Right, so things had already been screwed up with the strikes in the last exciting episode, so Wednesday morning dawned with lots still on the to-do checklist. The general plan was to go pick up the moving van, already reserved and paid for online, that evening with my lovely friend Caro, and then complete the move on Thursday morning, leaving Thursday evening for the cross-country drive.
So Wednesday was to be devoted to some administrative stuff and packing, none of which had been done of course due to my being away for the previous 12 days. Back on the 31st, when I was on my way to the airport to England, I had got a letter from my rental agency acknowledging the notice period and telling me that I had to inform them of my leaving date for the inspection at least 10 days in advance. I was literally on my way out the door at this stage, so knowing my phone didn't work in England, I planned just to send them an email to make the appointment. Full disclosure, my route to the airport took me past their office and so I could have called in and made the appointment on the way, but I had already been browbeaten into letting them have my keys to do visits on the Friday before, and there was noooooo way I was going to let them persuade/cajole/threaten (technically the lease says you have to let them in for at least 2 hours each day) me in to leaving the keys with them for the whole 11 days I was going away. My holiday with my parents was already planned long before I got the new job (which would have started from the 1st of September if I'd been available) and had to plan out my move, resulting in some chaotic, stressful timing finding the new apartment and getting everything together. So I wanted to use my holiday as just that - 11 days where I could just chill out and relax and leave the stress behind in France.
So I'd duly sent them the email from the UK as soon as I arrived (and I had actually already told one of the staff members I was leaving on the 12th), but got no response. So I called in to the office to explain this, and you should have seen the guy flip from all smiles to absolute rudeness the minute he understood that I was leaving the apartment the very next day. He totally refused to listen to me, patronisingly explained to me that email was « not a guarantee » because had I heard of spam filters? (seriously, what is this, 1997?) and said that I didn't give a f--- (vous vous en foutez) about anyone but myself, which is seriously unfair. I'll hold my hands up and say that it would have been better if I had locked down the appointment 100% before leaving the country (but that probably would have resulted in them blowing up at me for going away for almost two weeks without giving them access to the apartment anyway), and I could have tried again to email them (not phone them though, since again, phoney no workey), but the guy was just unbelievably unpleasant, screaming at me and refusing to listen to the fact that I had told one of his colleagues informally and that it wasn't my fault if their goddamn email system doesn't work properly. I mean, when's the last time anyone's ever seriously said to you that they sent you something you didn't get, or vice versa ? It's 2013, normal people do business on the internet. I'll give him the right to be quietly pissed off, but he should have been a professional about it. I'll guarantee you that he wouldn't have spoken to me like that if he'd been trying to get my business. At the end of the day, it meant I was leaving the apartment about 2 weeks early (since I could only send my notice in once my new job had been confirmed), leaving them time to do any necessary renovations and show the place to new tenants in one of the busiest apartment-hunting times of year to their heart's content, while I continue to pay the rent.
So by the time I took care of that, changed my details with my bank, arranged for my electricity and internet to be cut off, took out an insurance policy on the new flat, bought a new sim card since I would need one that would actually work in foreign countries, arranged for my mail to be rerouted and went to the town hall to pick up parking authorisations for the van (turns out it's BYO traffic cone, that I did not know), it was early afternoon. So I packed up as much as I could until Caro turned up and we drove into the burbs to pick up the van at Leclerc.
And here's where more troubles began... We were nice and early for our pick-up time, but had to wait for an age since there was only one woman staffing the desk and taking people out to inspect the vehicles etc. When it was her turn, she confessed that she hadn't been doing the job that long, so she'd go through the checklist for internet reservations to make sure everything was in order. And then shortly thereafter, she flipped her lid because Caro didn't have a French ID. We pointed out this was a normal turn of affairs when you're not French, and here was her passport, UK driver's licence and French proof of address. All of which, by the way, had already been scanned and sent in online at least 2 weeks before. The woman just kept repeating "you're not French, I can't rent to you, I can't take the risk, it won't go in the computer, I don't understand your licence, etc. etc." We tried everything to persuade her, pulling every card out of Caro's wallet – health insurance, French driver's insurance, student card, etc. etc. - to try and prove that she resided here and drove here all the time. Why that was even necessary, I don't know – after all, foreigners have got to make up a pretty big slice of the rental pie, even if not necessarily van hire at Leclerc specifically. It was after 5 pm and the woman, to her credit, was valiantly ringing around seemingly everyone in the entire world trying to get an answer from non-existent higher-ups as to whether she could let us take the van. My heart was seriously sinking into my boots as we heard snippets of conversation such as "that's what I said, we couldn't risk it...", and I really thought she wasn't going to let us have it, and then I have no idea what I would have done.
At long last, she evidently managed to get through to some blessed saviour, who okayed the hiring of the van, so with typical French officiousness, she then took photocopies of everything, retyped in all the information that I'd already entered into the website while making the reservation, and somehow blocked (for a month!) 800€ on my bank card as a security deposit. (She almost gave Caro a heart attack by initially insisting that it had to come out of the driver's bank account, until I pointed out that I had paid for the rental fee with my card, so why not?) All this took at least an hour, so by the time we were finally, happily, on the road with the van, we were even further behind schedule.
Caro had a conference presentation the next day so she had to leave, but once Liz had run her back to Leclerc pick up her car, she (Liz) stayed to help me pack, so we got a good deal in boxes that evening before it was time for bed. We hadn't managed to park the van nearby (I had blocked off a space but someone just moved the rubbish bins in our absence despite my parking permit, thanks), so I set up the parking authorisations on the footpath and just hoped for an opening the next day.
I was up at around 6 on Thursday morning, stressing out about everything that had to be done before the 1 pm inspection (and I had been shouted at that it would be 1 pm PRECISELY and I had to be ready with all my stuff out at that time). At 9, half an hour earlier than I had thought, the doorbell rang and the guy I'd hired to help off leboncoin turned up. He must have been at least 50, and I had stressed repeatedly, by phone and by email, that I had heavy things to move down several flights of narrow, awkward stairs, was he absolutely sure that he could do it ? He was absolutely sure, but it turned out that a key part of his master plan involved making me help him. And here I thought hiring someone meant that I *wouldn't* have to do the worst of it myself, silly me. So I got on the phone to Liz, who had promised to be there before 9.30, but who is always late, and once she got there, the three of us tackled the giant, taller-than-me fridge.
It was actually surprisingly not too bad to get down the stairs, despite a few awkward bits. The worst part was probably that the guy, who was going down first, with Liz and I taking up the rear, absolutely did not understand/listen at any point when we told him to stop. Every time it was like "hold on, hold on, stop, stop, STOP !!!" before he would respond in any way by stopping pulling the item further down the stairs. I'm not sure what the problem there was, since he would almost certainly have the worst of it if we had dropped a giant fridge or insanely heavy washing machine on him.
Talking of the washing machine, the handle on the pipe was broken and so we had to dispatch Liz off to her place to pick up pliers and drop Bob out of the way while she was at it. She took a loooong time about it, first because apparently Bob escaped in her apartment, and then she dropped off the pliers on my doorstep and it took her ages to find a park. Joy of joys, this gave the dude and I the chance to take down the oven and then the washing machine all by ourselves. If you've ever moved a washing machine, you can maybe sympathise on how awful this was. I think I seriously just about died. It was SO heavy. The dude had not a drop of sweat on him and I was about as cool, calm and collected as someone having a massive embolism. Liz conveniently turned up just after we finished with it (I am honestly very grateful for her help, don't get me wrong) and said that I was bright red and looked like I was just about to explode. And she's seen me do a Step class. Added to this the fact that the dude had judged it to be unnecessary to tape up the cords on the back of the washing machine (my side) so I was constantly in danger of tripping up on them going down the stairs. And of course he didn't listen any time I told him to stop because of this, despite the fact that I am quite sure I would have killed him if I'd tripped up and fallen down the stairs with the world's heaviest washing machine on him.
That was the worst of it, but it was still a hugely tiring job getting the rest of the furniture and boxes down three flights (really, 6 half flights plus two short flights of steps by the front door, then across the road – we never did manage to find a parking place for the van, so it was up on the footpath on the wrong side of the road), and I was just wiped out by the end of it. To the dude's credit, I had told him 1 hour just to help me with the whiteware, and he stayed for three and never got stressed out or annoyed about anything (I mean, I paid him for three hours, but still, I could see some people getting less than cheerful in that situation. On the other hand, it would have been mighty nice if he's come with a trolley or some ropes or anything that one might reasonably expect a semi-professional to have to make the move easier). Still, no way that fridge and washing machine were coming out of the apartment with just Liz and me!
By the time the move was over, we had about 45 minutes to try and speed-clean the apartment, which frankly, was not looking great. Caro turned up from her conference at about T minus 30 minutes, so we each took a room and tried to do our best to power clean at least the most grimey spots where 2 years' worth of dust and dirt had settled (under the fridge, for example). I hereby apologise to the next tenant who has to clean my hair out of the shower drain, but I had to do the same when I moved in. Such is the circle of life.
We were still frantically trying to put a few finishing touches on when the agent arrived. He tutted a bit to find the landing full of all the last little bits and pieces (cleaning equipment, for one), reminding me that he had given a strict 1 pm deadline, but overall, this time at least he kept his cool, and was even semi-pleasant. Whether he felt bad about how he'd acted the day before, I don't know. He was meticulous in noting down the damages, essentially places where Bob had scratched the walls, which I'd had no time to cover up and couldn't really deny. Plus the bit where Liz had tried and failed to paint over some mould (when she told me she'd given up because the paint didn't match, I'd pictured a tiny discreet test patch, when in fact she'd gone with a huge stripe before abandoning it, cheers love). So we'll be waiting and seeing how much of the bond I get back (they get 60 days to make up their minds on that one, I'm not holding my breath).
After a quick shower and a bite to eat at Caro's, it was time to hit the road for the 7ish-hour trip to Metz, which was really not bad at all. It was so sweet of her to drive me there (no way am I capable of commanding a giant van for 600 kms of French roads), help me unpack everything in to the new apartment, and of course, drive back all by herself. Liz was an enormous help as well, very lucky to have such lovely friends, although as I sit here by myself on my first weekend alone in Metz, where I have NO friends, I miss them very much ! :(