Julie and Simon have two gîtes in Secondigny, Poitou Charente. Simon, from Worthing in Sussex in the South of England had a Ceramic tiling business and Julie worked in IT. Simon had a great relationship with his father, a man with a passion for the outdoor life and who looked after Simon’s mother when she suffered a terrible brain haemorrhage when Simon was just 15. Julie and Simon had a pretty good life in the UK, they accepted that they would take over the full time care of Simon’s mother as his father got older and although they took holidays they knew they would always stay in Worthing to care for Simon’s parents. Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan though… we continue the heart warming story in A new life following tragedy.
We asked Julie and simon about the path that took them to France…
Tell us a little about you…
Married and on the property ladder young – we always knew our life would be in Worthing because of Simon’s parents. We knew that one day we would need to take on the full time care of Simon’s mum.
Our twenties were spent building our careers, and trying to keep a roof above our heads having taken on a 100% mortgage before the recession of the 1990s took a hold. We eventually lost our flat – and it took us several years to get out of debt and be in a position to get back on the property ladder, but we both became successful in our respective businesses and considered ourselves in a pretty good position in life as we approached our thirties.
DINKS (Dual Income No Kids), YUPPIES (Young Upwardly Mobile Professionals) – whatever the nickname, that’s what we were. 30-something’s, an IT Project Manager, and a proprietor of a highly reputed Ceramic Tiling business, flashy sports cars, several holidays a year and a lovely detached bungalow.
Just when you think you have all that you want in life, events happen that you simply can’t control. The shocking news of Simon’s father (his best friend) having cancer, and his death only 12 weeks later. The unexpected decline of his mother’s health, and 20 weeks later, she died of a broken heart. How to cope with such events? You don’t know how, but you just get through it day by day. But we’d completely lost direction – we didn’t know what we wanted in life, what we had left just felt like material things. Simon’s parents left such a hole. Christmas was looming, it was never going to be the same and we were dreading it, so we decided to do something completely different and booked a break in Thailand?
On Boxing Day 2004, we left our hotel room in North Phuket to go elephant trekking inland - just 10 minutes before the Asian Tsunami hit our resort. When we finally returned to our room we found amongst the destruction and chaos there was a tide mark around our room 4 feet high where the water had sat after the wave came in. We are not followers of a particular faith, but we are believers in Fate. It wasn’t our time to go. But it was time forchange and that holiday in Thailand was to cause a major turning point in our lives.
Over the next year, we got 2 dogs, bought a motorhome, rented out our bungalow, left our careers behind and went travelling round Europe. That led us down the route of working summers on Campsites in the UK, and travelling during the winters. How liberating it was to free ourselves from all the trappings of our previous life and to live a simple, healthy, stress-free outdoor life.
Despite the enthusiasm for our summer job, returning to the UK didn’t feel like ‘coming home’. Simon’s parents no longer with us, Julie’s parents living in Spain – where was home? Well, anywhere we wanted, why not France? We love the food, the slow pace of life and the friendliness of people. We love the quiet roads and the feeling of space. We love the fact that community spirit, quality time with family and friends and a “no frills” lifestyle is high on the agenda for most French people.
So, during the summer of 2011, we sold our bungalow. And after our seasonal work on the campsite, we came to France in our motorhome for our usual winter getaway with the sincere hope that we would find our dream property. We found it in Poitou Charente and by January completed final signing and moved in!
Tell us about the ways your new life in Poitou Charente differs from the UK.
We felt we’d transitioned into a completely different way of life when working & living on a campsite. We had already left our friends and therefore our days/time off was our own to spend as we wished, like we were on holiday. We would take walks with the dogs and go for picnics without having to get in the car, our work life was spent with people who were on holiday, so invariably in good spirits and appreciative of the work we were doing for them. We used to say we lived in our own “happiness bubble” when working on site.
Our working life in La Germondière where we now live could be considered very similar to that we had on the campsite. We have lots of ground to look after and we provide a service to people who are generally very appreciative of what we do, and they are normally in a relaxed, contented and happy state.
So beginning our new life in France was, for us, not something to be scared of, like it could be for people who had not experienced such a high level of change over the previous years or hadn’t any experience in the leisure/tourism area.
What is so different from life in U.K is the friendliness we find in France. When we see our neighbours it’s not just a wave, they always make the time to come over and say hello in that wonderful French style with kisses. They bring us cakes that they’ve made, excess fruit and veg they’ve grown or been given. A real “care and share” feeling. We still can’t get over that wherever we go, complete strangers will always say “bonjour”. Every day that friendliness lifts our spirits and reinforces the fact we have made the right choice.
Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
As we said before we were used to change, and used to registering with new doctors, dentists, vets and so on every year when we went to different campsites. It was a little more difficult to register with doctors, dentist etc because of the language and how things are done differently in France but not too bad.
But it was difficult to believe we were going to be staying put! Especially as, when we took over the gîtes, a French couple were already staying in one of them, since they were having a house built nearby. We swayed between feeling like we were janitors (staying in the smaller gîte and not having a chance to get into the other gîte for 2 months) to feeling that we were on holiday and we would be leaving soon.
Certainly for the first 2 months, every time we left La Germondière, either to nip to Secondigny or go a little bit further, it was to tackle something that would stretch us out of our comfort zone. We would rush back to the gîte and lock the door, relax and breathe a huge sigh of relief that we’d survived another challenge. We’re sure everybody who has moved to a new country has experienced the same anxiety.
The other ‘culture shock’ was trying to sleep at night facing the reality that there was absolutely NO money coming in. If this business doesn’t work, we can’t just nip down the job centre, and sign on for job-seekers allowance – we HAVE to make this work, and we are still quite a long way off of receiving any pension. Many sleepless nights have been lost on that one!
Part II tomorrow…
Get in touch with Julie or Simon through their site France Fishing Gites.