps with brown ceramic bases; two lamps with orange ceramic bases, five drinking glasses, green, small; six drinking glasses, green, large…’ and so it went on, for page after page, and the whole list was reproduced in triplicate, illicitly, on the office photocopier.

There would come a time when I was grateful for such punctiliousness.

Suddenly D (for departure) Day was only 72 hours away. Facing the prospect of loading up our van with several tons of assorted furniture we quailed. Then, ‘Let’s have a breakfast party,’ said Patrick happily one morning over toast and wrangling. I looked at him as if he’d lost his senses. Had the whole business unhinged him, I wondered. Then the beauty of the plan began to take hold. For the price of a few croissants, a litre or two of orange juice and lots and lots of strong coffee, we could assemble our more gullible friends – especially those with strong arms and backs, and enlist their help.

It went without a hitch.

Departure day dawned bright and sunny. A good omen, I thought, but Himself looked less than pleased. I soon found out why:  the road from London to Dover heads south-east, and at that time of day, at that time of year, that meant driving directly into the sun. The entire journey we spent squinting and peering at the road ahead trying desperately to avoid running into anything.

We eventually reached Dover without mishap and, driving down that long curving road that leads to the dock, we were in time to see the graceful white shape of a ferry negotiating the harbour gates on its way to France. Unfortunately, it was our ferry.

An hour and a half later, after a kindly despatcher had squeezed us on to the next available boat, we were finally under way.

At Calais we lumbered off the ferry and, ignoring a small official with a large hat who kept bellowing ‘Fret! Fret!’ at us, we made our determined way to the domestic immigration channel. The small official pursued us, and when he paused for breath I explained politely that, no, we weren’t freight:  we were an inoffensive English couple taking some household goods to a maison secondaire. We had all the paperwork, I added helpfully. For a second this gave the small official pause, then he brightened. ‘Douanes, Douanes’ he said, gesturing towards a dilapidated hut off to one side of the docks. Dutifully, we made our way to the Douanes, the customs shed.

The customs officer peered disdainfully through his little window at the dusty Ford Transit sagging on its springs, at the laden trailer with here a chair leg, there a lamp shade poking out from beneath its insecurely tied tarp. Ignoring the fact that I had spoken to him in French, ‘Do you heff an eeenventory?’ he sneered.

Did I have an inventory?  Mentally blessing my savvy friend and the office photocopier, I produced the paperwork. It ran to 27 pages; it was written in English with a French translation for each item. It landed on the ledge with a satisfying thump.

Mon dieu!’  The customs officer smoothed his moustache with an agitated finger, ‘Passez, passez!’

We waited until we were a kilometre or two beyond the docks before we allowed ourselves the explosion of laughter we felt was our due.

© Patricia Feinberg Stoner 2017.


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