Cleodhna and I flew out from Edinburgh to Bergerac on Saturday (a summer-only flight that was promptly cancelled the day after) and after an eye-watering €130 taxi fare, we're now at Merlhiot. Vali, our remaining cat, was there when we arrived, wandered away and then came back, and today has spent the entire day on her favourite chair in the house. We've thrown wood into the stoves until the house heated up (it helped that it's been a beautiful sunny day today), and we've started on what I suspect will be our project for the coming week or two, while we wait for people to get back to us, for paperwork to get filed, and so on: clean up the house.
The inside is perfectly fine, and as I remember it; the outside was always magnificently jungly, but has perhaps got a bit too jungly. Cleodhna cleared away a gratifyingly large amount of ivy invading the terrasse before deciding that a simple pair of secateurs wasn't up to the job; I tried scrubbing away some of the random black grut, and made some leeway, but little enough to make us realise that there, surely, has to be a better way than brute force. (We're dealing with terracotta tiles, which are notoriously porous, so you've got to be careful about what cleaning products you use. We're going shopping for a steamer tomorrow.)
Tomorrow is the day where we phone everyone and drive to everyone else: notaires (equivalent of solicitors; think "notary public", I believe), funeral directors, Jack who has keys and has been dealing with my mother's affairs for the last umpteen years, the Palais de Justice if we need things to be translated (like Margaret's death notice), supermarkets and garden centres. I need to get all sorts of banking details sorted out. I need to get the piano tuned.
When Margaret died, and we went over to her flat in Edinburgh to sort everything out, two particular factors helped us immensely. First of all, Margaret was tremendously well-organised: all that we needed, we found pretty quickly. We turned up at about 1pm, and by 4pm we were done.
Secondly, we got the important questions answered quickly. We found a fantastic photo of Margaret, and before the first day was over, we had the idea of having a Humanist memorial service in the Botanic Gardens. Having established so early on how we'd do the most difficult things, the rest of the organisation was a snap, just a matter of doing a few things every day until it was all done.
I still have to confirm this, but it looks like we should be able to have a similarly low-key, upbeat service in France, with a big photo of Margaret and a much smaller casket (the kerfuffle that shipping a body in a coffin from one country to another would involve, compared to the comparative ease in sending a casket of ashes, eventually made this a no-brainer). She'll be buried next to Bruce (we need to get a headstone; my requirements will simply be "make it look exactly like his"), Cleodhna will grow plants on her grave, and we'll move on.
And we've already found an answer to the important question: how do we pay lasting affection to Margaret, and what do we do with the large A2-sized blown-up framed photo? We've found a perfect place in the kitchen where we can hang the photo, where it will look like Margaret was giving a slightly mischievous, cheerful blessing to the people clustered in her kitchen, drinking wine and eating good food, and in all likeliness having a damned interesting conversation (bonus points if it doesn't involve her - Margaret was never mawkish).
Tomorrow's shopping list is long, and encompasses food and DIY and a host of other things, but nothing is, perhaps, more important in the long-term than the picture hooks and other related DIY stuff. Because once we have all of that, and we've hung the framed photo, we'll have done the hard bit; and, once again, the rest will just be a matter of organising things.
It helps immensely that we're not selling the place. It was hard enough clearing out Margaret's flat in Edinburgh, getting rid of whatever was left in her fridge and taking her plants to ours in Glasgow. But that was just a momentary flat; Merlhiot is the family home. In various guises, it's what I've called home since 1983.
And, given that there's no danger whatsoever that we'll have to sell it (Margaret's flat in Edinburgh should cover any bills), it makes everything much easier. I'm not intruding in my dead mother's house; rather, I'm home. I don't just see memories of Margaret, I see memories of Bruce, and my childhood; I see my own house, that I now have the duty to do something about. Cleodhna and I have already been talking about how we'd spend a couple of months in the summer, how we'd bring the dogs to Merlhiot, how we'd do all sorts of things.
We just have to deal with the French paperwork.