Gordon Taylor had worked his way up in the insurance business to become his company’s Regional Manager for the whole of South Wales and south-west England, with eight managers and 160 agents reporting to him. Then came redundancy, divorce and three years of job-hunting, during which he found that, at 50, he was over-qualified and too expensive to employ.
Things changed when a friend alerted to him to an article on ‘mature’ couriers working for Eurocamp, a company offering package holidays in ready-erected tents and mobile homes on campsites throughout Europe. Called for an interview, Gordon ‘travelled forth drowned in a wretched cold. I felt I hadn’t conducted myself too well, but, to my surprise, I was accepted and asked if I had a preference for any area of Europe.’ Remembering holidays there, he asked for Provence.
He rented out his house in Plymouth, bought a touring caravan and, after an intensive training course, arrived at his first posting, Camping Lei Suves near Roquebrune-sur-Argens. The start wasn’t propitious: ‘Patrick, the very Provençal campsite-owner, didn’t speak to me for three months, as apparently he didn’t like English people,’ Gordon recalls. And Patrick’s wife, Catherine, wasn’t impressed by his opening apology for not speaking much French. However, the Eurocamp team arrived to put up eight tents, install three mobile homes and an awning to convert his caravan into a reception office.
For the first few winters, Gordon went back to the UK, finding casual employment with various government agencies. This he recommends for anyone contemplating a life abroad: ‘Give it a try without 100 per cent commitment for a year or two; then, if you are happy, bite the bullet.’
Meanwhile, relations with Patrick had improved, not least after Gordon had managed to interpret for some British visitors. Another useful development was that, at the end of his first season, Gordon was asked to help a sick member of the regular maintenance teams who close down the Eurocamp mobile homes. ‘Working with him on many sites between Antibes and Le Lavandou, I learned much about care and maintenance that has served me well since.’
In the second year, Gordon was posted to a site in Tuscany, but stopped on the way back for a holiday in Lei Suves, where, by then, Patrick and Catherine had become good friends. They told him they had missed him and that there was an opening to work there for a Dutch manager of several foreign-owned units the following year. He took the offer up, but it didn’t work out and, when the Dutchman sold his business, he found that the owners were happy for him to work directly for them. With Patrick and Catherine’s blessing, he started the business he has run ever since.
I charge the owners a set fee for looking after their mobile homes throughout the year, making sure the pitches are made ready for the season, kept in good condition throughout, and closed for the winter.’
Establishing permanent residence and dealing with the red tape entailed in starting a business turned out to be more difficult than expected: ‘First I was required to attend a week’s course at the local Chambre des Métiers to learn how to be self-employed. My French is fairly good nowadays, but sitting for eight hours a day listening to rapid French did nothing to add to my knowledge of procedures.’
After a couple of years, Patrick and Catherine asked him to stay through the winter to look after the site for them when they were away. He sold the Plymouth house and bought his own mobile home on the site.
Now, as well as managing over 30 mobile homes belonging to British, Danish, Dutch and French owners, and ‘campsite-sitting’ out of season, Gordon has extended his operation to include control of all the bottled gas supplies on the site. ‘During the winter months, I do a lot of repair and general maintenance work. In the season, as a break from camping, I occasionally act as a tour guide for a local company running excursions to Monaco, Ventimille and the Gorges du Verdon.’
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Note from the editor: It is through the kind endeavours of Martin Hills, who personally researched some of the Provence case histories for “Making a Living in France”, that we were granted permission to publish two extracts from this book. Published by Survival Books, it is written by Joe Laredo, author of “Foreigners in France: Triumphs & Disasters”.
You can order these books directly from Survival Books or from any good English language bookshop.