The smallest room in the house

I haven’t shown you around our top floor yet. Largely because it is derelict. Or it was. We had been so busy doing up the bits of the house we needed to use that we left the third and top, attic floor well alone. Our cleaner, Madame Landauer refuses to go up there on the grounds that it makes her Peur (scared) – she is convinced there are bats living there or worse (can’t think what would be worse than bats really – lions? Crocodiles?)
But we had by now bought an enormous chandelier to light our way up there. It is made up of hundreds of wine glasses which seemed rather appropriate for our French home. Though ironically, it came from a danish website whose name I just can’t remember. But if you google ‘wine glass chandelier‘ they come up I think. It is a grand hallway to a shabby set of rooms.

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The two attic rooms in my mind will one day be a dorm for loads of kids and the other a lovely master suite with roll top bath in middle of the room but for now they look like this…

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And in between them was a horrid little room with the ceiling falling down and damp rot everywhere….

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We desperately needed another loo – so that while one person showered the other, up to, 13 people didn’t have to cross their legs! And this bathroom could be used by all sleeping on the second floor in it’s various interconnecting bedrooms.

So we decided to make our rotting, top floor hovel, middle room a bathroom. with a curved, walk in shower, a loo and the original sink, salvaged. We plastered, we painted and we caulked. Peter replaced the ceiling and the floor and then we tiled and we painted some more. And we drove our floor tiles all the way from here as I’d found them on the Topps Tiles website and had nowhere in London that they would work but in France? Somehow ok. They are the Henley range and I love them.

So here is our top floor bathroom now! Jolie non?

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Want to see more pics?

So in real time I am currently in France. At my French house, so it rather makes sense for me to blog. I am in theory on holiday with time to relax and do things like blog. But somehow, while I am here, I have no time at all. By the time we’ve got here, opened up the house, tidied up a bit and panicked at the sheer amount still to do just to stand still, it’s all we can do to sit down and relax.
So rather than write elaborate blog posts of an episodic nature, I think I may just take loads of pics. So first up, guest bedroom.

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Teaching friends how to play Pooh Sticks

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So we packed the Candys off home having had so much fun we were all sad it had to come to an end. Petra, lorraine and I pledged to reunite us all in London and the kids said meaningful goodbyes along the lines of “I’ll FaceTime ya yeah?”

Which left just Levetons, but not for long. In a whirl of bed linen changing and replenishing food and wine stocks, we waited for that nights arrival of Uncle Richard and his friend Shona who he has known, just about forever and consequently, I’ve known her a few years shy of forever.
Richard and Shona used to share a flat in the early nineties when they all moved to London from Edinburgh Uni. Shona and her sister Louise found and paid the bulk for the flat so Richard was given a Harry Potter style box room barely bigger than his futon bed (futons see – early nineties!) this is where I also used to stay while doing my work experience at Inside Soap magazine. And while some of Richards ‘London’ friends could be quite intimidating for a girl from Newcastle, Shona and Louise have, from day one, made me feel welcome, provided a guiding hand and been there for me and my family (when Arthur was a baby and Richard would volunteer to look after him he would always make Shona come along for nappy change duties!)
Shona and her sister Louise eventually moved back to Edinburgh to open a B&B which should you ever go there you MUST stay at as its stunning. Www.millers64.comwww.millers64.com

So it was lovely to have Shona visit us for a few days in France. And as we had chef Leveton in residence we could provide Rich and Shona with a feast on arrival. And Richard’s personal bottle of Ricard.

And for the next couple of days the kids played on the ikea hallo hammock,which, cost per use is priceless. They swing on it, they jump on it, the tip each other off it and then they fight about it. Simples. They were discontinued in IKEA but Peter managed to find one on eBay after a year of having a saved search.

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So now we have two and the fighting can increase. Sometimes I actually get to lie on it and read a book but a child invariably launches themselves with force at me while on it.

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And then we persuaded Shona onto a bike for possibly the first time in twenty years. There is a small river about a ten minute cycle from our house where you can swim in summer but most of the year we go there to throw stones or play pooh sticks. Its a simple game that children can do for hours and uncle Richard can use the time to go online and check his air miles, while keeping half an eye on the children of course. If you’ve never played I’ll let Pooh explain…

And the bike we’d leant to Shona came from a place called Emmaus which is like a giant, permanent car boot sale. They’re all over France and I’ve read in French fashion mags recommendations for ones near Paris but ours is, frankly filled with toot. I can no more imagine seeing Emmanuel Alt there than Brad Pitt (tho maybe he and Angelina have been as they DO have a French chateau). Peter and the boys however LOVE it. And it is the perfect place for Peter to add to his growing collection of bikes (worth a blog post all of their own). The bike allocated to Shona needs a new saddle. We knew this from seeing the way poor Shona was walking when we got back from our ride. She had valiantly not complained as I think she was rather enjoying getting back to nature. The lovely thing about our house in France is that it makes our otherwise ‘urban’ friends put on rubbish clothes and get on bikes. Be gone your cappuccino bars and designer dresses this is about rickety saddles and shorts. And Shona seemed to love it all as when it came time to finally pack everyone off and start operation clean up, she said she was definitely coming back. And we’d love to have her. I might even get her a futon.

Full House!!

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And then the Levetons arrived. And the house in France was as full as it had ever been during our ownership. We had six Candys, four Whites and now four Levetons. And everyone introduced themselves and although Candys and Levetons have met over the years they don’t know each other very well at all. And we all did lots of grand emotive ‘marvelous to see’ you sort of air kissing. And then Benny and Seb probably starting fighting as this is what they both love to do.

Best friend Petra has been best friend Petra (as opposed to Petra who works with friend Darren which is how she first entered my life) for twenty years or so. We met when we shared a house together back in the early 90s when she was a young accountant, I was an editorial assistant and we shared a diet of covent garden soup company soups and Jacobs Creek Chardonnay. Apart from our love of dry white wine we had little in common. It still baffles our other mutual friends that we were and are still so close. Petra is sensible. I am not. She has a big serious job these days doing something big and serious in a big bank. I edit a magazine about shoes and lipsticks. If we were in a Bronte novel, she would be that good and sensible older sister who wears her hair in a bun and marries well while I would have ringlets and be running off with some penniless, handsome soldier to Brighton! But best friends we are. And her daughter Cara is my god daughter and I aim to be a terrible influence on her and steer her into some highly inappropriate career in the media. In turn Petra is godmother to my eldest son Arthur and I expect her to return the favour and convince him to go into banking, earning loads of money so he can keep us all when we are old.

The Levetons were repeat guests and Cara was rightly a little miffed that ‘her’ room where she stayed last Easter had been given over to Mabel and Henry for the duration of their stay and she and brother Benny were squeezed into the guest room with their Mum and Dad. At least for the nights of overlapping guests. But to lighten the initial faux bonhomie I decided to take everyone to the La Maison Des Chameaux. Where better to bond than in a muddy field covered in Llama poo?

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We can at La Maison Blanche provide wellies now for every size child as we’ve been collecting them over the years, so while the girls had style issues (tho Gracie, who has forged a pretty great fash-identity already by dressing in boys clothes 80% of the time was thrilled with her black pirate ones) we made like we were off to a festival.

And Sarah and Paul welcomed friends of La Maison Blanche to La Maison Des Chameaux with bras ouvert. Opening up, letting the kids feed the animals and showing them some basic goat and sheep training which for 8 kids who have been born and raised in central London is like seeing rhinos mating in the wild. And although my friends who between them edit a fashion magazine and do something important in banking are more used to lives that involve expensive restaurants and private hire cars (NB Petra stopped drinking Jacobs Creek a LONG time ago) in vertiginously high heels, they both threw themselves into a day of mud and camels.

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And they have both dined out on tales of their friends’ friends who have camels and live in SW France. And the children tell their friends at central London day schools of the time they fed real, live, llamas and their friends probably have to google ‘live animal’ just to verify their existence.

And in the evening we invited Sarah and Paul from the Maison Des Chameaux to dinner and they brought their boys and Troy, an American 20something student who was living with them for six months to get some vet training. And Peter was able to bore/regale Troy with the story of how he was cut from the film Titanic. And Petra, Lorraine, Sarah and I were able to drink lots of rosé and dance in the kitchen. And the kids all watched a film or played table football until they were so tired they begged us to let them go to bed! And they were probably a bit bored of their rosé weary mothers saying what a “lurrvley time all of us togethuuur were haaaving”

Which left just Richard and Shona to arrive…. And for THAT We definitely needed a bigger cubivin!

One house, 16 guests

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waiting for the guests to arrive

And with every half term or summer holiday that has passed we’ve had various people come over, one family at a time. But now that the house was getting more habitable, we were starting to get repeat bookings. And by Easter 2012 (for newcomers *waves this is roughly where the blog is right now) we had a lot of interested parties.

It is no exaggeration to say that I have a lot of friends. On a sliding scale from inner circle, see them all the time, known them forever friends to barely know them but we bump into each other now and again and have fun together. I love making new friends, if real life was like Facebook, I’d be ‘adding as friend’ every day. Thanks to my job I am constantly meeting interesting, fun people and maybe it’s the ‘only child’ in me, but I am like a magpie, always on the lookout for new, shiny friends. But what I sincerely hope is that I always make time for the oldies and originals. The ones whose children are my godchildren, the ones who were bridesmaids at my wedding and the ones who I could turn to in a crisis. As a result of decades of magpie like friend collecting, my friends are not necessarily friends with each other. They’ve met, over the years at weddings, birthdays and bbqs but I don’t have one big gang of friends who all know each other.

But this Easter, they were all coming to La Maison Blanche and who knew how that would go?

The first to arrive were the Candys.

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The Candy children go native

I met Lorraine about 15 years ago when she interviewed me for a job. We ended up dancing in a basement bar somewhere in Soho having only stopped off to get some cash out of a cashpoint. I got the job. And some days we wonder if it actually WAS a basement bar or wether we inadvertently stumbled into someone’s living room and just danced there as we’ve never found our bar again….

Lorraine has four children and a diabetic dog. And our fifteen year friendship has now been enhanced by our husbands becoming great friends (they go to the theatre together – we suspect its just so they can sit in the dark and rest) and now our children are friends and ichat each other with smiley faces and words that aren’t words but merely a string of letters to express emotion LOLZ. Sky the eldest of the Candy children is quite formidable, tall and sometimes bossy she is one of the few people that can keep Sebastian in check – she even terrifies me sometimes. But I love our chats about life and the universe and as I have no girls of my own I always enjoy my times with Sky especially now as she is getting older. I can hardly believe that all those years ago on a New Year’s Eve night out, when Lorraine told us she was pregnant we (rather selfishly) declared that it was a disaster and would “ruin everything!” In fact Sky’s arrival has been the start of an amazing adventure for us all. One that still runs. Gracie in the middle is beautiful inside and out and both my boys are in love with her. Seb has a pic of her as his screen saver on his ipod and gets very embarrassed when we draw attention to this. She is potentially their Helen of Troy in later years. Henry is an enigma to my boys, having grown up in a household of women (apart from James and Duke the dog) and intitally he and Seb despite being the same age were the toddler equivalent of playdate between Ross Kemp and Jarvis Cocker. But bizarrely, over the years, the two youngest boys have formed a strong bond over their love of moshi monsters and the Wii. And finally there is Mabel. Loved by everyone. Especially her, often truculent, god father Peter.

So we were all very excited about their arrival. And its a quick and easy plane ride from City Airport to Pau we had told them. You’ll be here for lunch on Good Friday. I’d made a quiche.

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cheesy!

They texted excitedly to say they were about to take off. But then about twenty minutes later we got another text ‘Forced to land at Stanstead – being held here’ The plane had a problem and they’d been made to land at a nearby airport only minutes after their start. And then they were held in an aircraft hanger like the hostages in Die Hard in Nakatomi Plaza for hours with no food or water. And then they were put on a bus back to City Airport. And at this point we sat dismally in our kitchen convinced that the Candys would just give up and go home to North London.

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On holiday in Cornwall with the Candys

But thanks, I suspect, largely to Mr Candys fortitude they persevered and got back on a plane about five hours later and got to Gensac finally around 6pm having been on the road since 5am that morning. And we could not have been happier as our favourite holiday companions were IN. THE. HOUSE. Literally.

And for forty eight hours it was just Whites and Candys, building dens, fires in the woods and eating our body weight in cheese. But soon the Levetons would arrive with their two children and the friend combining would begin. But thats for another blog post.