Sunday, 6 September 2009

Left Past the Bins

In the French countryside we don't have house names or numbers.

We each live on a lieu-dit - an area of land. There may be one or several houses on the same lieu-dit. We share ours with one other farmhouse and the fields between us.

The English often arrive in France thinking they have bought a house called "Le Bourg" and buy a house sign to put on the gate, but that just means "village centre". Look up any of the older villages in the phone directory and lots of people will have Le Bourg as their address. The country postman's job can be challenging and describing exactly where you live becomes an art form.

We're packing to move to the cottage and we need more boxes from the removals company. And I've also finally plucked up the courage to let go of my business suits (and my previous life). There's not much call for black trouser suits in South West France - even among those who work - and someone agreed to take them back to a charity shop in the UK. So yesterday I set out to drive to two places I'd not visited before. Having a GPS reading for the sat nav is one way to pinpoint a destination. I prefer the graphic description ...

"It's not really a proper roundabout, just a traffic island and then after 50 yards it's left past Hill [something] construction and then left again past the bins, [which side of the bins?] up the hill for two kilometres, then keep going 'til you see the removals lorry parked on the right-hand side"

"I expect you'll be coming from Lafitte, keep going then turn left, carry on through the village and after about a kilometre you'll come to a sharp V-bend with a sign back to San.... [gobbledegook], not sure if you will see it coming from your direction, drive past it and our turning is immediately the next on the left - you can't miss it [oh yes I can]."

I try to grasp enough of the French names so that when I look at a map on the internet I can piece it all together. Ah! San-gobbledegook is Saint-Sardo.

IGN maps show the names of nearly every lieu-dit in France and I print off copies of the pages I need and hold them on the steering wheel as I get near to my destination, reading them off as I cautiously drive past: Tuques Hautes, Le Burgas, Les Bouygues .... just a bit further.

I turn in front of the construction company yard and there, sure enough, up ahead, is the left-hand turning with the big black village rubbish bins. Good. I'm on the right road.

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