40 years young


A trip to Istanbul to celebrate getting old!

And so readers, it’s at this point in the timeline of my blog that I turn 40. I’ve never really worried about ‘big’ birthdays. I truly believe the only reason for melancholy around them is if there are things you wish you’d done. A life you wish you’d led or something you fundamentally wish you could change about where you are right now. And at this point I am perfectly fine with just how its all gone to date.

A good friend of mine recently starting blogging about her approach to fifty http://5til50.com/ as it had thrown up all sorts of questions in her head about life and where it takes you. In her case, as in mine, life has been pretty amazing (as I pointed out to her while we reclined on a rattan sofa in Soho House LA, drinking champagne) And I sincerely hope not to sound smug but I point this out only to underline what facing milestones is all about. Its about working out where you’ve been and deciding where you want to go. Life is linear, there’s a start and sadly there will be an end (well not that sadly I really don’t want to live to be 102 and fed thru a tube – can’t see the point really. Though a friend recounted the other day a visit to his 102 year old gran, when I asked what she did all day he said ‘mostly plan her meals and watch Loose Women’ suddenly it didn’t sound so bad!) Anyway the point is, there’s no going back you’re heading in one direction and even Walt Disney and his cryogenics or plans for eternal youth or whatever he tried can’t hope to change this so MAKE IT COUNT and NO REGRETS.

And owning this house in France has for sure added to my life contentment. Madness at times? Cause of huge rows in the White House? Yep. But an adventure for sure. Not as crazy as emigrating to Australia aged 24 and not if I’m honest, as much fun as my year spent living in LA aged 26. But an adventure. And one that offers future fun for all my family. So when I AM sitting in a chair watching Loose Women 2073 (presented by the offspring of Nadia Sawalaha and Lorraine Kelly no doubt) I know that in rural france somewhere my sons and their offspring are probably finally getting round to replacing that cheap kitchen. Good luck to them…. For now I’m 40 and I’m fine with that and I OWN a house in france. This is what french forty looks like…… fun huh?


French cuisine innit?


sometimes I read books in France! No really, I do..


“egoiste” (only funny if you remember the Chanel ad!


Ski-ing Barbie!


Alice n me!


Look how happy we are!! (we prob had a row about Fanta just after this)


Rope Swing Barbie




Jazz at marciac


The white family and the white stuff

It’s shabby chic (or is it just shabby?)



For some time, the phrase Shabby Chic was a buzzword in interiors. Cath Kidston, Kirstie Allsop et al encouraging us all to mix twee with retro with floral and come up with studied shabbiness. And I do love it to a degree but at home my husband (rightly) refuses any attempts of mine to girly up our home. And my two boys laugh in the face of a chintzy print. So in France, I indulge my girly side. I have wallpaper, I have quilts, I will attempt to smuggle in as many cushions as possible and I may even aim for some fringed lampshades at some point.

The house is so big that Mr White is sort of fine with some of it having a girly feel. And it rather suits the rambling, run down feel of it all. It would be odd to throw a state of the art, Italian marble kitchen into rural France (and we can’t afford it anyway!) so shabby chic it is. Thank god there’s a term for it, otherwise it would just be shabby! We had a shabby Christmas….

A shabby bedroom with laura Ashley josette wallpaper (just the words Laura and Ashley would send Mr White into a decline if I tried them in London)



We use outdoor furniture as a dining table (see above) but not for long readers! Dining room makeover coming soon…


And we use Cath Kidston Cowboy print A. LOT. I’ve always loved this print but have thus far only persuaded my male family to go with it in the form of an oilcloth tablecloth. For some reason in France they think its ok.


And we have lots of French Toile quilts which may be girly but they are perfect for snuggling under in the winter when watching Bullit on Peters 16mm projecter. Which I would argue is a boy version of shabby chic – old, slightly broken and not really as good as just buying Apple TV in terms of viewing pleasure but SO much more romantic. So you see, there’s a shabby chic for everyone.

A sad day for Serge



It is definitely time for another post about our French neighbour Serge. When I mentioned him in a previous post several people demanded he make another guest appearance – like Tom Selleck in Friends. Only without the tache. Or the good looks. Or previous existence as Magnum PI. But you wanted more of him anyhow!

We first met Serge on our second visit to La Maison Blanche. We had been shown around the day before by Patrick the estate agent after what we assumed had been a ‘big lunch’ for him. His face was shiny and the colour of red wine and his demeanour, suitably ‘relaxed’. But as the house was little more than a derelict shell, Oliver Reed could have shown us round and established that only a pair of idiots would buy it, so Patrick had little to do other than hand us the key and mumble ‘tres grande’ a lot.


Peter shows the estate agent around the property.. hic

The next day, we drove back for another look at the outside. To gaze wistfully through the gates and decide if we had the stomachs and the funds for such madness. Or so we thought. No sooner had we pulled up outside than Serge popped up with a ‘spare key’ which he’d been keeper of like Gandalf for probably twenty unoccupied years. He insisted we go in for another look and raved in French about the sheer majesty of e place. “C’est la Maison pour Le monarch de la village” he insisted which Pete rather liked the sound of. And once we finally moved in, we insisted that Serge keep a spare key and he has had that key ever since, as we never asked for it back.

In the years since he proved to be an absolute god send. He’s dealt with flood, famine and plagues of locusts for us. Well actually, flood famine and plague of mice which he called us at 5am English time to tell us about. “Les souris, les souris” he shouted down the phone. “Ou?” I replied “PARTOUT!!” He yelled back. Along with our friend Sarah Bird (who we were able to phone and have a slightly less hysterical conversation with, in English) he went in, laid poison and in a couple of days time they were all gone. In my head they all left to set up a new home somewhere else, like in Watership Down as opposed to them all staggering off to die in our barn, a slow, uncomfortable death by poison like a Poirot character! Or that episode of Midsommer where the murderer force fed his victim poisoned pasta!

Serge speaks no English whatsoever (why should he?) and because he is such a help to us, we have him for lunch or dinner at least once each visit at which I use my good, but not fluent French to discuss topics from Briitsh Royals (he is obsessed with Diana, William, Kate so we have that in common – we talked for hours one lunch a year and a half ago about fact Kate ‘pas enceinte’) to the French economy (to be honest I leave that to Peter and listen for when he gets back round to something like Prince Albert of Monacco and the bride qui courir!) I really must get Serge a subscription to Paris Match.

Serge lived with his mother who was so old that several times when we went there for lunch we suspected she had died at the table – turned out she’d just fallen asleep during the salad course. She was 89 years old and Serge had never left home. His brother and sister are both married with children but for Serge, the last twenty years had been taken up caring physically and emotionally for his mother. Even if he popped over to visit us, she would stand at his (and her) gates across the street and wave her walking stick shouting for him like that old woman in ‘allo ‘allo who used to see ‘ze flashing knobs’.

We entered his life at a time when caring for his sick, aged mother really had become his life. And each visit, as we arrived he would run over grinning as if the circus had come to town (in many ways it had!). Nowadays he always gets up early to make sure our fires are lit before our arrival and even restocks our woodpile which we have tried to offer him money for but he blanches in offence because we are ‘les Amis’…

And so, when the phone went in our London home around this time at 5am in the morning we assumed our house had encountered some sort of natural disaster. Instead it was a sobbing Serge calling with the news that his mother had died. He had wanted us to be some of the first people to know and Peter tried to say all the right things but at that time in the morning we didn’t even have the computer switched on to google translate ‘we’re so sorry for your loss’. Desole seemed the best answer…. But we hope that despite few intelligent words in our non mother tongue – Serge would know that we were genuinely sorry. And we knew what a momentous thing this was for him. A strange mix of sadness but also a freedom he had never known. No more staying home in case his mother needed to eat, bathe or even pay a visit to the toilet. The world was now his oyster – at the very least SW France was his oyster. But what do you do when you can do anything? It’s like some sort of Stockholm syndrome – as much as you hated being so confined – once you have unlimited freedom you’re almost afraid to take it. I wonder if Serge even has a passport.

And on our next visit he broke down in tears at our arrival and got out the order of service leaflets from the funeral and filled us in on how his brother and sister are not speaking to him because his mother had left him the house in return for all those years of sole care (and having spent a bit of time with her we have to say he’d earnt those bricks and gardens) and we asked what his plans were now. And he didn’t really know. So he seemed to just carry on as normal. Cutting down wood in his forest, tending to his amazing garden which provides us with loads of great fresh veg and pretty flowers.


Courgette quiche and courgette cake…..


Flowers from le jardin de Serge

He says that he has plans now – he may even travel to London. But I don’t think he will. I think he will stay in the house of his mother until he dies too. Tending to his garden and making us lovely cakes and les merveilles (french donut type things – delish) But maybe I’m wrong and when we go back this summer Serge will have dyed his hair black, started wearing cravats and announce he is going on a world tour. But then WHO would look after our keys?….

mid century moderniser and friends with a chateau


Old stuff but not THAT old

I love mid -century modern furniture. Although, to be honest, I didn’t even know what that was until a few years ago. You may not know what it is. In short, if you are my age (27 -haha!) its the stuff your parents probably had in their starter homes and threw out when you were about six or seven in favour of ‘nice new stuff’ My parents used to have an amazing massive glass lamp stand with a huge bright orange linen shade which I remember thinking looked a bit odd at the time. They also had a scratchy brown wool sofa with wooden feet that again I hated on the grounds that a)it was brown and b) it was scratchy but looking back it was all deeply cool. So much so, I have essentially recreated the look to go in my kids sitting room in france only the sofa isn’t scratchy or brown. (see above)

The best place to buy mid century modern furniture is of course ebay using searches like G Plan, Eames, danish, or retro. Sadly people these days are very aware that people like me want this old stuff so they charge a premium but if you use plenty of different search terms and DON’T search for mid century modern (cos really only those in the know would use this term – Gladys throwing out her old sideboard in Penge would never refer to it as such!) you can still get some bargains – thanks Gladys!


We have a sideboard just like this in London

Or, even better, you do what we did and you find a sofa lying on the road… this is the story of the yellow G Plan sofa in the picture at the top….

A couple of years ago, I was on my way to our local station to go to work. And on the way there I passed a tired, broken, ripped up old sofa. It was G Plan style and just the sort of thing I love. But the cushions were dirty and torn and it looked terribly sad. And it had been dumped on the street unloved and unwanted. So I did what any sane person would do – I phoned my husband and told him to come down the road and get it. Carry it home on his back and find it a home. He told me to bugger off. He had a point. So I went off up West to work and forgot about the sofa.

A few months later as the tennants were being thrown out of the house we would later buy -which I forgot to mention in earlier blog post is actually six doors down from where we were living – and as part of their clearout they had dumped a sofa on our street outside the house. MY SOFA! It had manage to move closer to where i lived all by itself. Like the Littlest Hobo. Or those cats that cross continents to be reunited with previous owners who moved away without taking them.

So Peter had to go and get it now. The furniture gods had spoken. And so we brought it home and then drove it down to France. And in the meantime we bought an upholstery gun and some staples and a retro fabric from John Lewis who do a great range in 1950/60/70s fabrics called Atomic.


John Lewis fabrics with a retro feel

And I got my sewing machine out and made some new cushion covers for it – with zips no less! And ta da suddenly it looked how it does above. And it had only cost us the price of the fabric. And I love it. Though not entirely snuggly (see above comments about scratchy sofa – the seventies were NOT a time of comfort) it does provide the perfect place for me to sit and read French Grazia in the winter.

But where else can you find such gems IN France? Well, as it turns out this is around the time we met some lovely English people called Stephen and Philippa. They live in an amazing chateau in a village called Aignan – and from there they sell brocante. And they have lots of mid century modern stuff there (as well as properly old stuff too) so I bought my crazy orange lamp and a black leather chair (see below – covered in teddies).


Chair from Brocante Lassalle

And as small world would have it, Stephen lived in Greenwich before moving to France and Philippa is a fashion editor so it was more than furniture kismet that we were introduced to them and their chateau and their brocante. And now we often bump into them on Sunday’s at Vide Greniers and race each other for the mid century gems! And for New Year this year, they invited us over and we felt very grand telling people we were spending new year at a chateau. Which should you have some spare cash is currently for sale. Go on – its a bargain!Image

Another derelict house? Why not??


So just as our French home was taking shape, with heating, a working toilet and even a specific room for the kids to read French literature (er, ok, play on their iPads). We could have friends to stay, pretend we were a family in a White Company catalogue wafting around in Breton stripes and espadrilles and post pics on Facebook about our ‘gorgeous French home’.

Back in London, we had a lovely four bedroom house in Greenwich, a historical, leafy bit of London with a huge royal park and a branch of Nandos overlooking the river. The. Dream.
We’d bought our current house when Arthur was born and although it needed a bit of ‘doing up’, new bathrooms and kitchen etc, it wasn’t too bad (and remember we are seasoned doer uppers). Several years later and it was really lovely. Big eat in kitchen, two nice limestone and slate bathrooms, four gorgeous bedrooms – ours with Cole and Son Cow Parsley wallpaper in yellow which I loved. It had carpets. It was warm. It had a bright red glossy kitchen and a nice garden with decking and an outdoor seating area. So.



We did what any normal couple would do – we bought a disgusting huge house that wasn’t even a house, it was three flats. On the day we went to look at it we met a Jack Whitehall-esque (jack whitehall in Fresh Meat I add – in real life he prob lives in an Islington townhouse) paid by the council tenant who was there to stop squatters moving in. He was arriving back from the Co-op at around 10am with a see thru carrier bag containing half a loaf of hovis, a half pint of milk, a bottle of lucozade and 10 Marlborough Reds.
The room that was to become our kitchen had a mattress on the floor, half eaten pizzas in boxes, lager cans with cigarette ash around the ring pull opening and the occasional boil in the foil lasagna with cigarettes stubbed out in them.

It had three front doors, one of which was accessed by a horrid metal fire escape up the side and when we first moved in, to go to bed, we wearily left the middle front door, climbed up the fire escape and went in the top front door.

It was, and still is, the biggest project we’ve taken on and as we were concurrently doing up the house in France too, it was an act of madness. S why did we do it? Well, largely because it looked like this…..


Or more importantly, once Nester, our neighbour had been and helped us saw off the metal fire escape, and roger, another neighbour painted the front and some Farrow and Ball Studio Green had been applied to the front door. It looked like this…


A grand house with steps up to the front door. Like in Mary Poppins. The way I had always imagined people in London living, when I, as a child lived in Newcastle. With nannies jumping over roofs and chirpy cockney chimney sweeps popping in to say hello. It has four large bedrooms, six reception rooms and four bathrooms. The perfect home for my boys who were getting bigger and smellier and basically need a separate floor where they can be big and smelly.

The interiors sadly were and still largely do, look like this though…



But, hey, at least we have a nice home in France to escape to right?