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A Letter to Bighton & Gundleton From Abroad - Part 2

We have two friends who, for the last two years, have been planning the experience of a lifetime. In January, plans complete, they rented out their house for 12 months and set off on their new adventure. Little did they know what was going to happen……

To help take our minds off the worries of Coronavirus they have agreed to chronicle their adventure with all its highs, lows and funny moments and produce a series of updates of life in Italy to be published in Big Gun News and on the village website.

Ian & Gail


La Dolce Vita

One Step at a Time (Step Two)

So, what happens once you have made a life-changing decision? In our case … precisely nothing … for several months. There were lots of reasons for this but the primary one was that we gave ourselves a time-line. We agreed that we should look at the start of 2020 to be the beginning of our new adventure.

This was largely due to our beloved, but very elderly dog who we knew would not survive such a massive move and definitely would not cope with the Italian summer heat. Sadly, but realistically, we knew that, bearing in mind her age, it would be bordering on miraculous if she was still with us in 2020. On top of that we had the other dogs: a rescue youngster who was/is just a nightmare hooligan. To give you a feel of what we are talking about here, on one occasion when my husband called her, instead of going around our estate car, she just jumped over it … from a seated position … and cleared it by miles; and our lovely sensible girl who is perfectly well-behaved. Preliminary investigations had shown the Italians love dogs but aren't keen on having 3 in their property at one time, especially not an extremely exuberant youngster. So a move would have to wait until nature took it's course and we were down to a manageable 2 dogs.

June: I decided we really needed to start putting things into motion and making initial enquiries as to entry requirements and so forth, to reside in Italy. Opened the UK Government website to look at their recommendations … and promptly shut it down, totally overwhelmed with the amount that we had to do … and beginning to think France wasn't such a bad idea after all.

At that stage, I didn't even know how to begin or where to start but I happened to meet a lovely lady who, for whatever reason, asked me what my plans were for the future. I mentioned to her about the Italian dream but that I was feeling totally bogged down with the mire of bureaucracy I was encountering and she gave me some sterling advice. “One step at a time” start with something achievable, however small, and then go onto the next step. Light bulb moment …. time to start doing and not procrastinating. Logically, of course I had known all along I had to this but just needed someone to point it out. “Oh” she said “and tell people that's what you are going to do”. I pointed out it was a bit early to be doing that and she said “but if you tell people you are less likely to give up”.

So I decided on, and made, my first attainable step. Realising I was going to have to speak Italian to get by (the Italians outside of the cities do not like to speak English), I found an Italian course for beginners (not as easy as it sounds) via the local county council website, reserved and paid for a place on a year long course starting in September. I was on my way!

Then we made the second step. Our poor friends. We told all the people we could about what we were going to do … and some were told again and again as we forgot who we'd already spoken to about our adventure. They then had 18 months of boredom to look forward to as we repeatedly told them what we were up to and what stage we had got to in the process. A huge thank you to all of them for pretending to be interested even when the must have reached the stage of “oh no, here we go again”! My husband did say “Why are we doing this and inflicting our friends with all of this now” but after some thought, even he agreed with the “tell them and you aren't going to give up” approach. We were ready for some some serious planning and implementation to get on to the next phase (or rather I was … can't say my husband contributed a huge amount to this part of the process).

Two Steps Forward 1 Step Backwards (Step 3) …

Italian lessons commenced. A lovely group of 10 people of varying ages with a delightful Italian woman teaching us. One and a half hours of spoken Italian every Thursday with both conversation and grammar to give us a good grounding. It's a two year course but I was going to be doing just one of it and hoping to learn the rest when we arrived in Italy. A very positive step forward in the journey to moving abroad.

However, trying to achieve anything else proved a lot harder than anticipated. The Italian red tape made my head ache! There is so much paperwork to do and so many rules and regulations to follow it is almost impossible to get anywhere. I felt like I was constantly banging my head against a brick wall and the to do list was ridiculous. It was compounded by the fact we have decided to let our house rather than sell it so as well as trying to find somewhere to live in Italy we were becoming first time landlords with absolutely no knowledge of the letting system in the UK. There were a lot of things to sort out to make the house legal and meet the rules and regulations here. Fortunately, a relative recommended a local letting agency who provided us with an “Idiot's Guide to House Letting” and agreed to hold our hands all the way. Phew … we thought this side of things might be manageable despite the long list of things we had to put in place.

Back to Italy. Just one example of the joys of trying to relocate to Italy (even temporarily): You cannot take a long term rental in Italy unless you have residency. You cannot get residency unless you are living in Italy! You have to be staying in Italy for 3 months to get residency and you have to apply for residency within your first week of arriving in Italy. To apply for residency you have to be living in the house where you intend to be resident for the next 3 months so the person assigned to check you are really living there can come and visit … without an appointment or prior notification. You cannot get a house for 3 months without being a resident!!! Back to square one. Aaaagh! Don't even get me started on the policy regarding the cars and bank accounts. At this point we very nearly gave up as I was on the verge of a complete breakdown.

Then a ray of light! Chatting to some friends about all the problems we were having one of them (working for a letting agent) said “a couple of our clients have just returned from living in Italy for 4 years – do you want me to see if they'll speak to you and give you some advice?” Did we? Yes, please!! To make a long story slightly briefer we met in a pub one cold winter's evening and they chatted to us for 3 hours with all sorts of tips to help us but, more reassuringly for me, it also confirmed that I wasn't being totally stupid; the Italian bureaucracy really was as difficult as I was finding it. We came away with sheets full of notes but also some contacts and ways around seemingly insurmountable problems. Another step forward!

Then I received a very distressing step back. My Italian teacher who had, by this time, become a good friend was involved in an extremely serious car accident, so bad it made the national news. Sadly, she and her son were very seriously injured and it turned out they would spend several months in hospital. This obviously ended the Italian lessons as the people organising were unable to find an alternative teacher and, anyway, it would have felt wrong continuing without her. Over the coming weeks, I sent several get well messages and good wishes to her via her husband and then, out of the blue, I got an email from her saying she had turned the corner and was on the mend, which was a very emotional moment. That was a wonderful New Year's present and one which would continue to give me happiness over the coming year.

© Ian Johnson 2020

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