Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The house-plant that "tweets"

I'm not really a huge fan of Twitter but I know those who are. Having only 140 characters to communicate seems to limit 99% of posts to mundane issues that are of interest only to the poster and (if he's lucky) his immediate family or friends.

The other 1% seem to be celebrity stalkers where posters send off hopeful emails to twittering celebrities "Hi Britney, heard your album & loved it" (http://twitter.com/britneyspears) or "Best of luck with your match today Andy" (http://twitter.com/andy_murray)".

However, I'm also aware of a few things:

1. The same criticisms could be levelled at this blog. You're giving up your precious time to read about the fairly mundane things that make up my life. No posting from the basement while the bombs drop here.

2. I'm old and technologically incompetent.

3. My mobile phone is almost as old as I am and the only thing it does is make phone calls. I certainly don't use it for photos, videos, web surfing, GPS tracking or any of the other apps that have sprung up lately.

4. We're still only scratching the surface.

This last point is raised because I read of a couple of interesting Twitter accounts today. The first is a house plant that tweets about it's health (need water, low on nitrogen etc) and the second is a house that tweets (putting on heating, alarm system disabled, fridge door left open).

My mind isn't open enough nor big enough to see exactly where these could lead but I do know that life for my two young daughters is going to be very different.

It's fine them growing up fluent in two or three languages but they'll also need to be far more computer savvy than their old man if they're going to look after me in my dotage.

Monday, June 29, 2009

No Pimms required

We spent a terrific afternoon with friends on Sunday.

They had invited us for a BBQ and told the girls to bring their swimming costumes so it was a "win/win" with both adults and children looking forward to it.

Andy told me that it was virtually two years to the day that I had helped them find and buy their house and it always gives me real pleasure to visit them and see how they have turned what was a great house into something truly exceptional.

The gardens are now like something we'd have seen at Wisley. We strolled through the orchard with peaches, plums, apples and other fruit galore, past the immaculate veggie patch into the formal garden area with freshly mown grass and trees throwing dappled shade.

The sun was bouncing off the charentaise stone and we sat in the shade looking out over the terrace to the glorious vineyards that surround the house.

Conversation ranged from the upcoming Blues festival (Andy & Sarah have visitors and have bought a week long pass to see BB King, Duffy et al), to Wimbledon in High Definition, Springsteen at Glastonbury and the fun that Andy will have on the new boat he has just bought.

It was a lazy Summer afternoon that took me back to the days of my youth - Sarah even offered us a Pimms but it simply wasn't required. Glory days as the Boss would say.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The "once in a year" house

This is year six of my life finding houses in the cognac region for clients.

Each year I find the "once a year" house where I come rushing home saying "what a place I've just seen, we really need to buy it".

Yesterday was just such a day.

I was out viewing with Jerome, one of my favourite agents.

He showed me a house 2 km's from the centre of cognac with a garden that slopes gently down to an arm of the charente.

The house is architect designed, light & airy with all mod cons including underfloor heating and a beautiful log burner.

You can see by the photos above that it's a pretty special place with both a pool and canoes ready to launch on the river.

All for under €400,000.

Sadly the senior partner is having none of it which I guess is a good thing and, of course, we won't be making an offer - but boy is it a special place.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sporting moments define my life

It's 30 degrees with a clear blue sky and slight cooling breeze - yet I've just eaten my lunch inside in front of the TV.

Wimbledon starts today and the BBC were showing highlights of last years final between Nadal and Federer.

It's billed as probably the greatest ever final and possibly the greatest tennis match ever. Even watching the highlights and knowing the result I still found myself spellbound and exclaiming aloud when some of the winners were hit.

It made me realise that although my memory has gone to pot I can still vividly recall where I was and what I was doing during epic sporting events.

1975 - The thrilla in Manilla, Ali beats Frazier again

1977 - Nicklaus & Watson at Turnberry, the dual in the sun

1980 - Borg v McEnroe, the 5 setter

1981 - Headingley, Bothams ashes

1985 - The crucible, Davis misses the black and Dennis Taylor is champion

1990 - Turin, England lose to Germany and Gazza can't contain his tears

Thee are all well known and generally regarded as classics but, of course, I have personal favourites too - particularly those I have seen live (Klinsmann's dive, Seve winning the matchplay, Maradonna in a Spurs shirt).

I guess it's a little sad that if someone asks what I was doing in a certain year I immediately search for a sporting reference point but I'd bet my bottom dollar that I'm not alone.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

BA asks staff to work for nothing

Wow - just read this on the BBC website.

BA have written to all staff asking if they'd be prepared to either take one months unpaid leave or to work for nothing for a month.

Of course I've seen this before at small, family owned, firms but never at a giant like BA.

I'm not sure how I feel about it. On one hand I think that if they're that hard up then anything that would save jobs and/or the airline is a good idea.

On the other hand, Willie Walsh (the chief exec) giving up his monthly salary of £61,000 will probably not cause him too much grief whilst for many of the lower paid staff it would have a serious impact upon their lives.

I can see both sides of the coin and just feel sad that a brilliant brand like BA should be in such dire straits.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

It's a lottery

Just been told about the most devilish website if, like me, you play the lottery periodically.

Enter your numbers here and it will tell you how much you would have won if you had played it every week.

Fortunately I'd have won about £200 against a stake of £1500 but I have to say that my heart was in my mouth waiting to hear that I'd missed out on a multi-million pound jackpot.

Use it at your peril.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Living in France - the reality!

Possibly the biggest reason for our move to France in 2003 was the desire to watch the girls grow up and to play an active part in their early years.

It's worked incredibly well but I still get days when I step back and think "wow - where did the time go".

J-A and I have both been pretty frantic work wise (despite the recession) and we're also now being dragged into the school/gym/dance/parties and general taxi service world that I guess most parents know only too well.

They have just got in from school and had 15 minutes to change and be taken to dance class which finishes at ten. The "spectacle" is next week-end and I'm praying that they have inherited their mother's rhythm rather than mine.

I do feel blessed though. If I was still back in the UK commuting every day I would have missed out on so much.
To anyone with kids thinking of getting off the treadmill I'd say "take the leap," the rewards are immense.

What price ear plugs?

I went to visit this house today on behalf of clients.

It truly is one of the most magnificent houses I have ever seen and is on the market for just €400,000.

The salon is 120m2 (about the size of most normal houses), it has a marble staircase running from the entrance hall, 6 bedrooms/4 bathrooms and a stone terrace with steps down to the pool.....all surrounded by about four acres of land that runs down to the Charente.

Sadly it's on the N10/N141 axis and the traffic noise is constant.

How on earth do you put a value on a house like that. Just about anywhere else in the Charente and it would be a million euros. What price ear plugs?

I'll send details to my clients of course but quite what I'll say about it I just don't know.

Monday, June 08, 2009

French property purchases go global....

It looks as though the property market is coming back to life and it's not just UK buyers that want to buy into the French dream.

Readers of this blog will know that I'm currently mandated by a South African family and a couple from Sweden as well as clients from the UK.

The FrenchEntrée Property Finders network is also beginning to take off.

My colleague Janine in Bayeux has just had some clients visit from Hawaii (and signed the compromis on the first house they saw).

John (Dordogne) has just finished a search for a chap from Holland, Caroline (Mayenne) is just signing up a client from Thailand and Rebecca (Nice) hopes to sign up a US client this week.

That's not a bad global portfolio. Of course our core business will probably always be from UK purchasers and now we just need the green shoots of recovery to continue to grow unhindered.

Has Google got a new rival?

I've just been looking at two new search engines.

The first, launched by Microsoft, is http://www.bing.com/

Now, I like two things about this one - firstly it's easy to remember and named after one of my favourite TV characters and secondly it's clean and simple. The fact that http://www.cognacproperty.com/ comes up quickly on a host of different searches helps matters too.

This is more for multimedia sites but it's design is similar to i-tunes and is fun to use.

I'm not sure they will put too big a dent into Google's revenues but you never know....Google itself was once a new kid on the block and now it's possibly the best known brand in the world.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

MP's see the light

Now, I know that it's not the British thing to kick a man when he's down.

However, I read this in the Sunday Times and number four did make me chuckle.

How can a politician expect to be taken seriously when he has to pay someone to "install lightbulbs"....talk about not being in touch with the populas.

That's it now though. No more talk of MP's expenses, it's gone on long enough and it's about time that estate agents regained their rightful spot as public enemy number one.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Now that's what I call a party....

We went to Bordeaux for the week-end.

The mayor had put up a giant screen on the Place des Quinconces (reputed to be the largest square in Europe) showing the Girondins football team trying to win the championship.

We booked into a hotel right by the square and wandered around town soaking up the atmosphere. The streets were buzzing and whole families were wearing their colours and filling up the bars.

Even though it was blistering hot the square started filling up from around 4.00pm (the match didn't kick off until 9.00pm) and at around 7.00pm the mayor had lined up live music with the excellent Mark Brenner band providing the entertainment.

Before kick off J-A and Holly went into the disabled area in front of the stage (you can just see them in the photo) as Holly has done her knee in again.

I've never been in such crowds as 80,000 people tried to fit into a square that holds 50,000. Of course, Katie wanted to be in the middle at the front with the big boys and their flares. I hoisted her onto my shoulders and we gradually made our way into the mass.

The match kicked off and it was bedlem with banners, flares, air-horns and non stop chanting. It was still red hot and we'd been getting through litres of water.....so when half time came I heard the words that every father knew were coming:

"Dad, I need a wee".

We made our way out, which took at least 10 minutes, and decided the best bet was to nip back to the hotel.

Duty done and we were just coming out the door when there was an almighty roar and the sky turned bright orange. Bordeaux had scored. We ran back the 200 yards to the square but simply couldn't make our way back in again and ended up perched by a tree with Katie again on my shoulders waving her flag and singing her heart out.

Bordeaux won and suddenly the streets were full of motorbikes and cars with people hanging out and standing on the roofs. Horns were blaring, flags were waving and the city was a heaving mass. We met up with J-A & Holly and the four of us wandered about joining in the party which eventually began to quieten down around 4.00am.

What was remarkable is that we didn't see one hint of trouble or aggression...it was simply a celebration. The policing was excellent and low key...full marks to them and the city's administrators.

We were up early to watch the clean up operation and to read all about it over a leisurely breakfast and a wander through the market on the quay. Then it all started again as the team came back to be presented with the trophy.

Terrific scenes and something that will live in the girls memories for ever.

Now though I need a cool bath and lashings of deep heat....my days of jumping up and down with an eight year old on my shoulders are surely numbered.