Its amazing the cast of characters that weave in and out of your life at various times offering support,fun, mischief or simple friendship. Over the years, I’ve collected some AMAZING friends via school, uni, work, randoms I’ve met and can’t even remember how I met them. No story of our french house would be complete if I didn’t around this time bring in some eccentric and wonderful new friends – ‘The Birds’ (people whose surname is Bird but they own a CAMEL farm! Yes I know – I will explain all as we go along…)
I desperately wanted to avoid being one of ‘those’ english people in france. The ones who seek out fellow Brits to chat about marmite and hellmans mayonnaise or lack thereof. In my early twenties I lived in Australia and made the fatal error of only befriending english people. As a result, we sat around bars in Paddington, moaning a lot about how rubbish Australia was (yeah all that year round sunshine and those endless sandy beaches are a REAL downer!) It was only around the time I was leaving that I made an Australian friend (hi Kelly if you’re reading this) and got to see Syndey through some optomistic Aussie eyes and it was WAAAY more fun. But then I had to leave – I had a new job in LA and Kelly and I moved to Melbourne for a month (I don’t even remember why) and had a ball. And I’m facebook friends with Kelly fifteen years on. She has two boys too. And she’s had a nose job (hi again Kelly – don’t mind me telling everyone -it IS a great story). And the point of all of this is that you should seek to make friends with people from the country you’re living in not just jaded ex pats. however…
Back to The Birds and their camels. You probably want to know why there are english people living in rural france running a camel farm. You need answers right? Well sorry to disappoint but to explain away the Birds and their wonderful existence in Castlenau Rivier Basse would be far too simplistic. Suffice to say – WHY NOT?
I had heard of an animal park La Maison Des Chamaux only about 15 minutes drive away from our house and decided to take the kids there while Peter messed about with the septic tank or some such. I had no idea it was run by english people and expected nothing more than killing a few hours looking at some camels and encouraging my children to take an interest in animals beyond Patrick the starfish in Sponge Bob.
The park is tucked away off the main road and has jolly signs showing you where to park and which way to go. We arrived a little late for the demo which involved a lady wearing an ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ style hat and waving a stick at some llamas while children could lead them around the park and feed them. There were dozens of kids there transfixed and Sebastian couldnt wait to have a go at ‘training’ the llama. Arthur had already established that he ‘didn’t like animals’ and wandered off into the wood to do a nature trail. There were goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and the jewels in the Camel farm crown – three enormous camels wandering arms reach away in a field and river as if it were perfectly normal for them to be living in rural france not in a desert with Lawrence of Arabia on their backs.
And as my kids learnt how to spin wool, make a goat jump over a fence and what the French for camel is, I got chatting to a nice Englishman called Paul. It turned out, he was Mr Maison des chamaux and the lady with enthusiasm you could bag and sell, leading the llamas around in the IACGMOOH hat was his wife Sarah. He mentioned that he was an electrician (as well as running a camel farm – camels need lights right?) and as I currently had two sockets servicing my entire house, my ears pricked up. He ended up coming over to help Peter with our wiring, inviting us back to sample the joys of the local ‘cubivin’ and to properly meet Sarah when she wasn’t knee deep in llama poo and we loved them right away. They have pet pigs who sometimes live in their house, a plentiful supply of red for the grown up guests accompanying the kids we bring over for animal feeding, and a cheery voice at the end of a phone every time we arrive in France. The Maison des Chamaux has become somewhere we visit early on during each trip to our french house. the kids are desperate to see JAh JAh the goat, who they fed from a bottle when he was born and who now is a large goat with horns, whose main aim in life is to eat all the food he can. Like goat vs food with JAh JAh in the Adam Richmond role. They love the Bird boys, Elliot and Oliver who are two of the most polite boys I’ve ever met – proving that its not just ‘French children who don’t throw food’ but also ‘English children brought up in France who don’t throw food’ though, they do love to play on an x box.
And the Birds are totally immersed in local French life. Their kids go to local schools, their animal park is famous in the local area (terry Wogan has a house nearby and goes about his Intermarche shopping without anyone noticing but Sarah is ‘la femme de la Maison des Chamaux’) and they’ve built a fabulously unusual life for their family in this rural part of SW France with the camels they rescued from slaughter somewhere in Russia. So they’re not ‘those type’ of English people either but I’m glad they made an expat-ception for us!