What IS the point of having an 8 bedroom house in the middle of nowhereville France? Its a question I ask myself often. Despite being affordable to buy by London standards, and despite our total lack of budget for renovations, it does still suck out a considerable amount of cash every month. Our paint bill alone equates to the GDP of some smaller countries (maybe there actually IS a small island nation somewhere called Farrow and Ball and I am contributing to its healthcare provisions). So just in the spirit of open-ness and to give you a vague idea if you were thinking of buying your own slice of rural idyll here are just some of our expenses around this project. And while it is not Sarah Beeny renovating that place in the country and buying £100 a roll wallpaper extravagent, I will concede there are ways we might be more frugal. But as, when my husband points out every month if I went to Asda rather than ordering Ocado I could spend the differential on a handbag I am forced to admit – I have LIMITS.
- Vide grenier tat or what we could call essential furnishings like chairs to sit on etc…… £50-350 each visit to france. And we still have masses of empty spaces where furniture really should be. It took us two years to find a dining table and chairs.
- Boring house stuff like flooring and insulation and pipes and wires to try and make progress £300-£1000 each time
- Paint ….. roughly £150 per room (we have 13 rooms plus hallways – you do the math)
- Drive down there ….. £100 petrol, £60 tolls, £80 tunnel crossing. If we flew and rented a car this would be more like £800 each time. So we set off after school on a Friday and drive through the night. The boys sleep and Peter and I take turns to drive. It is not so bad. It sounds bad. It honestly isn’t. The kids watch movies till they fall asleep. And we drink lots of french coffee and make lots of stops and grab sleep where we can. Then we arrive at our place at roughly 7am in the morning. Stop off for warm bread at a just-opening boulangerie. And we pre warn Serge our neighbour, who goes in before us to light the fires and leave us butter and milk (and sometimes home made cake). And when we get there we get our coffee machine going and breakfast like kings before even thinking about unpacking the car.
- Super U shopping….. a lot – french food is EXPENSIVE. Don’t be fooled by thoughts of Wafting around markets with your basket filling it with mishapen cheap veg. It is more expensive to buy at local markets than it is to shop at the supermarket. Or indeed order Ocado. In fact it might even be cheaper to get ‘Dave in an Aubergine van to drive a veal shank down to SW france than buy a Jarret de Veau at our local market) BUT it does all taste delicious. See below…
- housekeeper/gardner who keep eye on place and come in before we get there and make up beds, clean. Yes this is a total extravegance. I could make our own beds. I could clean. BUT its a holiday. And the Landauers are like Ray Krebbs used to be to the Ewings kind of living off our land (of course he eventually turned out to be Jock Ewing’s illigitimate son and I seriously hope this does not turn out to be the case with Mr Landauer!) We initially paid Mr Landauer to gravel our driveway. And then he came back and suggested he concrete floor the barn. We said yes. Then he suggested he concrete floor our sitting room and we said yes. Then he suggested he mow the lawns. And chop wood. And his wife could clean. And we liked them. One day he turned up with an enormous mirror he wanted to sell us and we bought it.
I suspect that they have us pegged as a slightly scruffier Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley cos we’ve got the biggest house in a three mile radius, and I am loathed to disappoint them. Yah – sometimes when they come over I sling on a pair of white jeans and some corky wedges! We trade Christmas gifts each year and Mrs Landauer once asked me if I could find her a english tea service. She dreamed of being able to serve visitors coffee in proper ‘english’ cups and saucers. I think she specified flowers on them. And it so happened I owned just such a tea service that had been my grandmother’s. And when I gave it to her she looked beside herself with joy. And I have visions of her sitting in her house daintily pouring coffee into each cup and drinking with her little finger sticking out which she may or may not have seen in an Richard Curtis film. I have no idea how old Mrs Landauer is. I treat her like my Mum as she has that sort of weary pity for me in her eyes – this poor feckless girl who can’t even clean her own home sort of look. And, unlike my mum I hasten to add – she has the weary face of a woman who works really really hard all week for not that much money and has four kids to feed one of whom is disabled and in a hospice permanently. So she looks very old. But she could actually be younger than me. I have no idea. And now we feel bad telling them that we can’t really afford to pay them escalating cleaning and concreting costs. So we keep paying them and they keep doing stuff. And giving us strange doiley lacey things she likes to drape over my modernist furniture.
- IKEA – roughly £300 every six months just so we have beds and chairs and er stuff to fill the enormous empty rooms
- Fun stuff – like going to visit spas, eating out, skiing, zip wiring cos you dont want to go on holiday and JUST play scrabble – approx £300 each visit
- Cubivin – a 25l box of wine from the local vineyard that costs €1 a litre!
- Not going on fancy skiing holidays – saving approx £3000 a year (we’d def go somewhere nice right)
- Not going on fancy foreign holidays to Maldives with kids clubs etc – savings £7000 a year
- Summer childcare – well techinically nothing as Peter would just do it but there’d be clubs right? And they are all about £250 per week
Stuff that makes having a french house TOTES priceless..
Having all our friends to stay. Sitting around our giant wooden kitchen table (cost of £500 from friend who sells Brocante) with a mess of adults and kids all leaning int to help themselves to roast pork, jamie oliver’s courgette rice and drinking vast quantities of our red wine cubivin. With candles lit around us, cheesy tunes on Spotify and an evening finale of dancing in the kitchen, videoing it on our iphones and then dying the next day when we play it back.
Like when my BFF Petra came to stay with her two children (including my goddaughter Cara) i looked around one eve as we all feasted on duck and thought ‘yes. this is why we bought this house.’ And when the two four year old boys (mine and hers) played in a paddling pool in an inch of water for four hours leaving us to sit in deck chairs drinking wine, we realised we don’t need kids clubs. We ate huge meals outdoors cooked by Petra’s gourmand husband Stuart and we laughed. And we had the time to have those conversations that sometimes London living just doesn’t allow. Petra and I shared a house together with four others back in the early nineties – like ‘This Life’ (young people reading this – it was a TV show like Skins but with professionals sharing a flat back in the nineties. Think, a show like Friends but with sex and drugs) and we’ve been best friends ever since, twenty years in fact. But as she has a very big important job (she has proper career in finance and is v successful at it – eye wateringly so) and I have a sort of big important job but doing slightly dafter things like meeting One Direction, we don’t see each other as much as we should. France gives us days to catch up. And she and her family came back the following Easter as Cara couldn’t wait to go back to “the big dirty house” as I say – priceless.