Rent our house for the Marciac Jazz Festival

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We have decided that it may be time to throw open the doors to La Maison to paying guests. Although we would love to be there for the entire summer (and in the case of my husband, he actually could be there for the entire summer as he works for himself!) we’ve decided that we should probably try to make the house start paying for itself.

We’ve invested so much over the last four years to get it up to speed and make it a lovely place to holiday that is seems a shame for us to be the only people to get use from it. And there is a very popular jazz festival that takes place just down the road from us every year, bringing with it dozens of tourists etc (see our Marciac Jazz Fest experiences here) and if YOU are one of those tourists, our house would be perfect for you.

The way I see it, Jazz lovers are probably the type of people who will appreciate the charm of La Maison. They will like it’s real fires, slightly rustic sensibilities and quirky interiors. Best of all, it’s big enough to fit Akerbilk and his band almost so if you are two families it is a bargain!

  

  For lot more pics and all the details of how to rent click here for our Air BnB listing.

Making an entrance

  

If Peter looks a bit mad starey eyed here – it’s because he was. He began project hallway very early on in our Gensac House renovations – wide eyed and optimistic (you can tell this was a while ago from the lack of grey in his hair!) but then the magnitude and the amount of other projects meant it was left alone. 

The stairs would get a polish and clean and Peter insisted we bought some curtains to cover the huge front door to keep drafts out, but this gave the whole place a rather spooky Twin Peaks feel which I hated. “I’d rather freeze,” was how I normally reacted. 

   

 

And so, as much of the rest of the house was now finished, I nagged and nagged that I’d like the hallway decorated now please. And my look of choice involved wallpaper which is Peter’s least favourite diy job. 

I looked at dozens of lovely statement wallpapers but they were all roughly £75 a roll or more and we needed at least four rolls. And then one day, I was wandering through John Lewis and saw a sale on end of the line wallpapers and a pale grey one with odd stripes was in the pile – four rolls of it to be exact and it was £4.50 per roll! That’s more like it. And as so often has happened with the French House having limited funds has made choices for me – which in many ways make it easier. 

We then found a chandelier in a Vide Grenier which was totally broken, but pete assured me he could fix it. And the rugs I already had as I buy them up in bulk from Matalan. I threw those red velvet curtains in the bin and peter made a cupboard to go around the electricity metres which you can’t see in pic but is life changing. 

And – Tada! An entrance hall worthy of a grand entrance.  

   

Where one ‘Front Door’ closes…

The front door of LA Maison Blanche has always been something I loved about our house in France. It’s huge, medieval even, needs a good, two-handed shove to get it open. It is literally and figuratively thousands of miles away from our London front door.
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The key is enormous befitting a large country house and just seeing it hanging on our London key rack is a constant reminder of our other home.
And it was where we all stood on arrival for the first time as a family and took this photo! The photo I’ve used for my blog heading despite the fact that both boys are now considerably

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But once we had painted our house front, the shutters and even the side wall onto the street, the doors remain the last shabby chic aspect of the house – and truth be told they were just shabby. The front door and our little kitchen door were both quite rotten and let the wind rattle through the house.

And so Peter took them all off, used a vat of wood filler and miles of sandpaper to patch them both up.

I looked into the rather inevitable khaki shades of farrow and ball front door cliche that litter London streets. I looked at pale blue, the choice of most English people in France for shutters and doors. And then I looked around our area and noted that most houses are actually painted in shades of cream and brown. And as the door had originally been painted brown I decided to try and stay with a version of that.

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And as ever, I wasn’t entirely sure if I shouldn’t have gone with something ‘prettier’ but that afternoon our 75 year old neighbour, Madame Camblat popped round to say hello. When we showed her the door she said ‘ah tres bien, c’est un coleur de campagne’ (it’s a colour of the countryside) and I was glad I’d gone for brown after all.

Christmas at La Maison (2014)

We finally have a home worthy of a picture postcard Christmas – or to paraphrase my friend Lorraine ” I remember when it was like Christmas in Beirut in that sitting room….” (See blog post about their xmas visit two years ago here! She has a point.) But this year we were going to do Christmas in style. It was to be like a White Company Brochure so long as he kids didn’t ruin it by trying to put tinsel everywhere – like I always say, kids eh? Anyone would think Christmas was for them! I did however let Seb wear the Santa Costume we bought at Super U several years ago.

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So rather than ramble on about our goose eating, Perudo playing, Bond film watching (thanks to a new projector bought for Peter’s Christmas present) I shall just show you the pics.

Joyeux Noel….

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New job, more cooking and how the two things finally connect.

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Sunshine in October

I haven’t blogged for ages. You would think that the months I’ve had without confirmed employment, could have been spent blogging, creating, setting up a business from my kitchen table etc. I could have become one of those women who tell tales in glossy mags of how they founded thier dotcom empires as the result of getting a life knock. But what I found about being with no specific employ, was it became harder to do anything. And I mean ANYTHING. I was rudderless and energy less. Getting paid to do several things at once but nothing specific took all my spirit. I feel ashamed that while other people use difficult situations to spur themselves onto greatness, I used it as an excuse to sit around feeling sorry for myself and in the evenings lie on the sofa watching Lewis/Grantchester/Scott and Bailey.
On the other hand, lots of people did point out that I’d had a very full on job for ten years which had involved 24 hour thinking, planning, and in the latter months knowing I was steering an oil tanker through a gugrling stream, so I could afford to give myself a break for four months. Plus, my idea of ‘not doing much’ did involve completely renovating a room in our London home, settling our eldest son into secondary school and consulting on several brands also published at Hearst UK.
I also found time for two trips to France – the latter of which was an amazingly hot week in October with zip wiring, lake walks and plenty of cooking which as you know is actually one of my favourite things in the world to do. A glut of squash from our various neighbours meant I persuaded the entire family to eat squash soup with every meal. Plus I made a beef stew with squash and chillis for guests one evening.

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Home made Calamari and squash soup with sage croutons

My love of food is well documented on this blog and on instagram and while in France most of my relaxing time is spent cooking. I even treated myself to a crepe maker this visit.

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oh Crepes!

And as I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, things all happen for a reason. And on my return from France and a lovely restful week of genuinely doing nothing, I had a call to go and see my big big boss. He had some news. I’d been working on lots of interesting projects across Hearst for the last few months (from Elle to Digitial Spy) but my favourite temporary role had been dropping into Good Housekeeping magazine to work on their digital strategy and social media. The biggest selling monthly lifestyle mag in the UK was a very different beast to my old home on a relatively small title like Company. On Good Housekeeping everything was big. The office bigger, the departments bigger and best of all – there was food! Recipes to be tasted, tested and triple tested. An entire cookery department, hundreds of thousands of recipes on the website and things to instagram that I genuinely have an interest in. And the news from the big big boss – was that Good Housekeeping wanted me to stay permanently with them. To be their Digital Director! And so I have a new job. A fabulous new job that means although I won’t be hanging out with One Direction and wearing improbable fashions anymore – I will legitimately be able to live tweet while watching Midsommer and my French idyl is considerably more on brand than it was before. My ‘real’ life and my work life have finally come into sync. I can stop pretending that I listen to experimental indie music at the weekend and luxuriate in Buble’s Christmas without guilt. And best of all – I can bore you all with my food pics on instagram.

One last one….

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Quiche for kids AND adults (one half without asparagus!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meet the ‘Neigh’ bours……

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Just your average Saturday morning

I love a challenge. I love doing anything for the first time that I’ve never done before. “What’s the point in living if you don’t feel alive” as a Bond villain once said (answers on a postcard peeps!) And if you can’t do things you don’t do at home when you are in your French holiday home, then when can you? Which is how I came to take up horseriding….And force my sons to do so too.

In the next village to ours, Lafitole – population 454 (a throbbing metropolis compared to Gensac with its population of 85 and that includes us!) is a Riding Stable. And not just any riding stable but a WESTERN riding stable. I had hoped this meant people like Ray Krebbs from Dallas would be wandering around in Stetsons, but what it actually means is you ride on horses with western saddles – and the technique is a bit different to English riding. Sadly, no bucking broncos or inter-famial fights at annual BBQs – well not so I’ve experienced yet!

Growing up in relatively rural Northumberland, I was surrounded by girls at school who rode. Who were obsessed with horses – many of them had their own ponies and I was determined not to join their gang. Like Lena Dunham to their Blake Lively, this was not a pursuit for me. And so, I stubbornly got to the age of 42 without having learnt to ride. The last time I was on a horse was probably when I went outward bounding with the school aged 12. But a chance meeting at our local wood (this is how we roll in SW rural france!) with Sonia who runs Western Paradise, the riding stables in Lafitole, persuaded me that we should all give it a go.

So on Saturday mornings when in France, I began dropping the boys off with Sonia and a collection of french children (mainly girls but I have told the boys this is because there are NO boys in Lafitole or Gensac except them.) They don’t seem convinced but as they don’t speak good enough french they cannot confirm or deny this and those french girls boss them around in french so much they are terrified to object.

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The only boys in the village!

And then one Saturday, Sonia suggested I come too and saddled up a larger horse for me to ride around the fields of Lafitole with her and six children including my own. And I loved sitting on a horse and riding around our neighbourhood. Through sunflower fields in Summer and woods in winter. Shouting Bonjour to locals as we ride past. Down to the lake where we play Pooh Sticks but this time on horseback and while we ride, I teach Sonia english to help with her ex pat customers and she teaches me french for saddle, bridle and reigns (all useful stuff should I find myself in Kentucky with a frenchman) and we chat about her baby or my boys.

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A horse called ‘Chanel’

And although my boys complain a bit about ‘having to go horseriding’ I think deep down they quite like the ritual and when Sonia and the bossy french girls make them groom the horses before and after, clean the bits with toothbrushes and carry the heavy saddles back to the saddlery, I’m convinced this is all what constitutes – life experience. Plus, it stops them playing Minecraft or watching youtube. And it means that I have a ‘friend’ in France. A french friend who I look forward to seeing for a chat, in french. Now if only I could find a paragliding centre nearby…..

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A load of old pony!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RENOVATION MOTIVATION

Sorry I haven’t blogged for ages. So long in fact that the interface on wordpress has totally changed since the last time I blogged.

I received an email this week from a friend who has just moved into a new house, well it’s an old house, that needs quite a bit of work. “Please come over, and give us the White renovation pep talk,” he suggested. “Reassure us that it will all be OK one day.”

Which got me thinking of the days when our French house was hideous. And I would cry and wonder why the hell we had done this. Check out these pics for example.

Or for those who can’t be bothered to click on the link.. this was once my dining room!
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So I gave him my five point plan for renovation motivation or moreover things I say but don’t always do or feel but they sound like sage advice!

1) Make one room nice straight away. Then you have somewhere to sit in the evening and watch TV or drink wine, or both. In the case of France this was our kitchen as it was the only room with a working fire. In UK renovations I’d go for the sitting room as I am assuming you have heating and/or running water. If not then I salute you.

The fire we huddled around for the first six months

The fire we huddled around for the first six months

2) Sort out a shower. Showers are on that Maslow’s Triangle of needs. Well if they aren’t they should be. Maybe Maslow was more of a bath man? If you have a working shower with nice tiles and some Aveda shampoo you can face anything. So get thee to bathstore.com or victoriaplumb.com for affordable bathroom fittings and do it asap. You can always upgrade to fancy Duravit stuff in a few years time.

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My bathstore.com bathroom in London – done in haste but enjoyed every day!

3) Remember that the reason you bought a house that needed work is because you couldn’t afford the same size house all done up or because you knew that buying a wreck can mean potential money making opportunities. And then think about how cramped you’d all be living in a high spec penthouse with all mod cons. You see – you feel better already!

4) Only invite people around in the early days who appreciate the joys of a project. People like Peter and I in fact. We will swoon over your peeling paint and original features. We will talk about potential. We will be jealous of the fact you are at the beginning of a renovation project and not nearing the end of it. (I still have wallpapers, tiles etc that I have nowhere to put now in France and entire pinterest boards devoted to rooms that don’t even exist!)

5) In the case of my male friend who was asking my advice on the above I pointed out that the best thing he can do is to accept at all times that whenever his wife has had a bad day, or is fed up with bare floorboards when all her friends have Fired Earth tiles, it is HIS FAULT. ALL OF IT! That way everyone is happy. See – I’ve cracked this renovation malarky….

All change…..

20130629-075054.jpg“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

And so it was this summer…. After ten years as the editor of Company Magazine, I returned from a short early visit to France, leaving behind my husband and sons for their third feral summer without me, to be given the news that the print version of the magazine was to be closed down. And in a strange way I wasn’t that surprised, not shocked, certainly not angry, but sad that something which has been part of my life for as long as my eldest son (I became editor shortly after giving birth to him!) was suddenly not to be. My team, some of whom I have worked with every day for 5-10 years, would be working on other mags, living their lives somewhere where I wouldn’t hear as they gossip about husbands, boyfriends, flatmates in my earshot every day. The walk from Charing Cross to my office in Soho that I have trudged through sunshine and sometimes snow for 10 years might now be a different commute. It might be no commute at all. And all those years of worrying about circulation figures or advertising revenues were for the time being a thing of the past.

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But the news, which for the first few weeks I had to keep secret, meant that my summer being single had taken a very different turn. My usual three weeks of partying, seeing friends I don’t normally have time to see or just going a little big wild for a few weeks were off the agenda. I couldn’t really see anyone for fear of getting drunk and blurting out my secret. And, my emotional state was just too fragile to face most people anyway – especially not in a chi chi Soho bar/restaurant. So instead I stayed home and watched an entire season of 24 on Apple TV. I drank too much wine and to counterbalance this I went running a lot. Run, drink. Drink, run. And luckily I was allowed to bring one friend into my circle of knowledge, one of my besties who also edits a magazine within the same company so was deemed a safe confidente. And so every few nights I would go and stay with Lorraine and her four offspring – with my goddaughter Mabel donating her new bed to me complete with pink princess bedding. And then Lorraine and I drank wine together – which somehow doesn’t seem so bad as drinking wine alone. And Gracie, her second eldest said “do you two do anything except drink wine?” and so indignantly, we started going to ‘Pyscle’ (spinning in the dark!) together on a Tuesday morning before work to add to my extreme binge/purge summer. Or we baked with the kids and watched Johnny English. And we talked and talked about change and life and jobs and kids. So by the time I did announce the sad news to my team almost three weeks later – I had ‘worked through it’ as they say in the US. And I hope, in doing so, I was able to help them face this enormous change with a sense of strength and calm (and a weight loss of about half a stone!)

And then finally, I got to go back to my boys and my French home – where everything is always alright and Arthur asked if this meant I would have to give my iPad back and wether he would still get to go to X Factor. And Sebastian wondered what would happen to Tanita my Creative Director’s giant pencil that sits on her desk. And I realised that none of it really matters anyway except having amazing friends and family around you and a sense of self outside of what you do for a living. Most of all, I realised that what this actually marks is a new chapter. A new adventure and that can only be a good thing right?

“Just when the caterpillar thought their world had ended. They became a butterfly…” Anon

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What colour should we paint our shutters? (part deux)

20140804-113627-41787089.jpgApologies for the prolonged exterior painting blog. Like those films that wend on and round and just when you think they’ve ended it turns out there’s still another whole section. Like The English Patient. Or Atonement. Or Legends of the Fall by the end of which I was shouting at the screen to anyone who came within of five mile radius of Brad Pitt “steer clear – they all die!!!”

And so it is with my exterior painting. I blogged about shutter colours vs wall colours way back here. And happily you all made suggestions, passed comment etc but as with all best laid plans I seem to have ended up nowhere near any of them.

My paint dramas taking my dreams of a dark cream wall with a white shutter from me – or HAVE they? Here’s how that looks so far…

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All white?

And once the window frames have been painted white too – it might be calm, serene and sophisticated… So that plan is, to paint all the shutters white (and as they are all in such bad condition they probably need lots of base coating and TLC anyway – check out our Shutter A&E area

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Always knew this bit of barn would come in handy for something?

And then – I can take a view. After a long chat with Serge we decided that it might be nice to do at least the doors in a silvery green to match the leaves on my burgeoning lavender plants. (Imagine that conversation in French?) But the truth is I really can’t decide. Anyone got any thoughts then do share. I’m a bit stuck!!

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Let’s go (paint) Outside

And so I have caught up with myself… The story of our house in France is almost up to date. Which is why my blog posts have become much slower. I could have told you about Uncle Richard and Stuey’s new year visit – of how we had ‘welcome drinks’ in the Salon to celebrate and then danced outside to Wham hits. But I suspect only we really find ourselves amusing and I have the photos on my phone for memories.!!!!

What you really want to know about are renovations. I’ve peppered this blog with personal tales more for my own benefit. A record of all that passed at La Maison while we were painting, varnishing or tiling. And a memory for the children who in the years since we bought it have hurtled towards being a bit ‘France is so lame….’

And this summer is Arthur’s last one before Secondary School. And if that weren’t milestone enough – we decided it would be the summer we paint the exterior of La Maison.

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My Dad has passed comment about why we hadn’t ‘smartened up the front a bit’ before now. And my answer is always – when you have no loo to pee in or kitchen to cook in, nicely painted gates seem rather a luxury. And then we needed bedrooms to sleep in and bedrooms for guests to sleep in and extra bathrooms for extra guests and so the faded walls and peeling shutters slid further down our list of priorities.

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But this summer with fewer guests than usual and no other major interior jobs to do, we earmarked it for project L’exteriuer…

And so my colour plans began. I decided to keep it simple with beigey, cream walls and white shutters. This would keep costs down (white eggshell cheaper than coloured and easier to repaint) but it would also keep the house relatively true to its history. After a thorough search and tester potstravaganza of fifty shades of cream I settled on one called doves bum or some such and took it to Homebase. “Oh no love – we don’t do colour match masonry paint,” said a helpful man. “But look, this premixed one is virtually the same – Cornish Cream” he added. And so I bought 80 litres of it. And we drove the 80 litres to France. And Peter could hardly wait to get started so on the first day of our Hols he painted a side wall – just to check I still liked it….

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And it was dark yellow!!!!! Not cream at all but a horrid, dark, colour that would not allow the sunlight to bounce off it on hot days… I tried to like it, thinking of the 80 litres of it we had. But I couldn’t….

And Peter, who knows me well, knew that I would moan and complain for the next fifteen years if he continued painting the house a colour I wasn’t happy with. So we went to Bricot Depot to see if they had anything preferable. But that’s for another blog post….