Once upon a previous existence, pre-children, pre-FR, I was a serious Francophile. Every possible holiday was spent in that beautiful country, eating wonderful food, visiting châteaux, stunning rivers, sleepy villages and speaking rather elegant French.
With friends, I'd visited the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, Avignon, Arles, much of Normandy, the Carmargue - the Lot (ha, enjoyed that one!) I knew people - proper French people, I mean - in Nevers, Aix-en-Provence, Toulouse and Brittany. In 1991, I got a promotion at work and knew exactly what I wanted to do with the extra money - buy a house in France.
At the end of that year, with my then partner, I bought a little cottage in the Creuse Valley in a small village called Lurais. We bought it from a wonderful French couple who lived in the next village on, one of the most gloriously beautiful villages in France, called Angles sur l'Anglin. Buying was ridiculously easy - we saw it, fell in love with it, signed for it and it was ours on Friday 13th December 1991. After a superb meal provided by Mme and M. the Sellers, we very nearly spent our last night on this earth at our cottage, as we lit a fire in the huge fireplace, fell asleep in front of it and nearly asphyxiated ourselves on the smoke that poured forth from the chimney. But we didn't - obviously - awakening in time and opening the door onto the freezing winter night, which soon brought us round.
We spent every holiday there over the next few years. At first, it was difficult as there was no bathroom. I guess it didn't occur to us to go down the bar in the village first thing in the morning - though we went there last thing at night - so we went every day to a rather wonderful Abbey called Fontgombault where there were toilets - henceforth known as going for a 'fontgombault'.
On the way back, we'd stop in the village and buy fresh croissants and make our own coffee on the little stove we'd brought with us.
Our next extended visit was at Easter and we travelled all the way with my sister's toilet and washbasin on the back seat - she was replacing her bathroom suite and we couldn't miss the chance of moving towards a 'fontgombault' in our own home! That meant we had to dig a hole in the garden and put in a septic tank. I will never forget balancing a huge (relatively) tank on top of Pru (my 2CV; yes, I really was a Francophile!) - I couldn't remember the word for 'rope' in French and asked the man for 'string' - his face was a picture.
It was jolly hard work, digging through solid rock, bit at a time with a hammer drill and lots of clearing out of stones and gravel, but eventually, the septic tank was in. We turned a door into a window, fitted pipes and tubes and plumbing things, bought a shower tray and a hot water heater - and before long we had a working bathroom. My parents and their friends came to visit and were absolute stars - sorting out electrics, helping with the digging, preparing food and making it feel as though we were on our way to making a home.
Our neighbour, Jacques, was a lugubrious Frenchman, who'd watch us over the adjoining wall, tutting and shaking his head a lot. He was horrified that we ate our lunch late, in the garden - sometimes as late as 2.30pm! He never ate lunch after 12.00. One day, he came running to tell us something. My parents and their friends (always called Auntie Doreen and Uncle Bob) were in the garden with us. Despite thinking I spoke good French, I couldn't understand him - sounded like 'Beneel est mort' - so we knew that someone was dead but had no idea who it could be. Eventually, after watching Jacques running around and around the garden like a complete idiot, Uncle Bob twigged. Benny Hill! Benny Hill was dead. It was 20th April 1992. Some things you never forget! Especially as this was the birthday of my lovely French teacher mentioned in a previous post.
In the summer, some other friends came out - one of whom was a talented artist and gardener. He had made us some unique and individual tiles to put at the back of the sink in the kitchen. He also spent the week transforming the garden - filling the place with colour and scents. We painted all the walls of the main room and as we sat down on the last evening of our visit, we thought we were doing pretty well. That is, until we all had a sensation of having wet feet. One of our pipes had sprung a leak - it was under the floor and we had to lift all the tiles, fix it and get them all back again before setting off to catch the ferry home!
We eventually got an upstairs floor in, doubling the space and making it possible for more people to stay. Everyone who came helped us to do a little more work. However, it never got to be completed as the relationship with my partner broke down and came to a sticky end. And just over a year later - oh why not give you that date too - 10th March 1996 - the same day as my friend Karen's birthday - I met FR and everything changed, including where I ended up living. Not France!
Kentwell companion) and of lying in the garden listening to the hum of bees and the buzz of insects under glorious blue skies. Of long walks and cycle rides and picnics. Of midnight swims in the River Creuse and watching episodes of 'Tintin' on the little television we bought. Of my gorgeous green-shuttered old windows and the smell of the place.
I loved that little cottage. Precious few photos have survived. Apparently, it is cathartic to cut up photograph albums (and clothes and to smash guitars) when a relationship ends...not for me, though - the loss of my photographs will always rankle.
And half of the place is still mine because although the relationship ended over seventeen years ago, the problem of the shared house in France was never resolved. I offered either to buy my ex out, or to sell him my share. He wouldn't sell but didn't have the money to buy either. He still insists he will buy me out. I'm still waiting. And will continue to wait. After all, it's not everyone who owns half a house in France, is it?