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.