Thursday afternoon we had a very pleasant surprise. Walt was out walking Callie in the vineyard, and I decided to get a basket of laundry together and take it down to load the washing machine so we could let it run overnight. (Night rates are cheaper than day rates for electricity.) As I walked down the stairs, I heard a clang that sounded like the bell on our front gate.
We weren't expecting anybody, and it's rare that anybody comes and rings the bell out of the blue. What a surprise it was when I discovered that it was our old friend S. It was almost a shock, but a good shock. S. is English, and moved back to England four years ago after living here in the Saint-Aignan area for several decades. Her French partner, who was a friend of ours for several years before S. even met him, died suddenly back in 2009.
So yesterday S. came over for lunch. We sat outside on the terrace, taking advantage of our still-summery afternoon weather, and ate garden tomatoes and green beans, among other things. We talked about her life in England, which is a country that Walt and I have little familiarity with except through conversations with English ex-pats we encounter here in France. We talked about how life is changing in Saint-Aignan and the Loire Valley. We exchanged news of mutual friends who live around here.
I'm decorating this post with a few photos of late-summer flowers and grapes.
S.'s trip was last-minute and very short — she was only here for three days! She traveled over by car with an Irish friend who owns a house here, near Montrichard, but is spending more and more of her time in England these days. The friend's house is on the market, if you are interested. The two women drove down to the English port town of Newhaven, south of London, and took the car ferry across the Channel to Dieppe, in Normandy. It's a four-hour boat ride, and then a five-hour drive from Dieppe to Saint-Aignan. They left to go back this morning.
S. said that while she misses the life she had in France and her many friends here, she is glad she went back to the U.K. to live, especially in light of the recent Brexit vote. She has a retirement pension that is paid in British pounds, and it's not a huge amount each month. Since Brexit, the pound sterling has dropped significantly in value against the euro. Walt and I know what that's like, because for the first 5 or 6 years we lived over here we watched the value of the U.S. dollar fall steadily against the euro.
We skimped and scrimped, and we did our best to keep expenses down. We didn't know how low the dollar might go. At the dollar's low point, one euro was worth $1.60, compared to the $1.06 the euro was worth when we put the down payment on our house here in December 2002. In other words, our dollars had lost about 50% of their value is a very short time.
It was scary to see our resources dwindle as a result of all that. Nowadays the euro is worth only $1.12, approximately. And since we are now both collecting our American retirement pensions, we are feeling fairly flush, at least compared to our situation five or six years ago — though it's all relative. Our situation could change for the worse again very quickly, depending on economic conditions and political events in the U.S. or in Europe.
So S. says she has no plan to try to return to France now that the British have voted to pull out of the European Union. It would be too risky for her, on her budget and given the political situation. The British pound may not recover quickly — nobody knows what will happen. Living in one country on income derived from another country, and paid in a different currency is — as they say about old age — "not for sissies." You are subject to forces and events that are completely out of your control.