So there is someone else you need to meet. Someone who has been our most frequent guest over the last few years at La Maison Blanche. My BFF. My children’s godfather. Karen to my Valene (Knots Landing ref – youtube it) for the best part of twenty years now – Uncle Richard. He’s obv not my Uncle Richard – though he is the older of our twosome – but as my children always refer to him as such it has stuck – or it did until he came to France where he gained a new moniker. But more on that later.
Richard and I met twenty years ago in the kitchen of an unassuming publishing house – well, I say publishing house – it was two magazines housed in a garage down a back alley of an unfashionable bit of central London. But to us it was the publishing house of dreams. It really was. This, despite the fact we had to dodge junkies to get into work each morning and, once, when a pigeon died in our water tank our boss told us just to walk to Habitat to use the loo or wash our hands. And we were fine with this because we were JOURNALISTS! Journalists who ended up buying one of those paper lampshades every time we needed a pee, but journalists nevertheless.
It was our first job in and Richard and I were respectively, features writer and features assistant on Inside Soap magazine. This meant that he got to write about EastEnders and Corrie and I got to do Emmerdale and Brookie! Partly this was some sort of soap hierarchy, but moreover, it was because as the youngest of the two, I had a young person’s railcard and it was cheaper to send me on the train up north. Glossy media London it was not, but as we both came from spiritually and physically miles away from London – to us it was like we’d landed a part in Press Gang – only it was real. And Dexter Fletcher wasn’t in it. But nevertheless, STUFF. OF. DREAMS. We worked hard, we went to every free party going, we got inappropriately drunk with the cast of Soldier Soldier and we made amazing friendships with our colleagues on our sister mag – TV Hits.
We dreamed of working at ‘proper’ grown up magazines with staff canteens and payrises. And somehow, over the years, the entire team of people from Inside Soap, TV Hits and a short lived one off mag called ‘Supermodel’ managed to land ourselves a series of ever improving jobs. Richard in TV and me in women’s magazines. And this meant we could no longer share a desk, the walk to work and our lunchtime trips to Cafe Mania – the local sandwich shop where we once spotted Prince Edward grabbing a lunchtime baked potatoe. But we talked in some form or other, and still do, almost every day. And when I moved to Australia to edit a magazine, he came to visit. And when I moved to LA, he came to visit. And we laughed all the time. Usually over things that no one else could understand – our first boss used to say we were like Dolphins with a language like a series of sonos squeaks decipherable only by us.
Now my children love him as much as I do. And he loves them as much as I do. And these days, he and Arthur send each other text messages every day that make each other laugh or LOL cos its all electric now. And I can’t imagine any part of my life without him in it. So if we go to France – he comes too as often as he can. And as we see the house take shape through his hugely positive eyes it keeps us going even when sometimes we may want to throw in the towel and go on a Mark Warner holiday instead.
And when Uncle Ricard arrives at Maison Blanche, he settles himself in and pours himself a Ricard (he usually arrives in the afternoon – we’re not talking 9am Ricard drinking here!) And he sits down in front of the fire checking his emails and says ‘This really is what life’s all about love.’ And so he became known as Uncle ‘Ricard’ and we amassed a huge amount of Ricard related paraphenelia which the children insist on buying each time they see some at a Vide Grenier. So even when Uncle Ricard isn’t with us – we can recreate a familiar scene using Picachu.
On, this, his first visit though, Uncle Ricard arrived in a Renault Twingo having flown into Toulouse. I’d never seen Uncle Ricard actually drive having based our relationship for the last twenty years in urban London locations! But as he pulled into the driveway and announced ‘Oh My GOD It’s Chateau Vallon’ (short lived ancient French soap opera – again – youtube it) I knew this was to be a match made in heaven.
And we cycled into the village together on rickety old bikes that Peter had bought in a vide grenier. And we shouted Bonjour loudly at everyone else as they cycled past. And we bought baguettes and when they asked if I needed a carrier bag, I said ‘non j’ai un panier’ and we looked at each other and grinned from ear to ear. In fact, we wanted to videotape the moment because we were living a big french life. Right up there with the time we went into the shop on Rodeo that Julia Roberts gets turned away from in Pretty Woman with armfuls of carrier bags and said ‘big mistake. Huge!’ (Cos those assistants must NEVER have heard that before!) Essentially, we were in one of those scenes that if someone had shown us a flash forward while we were blagging our way into parties just to eat the canapes and drink the free drink, we’d never have believed them. C’est pas bloody possible! We’d have said and then died laughing. But we were. And we had the boys there too and Uncle Ricard would take them to the Tabac and buy them french Pokemon cards and a ten centime mix up. And then come home and have a little Ricard. Well it IS a holiday and all that cycling really works up a thirst!