Sometimes life goes by so fast, we find ourselves running on autopilot and it takes a special occasion or a comment from a friend to make us stop and take a look at what we have actually achieved.
This happened to me recently; with five children (four at home full time), work, and a large house and garden to take care of there’s never a dull moment and there is always plenty going on to keep me out of mischief! But last week a friend came to stay and as we were chatting one evening over a glass of wine I found myself reflecting on what we have achieved since we moved to France and the more I delved deeper into what we have actually done the more surprised I was. I found myself thinking we’ve actually accomplished quite a lot! I had forgotten so much, things that we now take for granted.
In the house we didn’t even have a kitchen. Well we did, but when we bought the house it looked like this and so we ripped it out and made this the study. As a result we lived for several months with just a sink and a couple of painters tables for work surfaces. We turned what had been used as a dining room into our kitchen, but it was worth the wait as this is now the heart of our home.
The sitting room was no better; now we love it!
In fact everywhere was in dire need of some major modernisation as you can see!
Bit by bit we turned it into the home we wanted it to be, keeping the original character.
Our terrace wasn’t a terrace at all and it certainly wasn’t used for the sheer pleasure of outdoor living, instead it was where the previous owners parked their cars, so that they were right by the front door.
We still have one window which has a tendency to leak when the rain comes from a certain direction, no matter what we do it seems impossible to fix and when the wind is howling, the front door is draughty. This is an old and much loved house, but it’s not a place where everything is new and works like clockwork with the flick of a switch; there are plenty of little quirks and many things have their own unique way of functioning (or not on occasions!) it keeps things interesting and it certainly keeps one on one’s toes! but this is our home and although it is far from perfect I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Whenever we enter our driveway, especially at this time of year, we all fall in love all over again. Turning off the road we inch into our own private little paradise. Right now the honeysuckle is in full flower and its perfume scents the air all around.
We are lucky to have plenty of really old established trees; ash, linden (lime) and planes that have stood for centuries – one of the few things on a property that cannot be bought. However, we tend to forget that when we moved here the garden was overgrown and neglected, the lawn was a foot high and the boundary walls covered in ivy. But over the years we have brought it back to its former glory, it’s still home to more than its fair share of weeds, thanks to our no spray and no pesticide policy, but we love it.
Surprisingly for a French home there was no potager. There were plenty of fruit trees scattered around and red and black currant bushes in amongst the flower borders but there was a distinct lack of herbs and vegetables. As a result the potager was one of the first jobs we tackled in the garden for we could not possibly live here without growing our own produce. We chose this sheltered spot below, beside the vines, and got to work.
Initially our French neighbour came over with his rotovator and dug the first beds for us. Then a few years later we edged the beds with old stone we had in the garden and added plenty of good compost.
We built a pond, too, again using some of the old stone of which (and here we really are so fortunate) there is an abundance, still lying in corners here and there. When it was done it did not take long for pond-life to magically appear. Frogs and toads found us first; now they croak in the evening and lie about sunning themselves during the day.
Our chicken-garden was also non-existent, and of course there were no chickens. It was just a part of the property containing a huge amount of rubble and seemed to have been a dumping ground for all the garden debris, lawn cuttings and branches from over many years.
Our gîte, or guest cottage had been used as a ‘granny-annex’ and was a complete disaster area, as you can see.
and now it looks like this!
It’s hard to believe we have now been welcoming people here for over four years, it’s one of my favourite things about the summer; meeting new people, showing them around and hearing tales of their adventures over a glass of wine as they discover the area.
But it’s not just the property that gives me a sense of achievement. Our children are now completely bilingual and we are so proud of them for getting to that stage; they are French and yet they are English – and they can flit between the two languages without giving it a second thought and with neither in a foreign accent. Perhaps they are probably far more French than English in many ways, but when we came here none of them spoke the language hardly at all.
Despite being a farmer’s daughter and growing up on a farm I had never raised chickens; for some reason we never had a rooster at home – just lots of hens clucking around the farmyard, providing us with daily eggs. Now though, we have our own small flock, including local Marans hens who lay the wonderfully rich dark chocolate brown eggs, and we have successfully introduced four Araucana’s this year who are rewarding us with our first blue eggs, which still bring a smile to my face every time I pick them up. Of course we also have our faithful little Pekin Bantams. These are the ones who always go broody and who’s eggs are fertilised by our own rooster of the same breed. Every year we have hatched a few chicks and 2018 is no exception; currently our white bantam, Amy, is sitting on a clutch of 7 eggs which are due to hatch tomorrow.
What is it with the number 7? 7 in our family, 7 chicks and 7 puppies (and not planned at all!) Evie’s ‘babies’ are now up and running around, and they love being out on the lawn for a couple of hours each day. They’re now eating solid food, wagging tails and starting to play “full-on” with each other. There are plenty of tears as teeth are getting longer and sharper!
I cannot say it has all been easy as there has been a fair amount of hard work involved, but it’s a bit like childbirth – one tends to forget the bad parts and just remember the good bits! It’s all really still a work in progress; there will always be new projects, and there is always something that needs doing and something that needs mending or fixing. Just yesterday, Roddy had the delightful task of dealing with two broken loos.
And we’re never too old to stop learning. Last night I was pruning the vines; there are plenty of tiny grapes forming and my mouth was watering at the thought of eating them from the end of August onwards. But go back a few years and I didn’t have a clue how to prune a vine, now I can do it almost with my eyes closed – it’s just another of the seasonal jobs in the garden.
We have been incredibly lucky since we moved here, we’ve met so many wonderful people, especially locals and neighbours, we dine in their houses and they dine in ours. And they are only too happy to give us some advice and share a few tips.