Sunday, 9 February 2020

Living the dream?

Living the dream. It's not a phrase I particularly like although it's been said to us regularly, especially in the early months of our life in France. Yes, I had been plotting and planning a move to France for quite a few years but my dream of French life was far from reality! My 'idyllic French life' was a strategy I developed to help me fall asleep when the demons arrived in the night and kept me awake. My perfect French house had a courtyard out front with a leafy tree providing shelter over a rustic table, the site of long lunches. Originally this tree was a fig but, even in the middle of the night, I realised that wasps feasting on squashed fruit was not conducive to a relaxed meal so I swapped it in for a walnut. The house itself was double fronted with a beautiful door. The hall had terracotta tiles, on the left was a country kitchen and to the right a comfortable sitting room with soft, squidgy sofas. It was all planned.

Maybe one day...

I didn't stop with the house. Oh no! In my French dream I wore silk and linen in the summer, cashmere and velvet in the winter. We ran a small, stylish and highly successful bed and breakfast where we were complimented on our hospitality.

Beginning to see where I'm going with this? Regular readers of our blog may have an inkling that 'living the dream' isn't quite like this, maybe you would like to share a week of it with me?

The week kicked off last Sunday with a fairly late breakfast (it's the one day we don't have an early start). The downside is I get a little twitchy as to what may be left at the boulangerie if I don't get there before 8.30 a.m. Sunday is also the day we take Mortimer on a long walk but it was chucking it down with rain so this idea was swiftly quashed. Andrew sat at his desk planning the electrical runs for the house restoration and after I had finished the ironing I got the household and restoration accounts up to date.

Monday we arrived back home after the morning dog walk to find our roofer in the drive, an unexpected sight. Our roof is beautiful but with old slates and zinc flashings. It's fine as long as we keep it maintained, which we do, and our next bout of work was to replace the flashings and ridge (it's one of the few jobs Andrew won't do and I really don't blame him). This curtailed Andrew's plan of starting on the new steps leading up to the kitchen, which have to be done before the new doors are installed.

Starting the steps
My role for the week was to start chipping out the old mortar in the hall and dining room. When we bought The Old Notaire's House both these rooms were plastered but had damp problems which the previous owners 'fixes' had not solved. In the dining room (which was the old summer kitchen) cement had been put a metre or so up the wall and then this was covered with carpet. The hall had a metal backed paper put to the same height and then wallpapered over. Both 'solutions' merely caused the water to be pushed further up the walls.

Chiselling out the old mortar
The damp has/is caused by soil being piled too high against the outside walls plus drainpipes that don't discharge away from the house. These two issues are fairly easy to resolve and we've also decided that if we take the walls back to the granite stones and repoint, they will have chance to breathe as well. Needless to say this very dirty job does not involve cashmere and velvet!

One of the causes of our damp
I have had an able bodied assistant for a couple of days who has also been involved in some roof work as well. It was decided that we needed to replace the existing satellite dish and T.V. aerial. If I'm honest this has all passed me by, we haven't owned a television since 1991 but it is felt (by some) to be a necessity for guests. I did take some photographs of the installation and even doing that made me feel queasy.

Wednesday was more of the same except for some light relief in the afternoon. We had inherited with the house the two safes that the notaires had used. We decided to keep one and the other I had put up for free on Facebook and it was being collected today as it had to be moved before the steps were built, we didn't want then chipped. The safe is very, very heavy but fortunately the operation went smoothly. The happy couple gifted me with two bottles of sparkling wine which was unexpected but charming of them.

Details from the old safe
Thursday morning could have been a little midweek treat. Andrew's barber is in Beaulieu sur Dordogne, a delightful small town about 45 minutes from us. I know, it's quite far to go for a hair cut but Girogio is excellent, and fascinating to watch. After the appointment we are in the habit of buying an almond croissant from the rather excellent boulangerie and sitting for 15 minutes with a coffee, watching the world go by. Sadly today we had to dash home as our roofer was still at work.

Giorgio in action
Friday was a mixed day for me, originally a sort of day off. I had a hairdresser appointment in the morning, which if you live in France you know can be quite a traumatic experience. The first hairdresser I went to after relocating had been recommended. I took in a photograph so she could see what I wanted (it wasn't complicated - I always have a bob-type style) and I was very insistent the minimum length I would accept. Smiles and nods followed, as did 10 centimetres of my hair. I came out and cried, yet being English I had still left a tip! Fortunately the hairdresser in our village is much better and never cuts more off than I want but I do miss the cups of coffee and hand massages I used to get at Top to Toe.

An early lunch so I could get to Emmaüs close to opening time. There was nothing in the furniture warehouse I wanted but I had more success in the china shop. My final call was to see my friend in the haberdashery section. Larissa knows my taste well and had saved me an adorable 1950's sewing box. I also found a vintage cushion and throw, perfect for the barn. When she saw it in my basket she said "I knew it" she couldn't save those as well but hoped they would still be available when I came in. There is a brocante nearby which I hadn't been in for a while, nothing of great interest although I did find a Le Creuset frying pan for a euro. It would have been a nice day if I hadn't received a telephone call from my mother in England saying there was "nothing to worry about" but she had slipped over on the ice and broken her wrist. Needless to say the next 36 hours were fraught with phone calls and planning for a possible trip back to the U.K. This still may happen but for the moment I can stay put.

Some of my purchases
Finally the weekend (Saturday was only yesterday but I'm struggling a little to remember). Oh yes, a trip to Gedimat to get more ballast, cement and other items needed for the new steps. Emergency washing and ironing in case I needed to return to England and several telephone calls to my mother. In the afternoon a friend came over with his new dog, a delightful five year old collie, so we gave up all pretence of trying to work and took both dogs on a walk. At this point Mortimer developed a limp which we think may be a recurrence of a shoulder injury he had last year.

So 'living the dream'? Despite the wardrobe aspirations not being quite there (although I live in hope) yes I am and wouldn't change my life in France for the world.

If you would like to read more about our life in Corrèze then feel free to follow/friend us here on Facebook

Sunday, 26 January 2020

A slow Saturday in Corrèze

An often asked question is "what made you move to France?" and if I'm honest it's hard to give an answer as there's not just one reason. First let's get the whole house thing out of the way. For the British, French houses are cheaper and beautiful renovation projects are much easier to find, so if you're serial renovators like us then France is paradise. But the decision to move to France was much more complex, a large part being to live more slowly and make less impact on the planet.

We chose Corrèze village as it has everything we need for day to day living within walking distance, we only need one car. On average we make three journeys a week in it (and one of those is my Friday trip to Emmaüs!) We have beautiful dog walks from our house and friends within strolling distance, which has the added benefit of not having to toss a coin to see who gets to be 'designated driver' on an evening out.

So what about slow living? The concept of slow living came with the emergence of the slow food movement in 1980's Italy, a reaction to the growing fast food market. It doesn't mean we spend our time loafing about, we've finished the barn conversion and have just started work on turning the Old Notaires House into a bed and breakfast, but we appreciate the need to prioritise and take time over things that are important to us. Yesterday was a perfect 'Slow Saturday'.

The boulangerie was the first port of call to buy bread for scrambled egg and toast. It was a beautiful day, cold but sunny so a long Mortimer walk was a definite. We were just on the home stretch when we heard a disembodied "bonjour" from behind a hedge, peering over the gate we saw it was a French friend sitting in the sunshine, de-eying potatoes. We spent a good hour chatting with her and her son, catching up on village politics, discussing the merits of different mushrooms (apparently cèpes are cooked with garlic but girolles are definitely not - they need parsley). We left with a bag of potatoes, a jar of preserved girolles, bunch of parsley for said mushrooms, two pots of jam (myrtille and plum) and a large pot of apple purée. I'm pretty sure she still doesn't trust me, an English woman, to cook as I was given strict instructions as to the use of the purée. I certainly cannot have it with yoghurt for breakfast, nor in a sponge cake, it's definitely for apple tart.

We could have left feeling a bit antsy, after all we had 'wasted' an hour gossiping and our to-do list is quite long, but we didn't. We felt pleasure at spending time with kind and generous people, learning more about our village, and the country where we have chosen to live. We added a few words to our vocabulary and the realisation that we understood a lot more French than we did a year ago. And when we did get home we took a mug of coffee out into the garden to enjoy the sunshine and the view.

Coffee in the garden
The rest of the afternoon was spent outside, Andrew digging out a drainage ditch and planning the new steps to the kitchen doors and me, well pottering really. I relocated a few rose bushes and lavender plants, dead headed some hydrangeas and planned. A friend popped by and we discussed our newly discovered old water pipes (the excitement of village life!) Weekends are also a time for us to try out new recipes, and remember some old ones. Nearly 18 months without a proper kitchen really limited our repertoire. Yesterday I spent an hour or so making aubergines with a sweet and sour tomato sauce, which proved a hit.

Aubergines with sweet & sour tomatoes
I appreciate that this is winter and life is naturally slower, and I know when our gîte and bed & breakfast are up and running we will be busier. I really hope though that we can continue at a pace that suits us, I feel more balanced and more appreciative of the small things. A full life not necessarily a busy one.

If you would like to know more about our life in Corrèze then you are welcome to follow/friend us here on Facebook

Sunday, 19 January 2020

Not quite to plan...

This is my first post of the decade and, quite frankly, it’s pretty poor.  It’s not as I had planned, I was going to kick 2020 off with a witty recap of last year’s achievements. My prose was going to sparkle as I reminded you that we'd finished the barn conversion and moved in (temporarily) as we started work on turning the rather run down Old Notaires House into a stylish bed and breakfast. All of this would have happened if we had not all resembled deflated party balloons, drifting around the floor watching dust motes dance in the sun.

I can hear you ask - what went wrong? Well sometimes life just dictates and you have to roll with it. We reached Christmas happy but tired and just before the New Year left for a trip to the U.K. Thirty minutes into the 12 hour trip I realised I hadn’t escaped the stomach bug which had been going round the village, suffice to say it was a long, long journey. Poor Andrew not only had to contend with me but all of the driving. My lovely sister in law Carole took it all in her stride, opened the door, handed me a hot drink and sent me to bed!

Our trip was packed and we loved seeing friends and family, the highlight being Caroline and Frank's wedding. Everyone was generous with their time and hospitality, even when we left chaos in our wake (apologies to Carol and Roger for causing their bathroom to flood!) We haven't been back to England since we've lived in France and there were some unexpected differences, things we hadn't known we'd got used to:

  • Going into a bathroom, and then back out again as we forgot the light switch was on the wall outside
  • Forgetting to flick the switch on a socket
  • It was OK to go out shopping at 11.55 a.m - stores would be open
  • Sunday traffic

The last couple of days we spent with my mother. We had a lovely lunch out in Sevenoaks, mmmm was that a tickly throat? By evening the box of tissues was glued to my hips. Getting up at 5.30 a.m. the following morning was really hard and yet again my long suffering husband had to drive the whole journey. We got home, I went to bed and didn't surface again until lunchtime the following day.

It goes without saying that 12 hours in a car with a snivelling wife meant Andrew too went down with a cold, by Tuesday we realised that this was not the week to start physical work. We have been pottering though, Andrew bought three kilos of Seville oranges while we were away and has made a couple of batches of marmalade.

It's the time of year when duck is cheap in French supermarkets so he has also been busy making 'confit de canard'. I have done countless loads of washing and ironing, and trying to organise our purchases and presents. Oh! and batch cooking for freezing so we're all ready for the off next week.

Confit de canard - prepped and ready to go
I'm really hoping that my next post will have a bit more pizzazz and even some photographs of progress on The Old Notaires House, meanwhile if you would like to know more about life in Corrèze then feel free to follow/friend us here on Facebook. And a few photographic highlights from 2019.

Village walk

My first canning lesson

The river Corrèze

Our favourite spot in the garden

So happy!

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Living the dream?

Living the dream. It's not a phrase I particularly like although it's been said to us regularly, especially in the early months of o...