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The Diary of a Removal Man in France

Jul 21. 2023

(Printed in French Property News, July/ August 2023 issue 382)

The somewhat unsung heroes of the removals to France industry, removal men are the essential element in the logistical process of moving household contents. Spending their working days criss-crossing the continent, moving household effects into farmhouses in the Dordogne one week and into chateaus in the Charente the next. Whether it’s navigating rural roads or moving furniture into high rise Parisian apartments, the challenges can be many and varied. We join Burke Bros removal man, Darren Hayward as he recalls a typical working week in the life of a removal man and offers a unique vantage point into how a new life in France starts for many expats making the move to France.

Mr and Mrs Smith’s household effects have come into storage, whilst their house was being sold. So, we’ve already loaded it into containers, and it has been stored safely in the Burke Bros warehouse. Now that Mr and Mrs Smith are ready for their furniture and possessions to be delivered to their new address in Haute Vienne, today it’s our job to load the van with their effects ready for outward travel to France on Sunday. The containers themselves don’t make the journey to France as they would take up extra room, so we load the boxes and the furniture straight into the van. We remembered of course to cover the furniture with removal blankets to keep them safe for the journey.

There’s quite a lot of paperwork that the customer has to work with our Transport office to get in order in advance of the move taking place. Once this is in place we’re issued with a bar code which we take with us to be able to clear customs. Preparation is key for the trips to France, not just for the customer’s furniture and effects, but for us too. I’ve got my essential items packed; a sleeping bag as the Burke Bros trucks have little beds in the sleeping pods over the top of the cab and enough rations to last the week. We‘re able to take tinned foods with us, baked beans and tinned potatoes etc as we take a gas cooker with us for the journey. Not forgetting my passport!

It’s Sunday afternoon so we’ve off, leaving the Burke Bros depot now and heading to Portsmouth. The drive will take us about 4.5 hours to Dover. Of course, we can’t drive through France on a Sunday, so it’ll be early Monday when we reach France.

Sunday night
We’re at Portsmouth now and have presented our bar code to the Custom’s Office and we’re good to go!

Sometimes the boat can be late due to bad weather, but fortunately tonight looks like a smooth crossing and we haven’t had to wait for the ferry. We’ve booked in at the terminal and driven our van and trailer on to the boat. Just taking our overnight bags into the cabin. We usually have a night crossing so that we can spend the daylight hours travelling to the customers’ address. Best news of all is that there’s just two beds in our cabin. One for me and one for my colleague Glenn. As all freight passengers travel together, depending on how busy they are, you can end up sharing with another driver. Just the two of us tonight!

We’ll be off to find the restaurant next. Hope my favourite is on the menu- potato gratin and steak and then back to the cabin for a good night’s sleep before a busy day tomorrow.

Moving Day
Not a bad night’s sleep but it is an early start as the boat docked at about 6am. If you want breakfast, you certainly have to be up early for it. I opted for a full English as I knew it would be a long and busy day! Popped back to the cabin to collect my bag and then back to the truck to be called off the boat. Once we were safely off the ship and we have the green light from the Custom’s Office, we were on our way to the customer’s house. We’d calculated an approximate eta of 1.30pm and Glenn called the customer so that they know we’ve arrived in France and have an idea of what time we’d reach the house.

As it’s a 7.5 hour drive to Chamboret, Haute Vienne we’ve had a few stops at the French service stations enroute. The service stations over here are always so much cleaner and tidier than in the UK. We bought a couple of baguettes and then back in the truck for the last few hours to the customer’s house. I’ve picked up a few French phrases during the years, “Je suis anglaise et parle un peu francais,” tends to be quite useful as does ‘gauche’ and ‘droite!’

We arrived on time at the property and met Mr and Mrs Smith who were waiting for us with the key so that we were able to start to unload the customers furniture and possessions. The access to the property here was no problem at all, so we were able to get the van close by and unload. Where the access to the property is difficult, the customer must always tell our surveyors so that we can make the necessary arrangements.

This was day one of the unload and the rest of the items would be unloaded tomorrow. Tonight, we’re sleeping in the van, so it’s fortunate that I have my trusted sleeping bag and we’ve come equipped with a night heater to heat the truck up.

Our accommodation varies depending on the type of move we’re on, the area of France that we’re in and the weather. Sometimes, if the customer is moving into a chateau type property and has enough room, they sometimes accommodate us in the property. Tonight, it won’t be quite such an inspiring setting as Glenn and I will be in the sleeping pod over the van!

Today we’ve completed the delivery and unloaded the remaining items of furniture and boxes into the customer’s house. We’ve reassembled the non-specialist items such as the beds, the free-standing wardrobes, dressers and bookcases.

Another happy customer starting a new life in France. For us its time to say Au Revoir and make our way to Poitiers to collect the household effects for our next customer who is a previous customer of Burke Bros Moving Group and has chosen to return to the UK. We’ll be loading the van and heading back to the UK and back to the Burke Bros depot to store their effects in our storage in Wolverhampton until their house in the UK is ready for delivery of the furniture.

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