Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Old House

All of a sudden, Vita has been spayed. The chasse started in earnest two weekends ago - men with dogs and guns walking across Monsieur F's fields and then back up the side of the cottage through Serge's land. And (late in the day) we realised we had a female puppy about to come into season surrounded by testosterone-filled hounds on the loose! Even fencing would not have stopped them.

She is walking round, quite unconcerned with a tatty T-shirt bandage round her middle which slowly works its way down to her haunches and then has to be hitched up again. Apart from the occasional nibble and lick, she's doing fine.

She and I wandered up to the house this morning. It still has bits and pieces to clear, but now largely empty it has regained some of its original magic and I remember again why we chose this place.

How could we have just stacked all our books and bits of furniture in front of the colombage in the gîte? When we move back, the gîte will have become our entrance hall. This time, we'll leave it uncluttered to show off those splendid old walls.

Vita and I explore the loft. She hunts mice and loir between the insulation. I realise I have never seen into the pigeonnier. The entrance has been barred by a new beam, but I can point a camera between the struts up to the roof .

Living in the Cottage

Slowly, over the last few weeks, we have been pouring "the quart" of our possessions from the house into "the pint" of the space that is the cottage.

Even putting van-loads into store, we are still struggling to find room for all our stuff and the cool emptiness of the finished cottage has given way to the busy muddle of our daily lives.

We've managed to keep one or two corners of tranquillity, but as for the rest....

The cottage is only 300 yards from the house, yet when we relax on the terrace after another packing case-filled morning, this peaceful, tree-shaded, sunny corner feels so different it's as if we've come away on holiday.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Moving In

The last few days have been exhausting.

The removals men are coming on Monday to shift our things down to the cottage and take the rest into store but we have already started walking stuff down or ferrying it in the merc so that we can see what we have space for. We've moved a wardrobe, chests of drawers, a computer desk, books, papers, china, cutlery, linen, clothing and in between we've packed more of the same for storage. The kitchen table is covered in pots, pans, cutlery, jars, plastic whatsits and thingumy-bobs that come from an accumulation of lives and now are waiting to be packed because they can't fit in the cottage but might just be useful in the future - sometime.

I'm letting go of my father's LPs, but still clinging on to years of videos. I shifted what I thought was an empty suitcase off the top of the wardrobe and found yet another collection of clothes that I haven't even missed in two years - so I guess they will be going to charity.

Too tired to cook, we staggered out to the crêperie at Clairac and sat with Vita at our feet. We slowly relaxed in the warm night air as we relished the light crisp pancakes: in the background, the murmur of French from the other tables, smiling faces caught in pools of light.

Feeling revived, I carried down yet two more pots for the kitchen and closed up windows and doors. The cottage felt welcoming. I walked back up the drive to our scruffy, mouse-ridden, damp old farmhouse and looked up to see The Plough right overhead in the dark sky.

Only two more nights and we will be in.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Left Past the Bins

In the French countryside we don't have house names or numbers.

We each live on a lieu-dit - an area of land. There may be one or several houses on the same lieu-dit. We share ours with one other farmhouse and the fields between us.

The English often arrive in France thinking they have bought a house called "Le Bourg" and buy a house sign to put on the gate, but that just means "village centre". Look up any of the older villages in the phone directory and lots of people will have Le Bourg as their address. The country postman's job can be challenging and describing exactly where you live becomes an art form.

We're packing to move to the cottage and we need more boxes from the removals company. And I've also finally plucked up the courage to let go of my business suits (and my previous life). There's not much call for black trouser suits in South West France - even among those who work - and someone agreed to take them back to a charity shop in the UK. So yesterday I set out to drive to two places I'd not visited before. Having a GPS reading for the sat nav is one way to pinpoint a destination. I prefer the graphic description ...

"It's not really a proper roundabout, just a traffic island and then after 50 yards it's left past Hill [something] construction and then left again past the bins, [which side of the bins?] up the hill for two kilometres, then keep going 'til you see the removals lorry parked on the right-hand side"

"I expect you'll be coming from Lafitte, keep going then turn left, carry on through the village and after about a kilometre you'll come to a sharp V-bend with a sign back to San.... [gobbledegook], not sure if you will see it coming from your direction, drive past it and our turning is immediately the next on the left - you can't miss it [oh yes I can]."

I try to grasp enough of the French names so that when I look at a map on the internet I can piece it all together. Ah! San-gobbledegook is Saint-Sardo.

IGN maps show the names of nearly every lieu-dit in France and I print off copies of the pages I need and hold them on the steering wheel as I get near to my destination, reading them off as I cautiously drive past: Tuques Hautes, Le Burgas, Les Bouygues .... just a bit further.

I turn in front of the construction company yard and there, sure enough, up ahead, is the left-hand turning with the big black village rubbish bins. Good. I'm on the right road.