The WORST room in the house


It’s charming isn’t it? This room upset me greatly. Tucked away at the back so quite easily avoidable but there nevertheless. Like hairy toes. Or ‘bacne’. But because there was so much else to do we’d left this room well alone.

But then it was time to sort it. If we made the worst room nice, the whole house would feel better right?

So each visit Peter would dismantle a particularly hideous aspect of it. First the nasty rusty water tank which was on the wall was yanked, sawed and yanked again off the wall. Then a sledgehammer was taken to the concrete units and sink. I attacked that myself with great gusto imagining all the things that irritate me. Like bad shoes. The rain. People calling me Vicky. Peter uses the same technique when we go running together – if I look like I’m flagging he gets me to get fired up by listing things he knows make me cross. Crocs on adults can usually get me an extra half a mile….

And then we started painting everything white.


And this all coincided with a visit from Petra and Stu so we got Stu to help paint the ceiling. And we rewarded him with confit of duck and some Madiran in the evening. Plus the knowledge that he was helping his friends with their insane French folly. The general consensus among our friends seems to be ‘amazing thing to do – but we’d never do it’. And I take their point. But after a lot more poly filling, painting, and brocante buying our room finally looked like this! Ta da….



The walls we painted Farrow and Ball Parma Grey and the mix of mid century modern furniture is all much longer stories which I’m going to save for another day! Or another blog post. And over time we added more and more stuff to the walls etc so it now really looks like this and is what we refer to as the kids sitting room.



What colour shall we paint our house?


A post in which I throw something open to the public vote. It will be like X factor or ‘farrow and ball Factor’. I may even get Dermot round to announce that lines are now closed but you may still be charged.

I need to decide what colour to paint the outside of my house and its shutters! And I just can’t. It’s is a monstrous decision and one we will have to live with for years.
My options are – Stick with white walls and add a coloured shutter? Or paint the walls cream/grey/beige and have white shutters #firstworldproblems. And don’t get me started on the front door.


Options I’ve found and like include the following….






So what do we think then? Comments v welcome.

Uncle Ricard (again)


It might be time for another visit from Uncle Ricard. He had, by now been to visit several times but in terms of this blog I haven’t documented them all (it has been noted, quote “yeah I’ve read the blog but there isn’t nearly enough about ME!” Unquote.)

But I’m doing him a disservice because, he’s right, so much of the stories we are building up around this French home have involved him. Not, you understand in a manual labour sort of way, but in terms of building a lifelong experience for us all to remember in our dotage. When we’re all sitting in wipe clean chairs in a retirement home for magazine journalists we’ll talk about the time we drove back from the Marciac jazz festival with uncle Ricard in the back of our estate car like your parents used to do with kids in the 1970s when there were no laws about seatbelts. One friend happily recalls car journeys to Wales as a child lying in sleeping bags in the back of an estate car while both parents smoked with the windows tightly wound up. Ah – the 70s!

Anyway, I digress. Uncle Richard had come to stay yet again – once we had dried his guest suite out. He is, in fact, the best person to visit in times of crisis because he always arrives and loudly declares ‘oh love, you’ve done SO much here,’ even when we haven’t. And his visit this time involved skiing (us, not him. Never seen Richard on skis – cant imagine it) and various trips to the local tabac to buy Pokemon stuff for the kids. Evenings of Ricard drinking, and a day trip for him and the kids to Pau. Pau is a really pretty French town with a large castle, some upmarket fashion shops and evidently a branch of Quick Burger where the children persuaded Uncle Richard to take them.


It was on this trip that thanks to Paul and Sarah our friends who own the local Camel farm (see earlier blog post if you’ve missed their arrival on the scene ) that we discovered the joy of the cubivin. Bought from any of the local vineyards this is an 11litre box of wine that you fill yourself from the vats of wine like a petrol pump. Our favourite two are Chateau Barrajat where you can get amazing Madiran red for just 2€ a litre or Sarragachies which does lovely Rose for just 1€ a litre. Mon dieu. Sarragachies has the added bonus of a very attractive man selling the wine who has that Gallic Eric Cantona thing going on. He may in fact make it onto a website my friend Lorraine and I decided we should set up despite it being sexist and objectifying. Trouble is we have so far in rural France only found the man at Saragacchies and Roman the builder to go on it. We may need to work on the business model a bit more.

So, uncle Richard helped us fill our cubivins. And then he helped us drink them.


And then we took photos of ourselves blowing raspberries so that if you catch the pic mid raspberry your lips look like Angelina Jolie’s. Try it…..

Kitchen on a budget


OK so for all the interiors lovers reading this blog I thought I should start doing some ‘get the look’ posts. I am, after all, a journalist – so if I can’t do the research for you then its not much of a blog. You want links right? You want to be able to buy the stuff I’ve bought for my house and recreate it in your own home. Such an interiors addict am I that some of my children’s first words were ‘tear books’ and ‘mood boards’. So here in the first of a series is my GET THE LOOK page…. first up – kitchen

VÄRDE Base cabinet IKEA Free-standing; easy to place and move. Adjustable legs; stands steady on uneven surfaces too.

Ikea varde base unit

Kitchen units – IKEA VARDE and as I already explained – my particular Varde units were bought via ebay making them even cheaper than IKEA! As this is a freestanding kitchen, it seems that people quite often buy these as a temporary measure while having a kitchen fitted so there are lots of them on ebay in really good condition. And they come with worktops so you can just buy and throw into a room and you are done!

VÄRDE Wall shelf Width: 50 cm Depth: 21 cm Height: 140 cm

ikea varde wall shelf

VÄRDE Drawer unit IKEA Freestanding unit; easy to install and move. Adjustable legs; stands steady on uneven surfaces too.

varde drawer unit



We had planned to mix and match a bit more with our kitchen but having bought all this varde stuff I also had a tear in my famous tears book for some amazing wicker lampshades that came from IKEA. And so I decided to get those too. Full price. Imagine that?

LERAN Pendant lamp IKEA Handmade shade; each shade is unique. Gives both directed and diffused light, good for lighting up a dining table.

ikea leran pendant

And then we have amassed loads of great rustic looking things. We have loads of open shelving with our Lincoln crockery piled high which Peter buys up on ebay all the time. The best place to buy it is chinasearch or ebay. It originally came from BHS in the 1980s and sadly they no longer do it. But in later posts you’ll see my other great BHS finds. Im not saying I’d buy clothes there BUT the homeware is really great and the sales AMAZING. Check out


BHS lincoln – rustic from the high street

And we have loads of French yellow confit pots. Some provided by Madame Landauer and some picked up for next to nothing at Vide Greniers. In the UK they are quite desirable and some places sell new ones for a fortune. ImageYou can find something really similar in terms of french rustic cook pots at Toast.


French pots from


Or for more french style homewears try Plumo where I stumbled upon this lovely vase that looks just like one of our vide Grenier finds.

amphora vase from Plumo

And finally, I love giant clocks. And the best place I have found to track down giant clocks is Graham and Green. I have clocks from there in my London home and I splashed out and bought this one for my french kitchen.


Wall clock from Graham and Green

So there you have it. Add in lots of blue and white plates which I am adding to all the time buying them up at vide greniers for 1 EURO or less and lots of empty vanilla yoghurt pots lined up on the fireplace. I could tell you where to buy the pokemon game pictured on the worktop here – but it is possibly the worst thing we’ve ever bought. Kids love it. Its interminable. Stick with the cook wear!


The flood..


So this post is going to be one of ‘those’ episodes. The bit where everything goes wrong. We’d had the house for a little under two years now and it had been fun. We’d done long, slow, cheap renovations and although there was still a lot to do, we felt like we’d climbed a DIY mountain.
And then, in January 2012 we read on the BBC website with alarm that the weather in SW France was terrible. Torrential rain, icy cold temperatures. Inclement.

It’s always a little terrifying leaving our poor house on its own for weeks on end in between visits. We know that Serge has his watchful eye on the place (heaven help anyone trying to get into it or even onto our land – he is like captain Mainwaring in his sense of duty towards it all) but he is no match for natural disasters like floods or fires. Or even our giant cherry tree crashing into the roof in a gale or some such.

But if was none of the above which brought our first disaster. It was all our own stupidity.

We always turn off water and electricity in between visits. But when we packed up after Xmas although we turned the water off, we didn’t drain the heating (we were of course not used to having heating in our defence) This turned out to be a schoolboy error.

We arrived at our usual early morning time (7am having driven through the night) to find the house colder than ever before. And readers, I am not good with the cold. Which given that I am from Newcastle is odd but suffice to say, I am the only Geordie I have ever met who used to go drinking down the quayside in a polo neck jumper. It is little wonder I had no luck with the opposite sex until I moved south.

So my lovely husband, sensing my state of unrest, cranked up our new, wood fired stove which powers four or five radiators downstairs including one in the newly renovated guest bedroom. And then we headed out to the Saturday morning market in Vic en Bigorre expecting to return to a toasty downstairs.

Instead, we returned clutching bags of cheese, flowers and a whole roast chicken, to find our newly renovated guest bedroom, plus our lovely bathroom approx a foot under water. My nice toile quilt, bought previously at the Vic en Biggore market, had soaked up the dirty pipe water like a sponge. My hessian curtains I’d made from scratch were sopping and a jute rug I’d bought from Marks and Spencer floating on the surface like it was in the third class cabins on the Titanic. A parallel with particularly painful connotations for Mr White as in his acting days he was cut from the James Cameron epic. He remains one of only about four actors to be cut from the film after what was six months of filming in Mexico. He made no money in residuals from the biggest grossing picture of all time. So really, a soggy bedroom is nothing in terms of life disappointment to him. But I was devastated.

And so we grabbed buckets and started bailing out. It turns out that the temperatures had dropped so low in the month we’d been away that our pipes had frozen full of water, the water expanded and cracked the pipes and even one of the radiators, so when we turned our heating on, the water melted and shot out everywhere while we were buying a chicken. Plumbing 101 really. And I was sad for a while seeing so much hard work ruined. Damp walls only just painted in Farrow and Ball Old White. Lovely cast iron radiators cracked. Obviously we cleared it out, but we were cold and fed up and it was like those bits on Grand Designs were they go to break with Kevin saying “I’m not sure they’re EVER going to get this place finished…..”

But, the bedding got washed, the curtains dried out and the rug we burned on the kitchen fire so it kept us warm while Peter mended the pipes and installed a new cast iron radiator he just happened to have in the barn. And we put our onesies on and I told the boys tales of women in the Newcastle Bigg market who wear tiny skirts and men who wear short sleeves even in winter. And they looked at me wide eyed to think such a place could exist – a place where no one makes you wear a coat! Imagine a place of such wonder. And they planned their move there ASAP.


Swimming in heels


A quick post to talk about people who are ‘good at games’. I am not one of them. Ive always been more of a shopper than a netballer. Always last at cross country at school and for whom sports day was a thing of torture, i could never see the merits in running around in the cold and wet chasing a ball. But, finally, aged 40 i have reached a stage where I actually enjoy sport. I even go running occasionally. I have learnt to surf and I love my bike retrieved from a skip that Peter customised for me by spray painting it navy blue and adding a basket and a big silver bell. Very Amelie.

And one BIG reason to get a house in France is to do outdoorsy stuff. Or indoorsy stuff that doesn’t involve plugging anything in. And i spend a large part of my time there instigating sporting pursuits. Like playing table tennis or swimming in the pool.


Or cycling to the bakery (6km) and back on one of our dozens of bikes – all retrieved from skips or bought at emmaus which is like a permanent giant car boot sale. Peter has even bought a tandem which we can cycle to the village on like Tim brook Taylor and bill oddie.



There’s swingball which takes us all back to the 1970s and will possibly one day, take someone’s eye out.

And of course there is skiing. Which I took up at the age of 39 and finally got the hang of aged 41.


And there is even a rope swing park at a nearby village, Aignan, where we can scale great heights as a family and zip wire across lakes.


So finally I have become sporty. Miss Tilly my old PE mistress would be stunned. Though getting into a communal shower with thirty other girls afterwards I would still have a real problem with.

Godfather number two


hammock days

And so you’ve met Uncle Ricard – Godfather extraordinaire and provider of Pokemon cards, trips to the Tabac, bellyaching laughs and a tiny dose of embarassment for Arthur over his Englebert Humperdink singing voice (young people reading this – he was a bit like Tom Jones but has not, as yet been asked to ressurect his career with a slot on The Voice – he may, I fear have represented us at Eurovision recently though!) A better Godfather you could not wish for, especially if, like Sebastian you simply don’t have one.

An oversight at birth – a bit like his middle name which was mean to be Sebastian Edmund John White but when Peter got to register the birth he forgot we were adding in my Grandfather’s name – John and so Seb is simply Sebastian Edmund White. We’d never nominated anyone to be Seb’s godfather. He has two lovely godmother’s Jane and Camilla but no men to guide him through life save his father.


Sebastian – thanks to Johnny Harbottle for lovely pic



Sebastian has the face of an angel but occasionally, the temperament of the devil. He can laugh like a drain then seconds later be so angry he looks like one of the monsters on Dr Who who have come to subsume the soul of the Dr’s latest assistant. He loves being the centre of attention and I hope in later life this will manifest itself as him becoming a actor or pop star but it could also end with him as a master criminal!


Music producer or safe cracker?

Sebastian makes you want to love him so your heart pounds, but like those inappropriate boys at school, uni and life, he’ll never love you back as much. He is far too busy googling the word poo on the internet to bother with familial pleasantries. The only person he does love, listen to and seek approval from is our friend Stuey. The gorgeous Stuey who is loved by children and animals like some sort of cartoonular character. We imagine him being awoken each morning by sparrows pulling back his bedsheets with their beaks. Australian by birth which also appeals to Sebastian “one day I’m going to move to Australia with Stuey,” he tells us, Stuey has lived in the UK for the last twelve years and has gone native. We haven’t quite persuaded him to watch Coronation St yet but he does love a London pub and a Sunday roast.

He had by now payed several visits to our French home and it was one night, sitting around our kitchen table that we hatched our plot to give Sebastian the best godfather ever – the one person he really really likes (other than Animal off the Muppets). And so we asked Stuey if he would be, a bit later than planned, godfather to Seb. And he said yes of course. And we cracked open another bottle of Madiran and considered it a fine evenings work. Big tick in several boxes. And next morning we told Seb who thought it was very cool to suddenly gain a godfather at the age of four especially one who was really good at outdoor sports and comes from a land where everyone is upside down.


Stuey is in charge

And then we all went skiing and Seb could show his new godfather how good he now is on skis! And we were pleased because being Australian meant skiing is the one sport Stuey ISN’T proficient at. But he’s going to learn next year and will no doubt be whipping down black runs before all of us. Strewth!