Hayfever and Househunting
It is April. I am locked down in France, where we have recently had some fantastic sunny, hot days and, as I write this, are expecting heavy snow on the mountains once more. The spring here is a proper spring, full of birds and song, blossom and unfurling leaves, and great wafts of pollen tickling the nose.
When I was much younger, I used to suffer with considerable hayfever. Every May in Orkney, there would come a few days where the fever in hayfever would strike, and I’d often be rather ill. Then it would pass and I’d be outside again, still with running, irritated eyes, scratchy throat, and sneezing nose, but at least no longer bedridden. For many many years, I took Triludan (which was a brand name for terfenadine), right up until it was removed from sale due to the cardiac risks associated with it. It was definitely the best hayfever medicine I have taken but I’m quite glad my heart survived. These days my hayfever is, in comparison, negligible. I keep a supply of non-Triludan tablets, just in case, but I take them only rarely. The tree blossom and pollen is easing, which I am grateful for; there were a few sneezy days earlier in the spring.
In many ways, it would have made more sense for France to have locked down in March, before the start of the better weather tempts people out, and blankets them in a false sense of security. As it is, we had a week where temperatures were pushing into the higher 20s °C (80°F), then this week they dropped back down to a few degrees above freezing, with snow flurries and bitter winds. I suspect things will get warmer again soon, however.
Being locked down means it is unlikely we’ll be able to find a house to rent before May at the earliest. We managed to look around two properties, just before the lockdown arrived, each with a tale to tell.
The first was advertised as being suitable for those who love nature and peaceful surroundings, which sounded perfect. However, upon arriving for our viewing, we were met by a working farm, with two pens of hunting hounds, baying and barking and yapping. Cockerels and chickens called and chucked, and our parking spot was blocked by a tractor and trailer. A warm and humid pile of manure sat about ten metres from where we’d eat outside, gently steaming and scenting the area. The best part (or, technically, worst part), was that the master bedroom’s only window opened INTO the barn where the cattle stayed. Not exactly what you would call fresh air… Needless to say, we didn’t take that one, but we did laugh about it.
The second place we viewed was better, no farm and surrounded by woodland and pasture, mountain and birdsong. The location was perfect, the view splendid, the fact it was on a south-facing slope excellent. Outside was surrounded by piles of, well, I hesitate to say rubbish, but… here was the place where the children’s scooters and plastic toys went to die, there a heap of pallets and broken wood, beyond a bench and weights, gently rusting back into the earth, piles of broken hookah pipes at its base. Admittedly, there was a lot of land to play with and, apparently, we could do what we wanted with it. There were swings for children, trees, and even a swimming pool. The mess was hard to see beyond, however. The inside — a ground floor of a traditional mountain house — was nothing special, but it was heated by a wood stove, and we could have made it work. Leaving, I was initially around 70-75% in favour of taking it. The rent was good, the landlord said we wouldn’t need all the paperwork other agencies required (difficult, when you’ve spent some years outside a country, moving around and, in my case, are of a different nationality), and the location perfect.
As we were heading down the switchback road, descending to the valley below (the house was at precisely 1000 metres: 3280 feet), Aurélie braked, as a massive dark shadow leapt from the hillside above us, directly into our path. The rocky roadside was at least two metres higher than the car, and the road itself around four or five wide, yet the wild boar nearly cleared the whole. Nearly, as it crashed to the tarmac in front of us, very closely in front of us, skidding on its belly, before bouncing back to its feet and taking off down the mountain at speed.
Clearly a sign, of some sort.
We talked about the house, we talked about the mess, the view, the not-really-perfect and the perfect. Then, later that evening we decided to take it, Aurélie calling and arranging an appointment to sign. We had been the first people to call back, which seemed fortuitous. However, when we went to sign the contract we waited, and waited for the landlord to show. He didn’t and, it turned out, wouldn’t have. Apparently, despite being delighted we would take the apartment, he had still managed to show people around the following day, signing someone on the spot instead and not letting us know.
In short, it was annoying, irritating, and terrible business behaviour but we are also well aware we perhaps had a lucky escape. I suspect he would not have been the best landlord, and we would have had a host of problems — and the next time we see a wild boar flying away from a property at speed, we will know exactly what that sign means. Pigs do fly, apparently.