Following on from last week’s post of how we moved from England to South West France, here’s the sequel:
So, there we were rattling about inside our ‘house with the five toilets’ in the South of France when we decided, like spring geese, to move north for a cooler climate.
I’d never experienced real heat before. Being a North European of the ginger-haired persuasion and someone who’d never travelled further south than Cornwall (same latitude as Newfoundland) for his summer holidays, summers in the south of France were a shock.
And not good for the garden. Our English garden lore was suddenly turned on its head. In the UK the best place for a vegetable plot is in an open sunny position. Shade is the gardener’s enemy.
In the south of France shade is your friend. It was noticeable that the longest lushest grass grew in the shade of trees whilst out in the open everything was brown and wilted.
Not good when you intended to grow all your own food. Or when the local slug population hide in the bushes until you’ve finished watering the few remaining living plants before descending upon them like a slimy barbarian horde.
And the heat was sapping. 15 minutes light weeding and my clothes chemically bonded to my sweaty skin. And the brightness … I only had to step outside and three new freckles appeared on my face. And the animals didn’t like it. Which, if you live in a one paw, one vote democracy, was the killer.
We had to move and perform a change of address. Now.
Which was when we caught the DIY bug – something which I’d successfully avoided for many years. But then I started watching all those This Old House re-runs with Steve and Norm, Bob Vila … and didn’t house renovation look fun?
So not only would we move north, we’d buy something cheap to renovate. We’d mould the house to our requirements – taking special care to keep the number of toilets and bedrooms down to manageable proportions.
I was then despatched north to find a property. With a firm mandate from every member of the household. No ‘house with five toilets.’ No extra couple of floors with rooms we never visit. A simple cottage with room for two bedrooms, ten acres of shaded pasture for the horse, a good supply of mice, and a gate where our lurcher could lurk and bark at unsuspecting passers-by.
A week later I phoned home with the news. ‘I’ve done it! I’ve bought a village.’
‘What! Woof! Meow! Neigh!’
Perhaps I could have phrased my news better. Naturally I hadn’t really bought a village in the English sense. But in Normandy a village is what you call a small collection of houses. The word they use for a village is bourg. And we watch enough Star Trek to know that you never buy a bourg unless you want to be assimiliated. So…
I was dragged halfway back through the previous paragraph. ‘How small is a small collection of houses?’
I could feel several accusing pairs of eyes boring northwards awaiting an answer.
‘Sometimes it’s as little as one,’ I ventured.
‘And in this case?’
‘It depends if you count the ruins…”
‘There are ruins?’
‘And a dolmen. Though that’s on a hilltop half a mile away from the property.’
I pondered whether this was the moment to mention the head-shaped depression in the great stone that formed the roof of the dolmen – the one reputed to be a site where human sacrifices used to be carried out.
I didn’t ponder for long. After all, the estate agent had assured me that no one had been sacrificed there for years. ‘Centuries,’ he added, swiftly correcting himself, while looking nervously at the odd red stains that filled the head-shaped depression.
So, that’s how we happened to buy three derelict farmhouses, a ruin, a medieval granite quarry and a dolmen*. And I could truthfully say, having searched thoroughly, that there was only one bedroom between the lot of them. And no toilet. So … mandate fulfilled.
* Eight years after moving in we discovered that our dolmen not only had a name – La Pierre Tomberesse – but it was indeed an ancient place of execution. The local history society have cleared the area around it and have the occasional trip to see the site and have a ‘wine and execution’ party.
Chris Dolley is an English author living in France with a frightening number of animals. More information about his other work can be found on his BVC bookshelf .
An Unsafe Pair of Hands – a quirky murder mystery set in rural England charting the descent and rise of a detective on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Which will break first? The case, or DCI Shand?