Oink oink


The Two Little PIgs

It’s time to talk pigs. My youngest son, Sebastian has for quite some time been nagging us about getting a dog back in London. We have said no. Many times. As husband, Peter points out, he would end up walking it, feeding it and picking up its poo. He is, funnily enough not that keen on this. Sebastian always insists that he would ‘help’ but until they have produced a dog in a lab that can use his paws to play Minecraft it’s unlikely that Seb’s interest would last beyond a fortnight.

When in France, one of his favourite things to do is visit our friends who own a camel farm (click here for their story – it is too long and complicated to explain again why they have camels in south west France!) and on an early visit there they showed us this year’s bumper crop of piglets!


Please can we have one????

And so his campaign began…. “Pleeeeease can we have one?” And both Peter and I quite liked the idea of some cute pigs roaming around the patch outside our back door (a ready made pig sty in fact), rushing up to us for food and strokes. Oh yes, it would be like Babe only without the talking. And Sarah who owns the Camel Farm insisted we take two (an only pig is a lonely pig) and that’s how we ended up with two pigs living at La Maison for the summer.

We had to decide on names. Ant n Dec? Kate and Wills? Eric and Ernie? Kim and Kanye were all ruled impossible as the only two pigs slow enough to let us catch them and take them home were girls. And so it was left to the children to suggest one name each and they chose…… Dawn and Misty!! Peter said they sounded like strippers and vowed to check the parental settings on our laptop when we got home to see just what the boys had been watching on youtube…. .but it turns out they were Pokemon references which he persuaded them to change to Dawn and Cora (marginally less ‘stipperish’). And the names stuck.


They ate like pigs!


Trotters Inc.

And for at least a couple of days, everyone was fully committed to feeding Dawn and Cora. A diet for baby pigs of bread, milk and sugar sometimes topped up with the scraps from our meals (anything as long as it wasn’t pork – inadvertent cannibalism, even among pigs was considered very dodgy). But unsurprisingly after about a week and the realisation that pigs don’t really DO much except eat and then run away into a dark corner squealing, the boys got bored of their porcine friends. And despite my efforts to get Dawn and Cora to interact with us, they remained terrified of anything except the Marks and Spencer Andante bowls filled with bread and milk (maybe they’d seen that Gordon Ramsay programme and knew their eventual fate at the hands of humans – maybe pigs are born with an inante fear of humans – like the rabbits in Watership Down!) Whatever their reasoning – they steadfastly refused to become our friends.

But at the end of the summer, when we packed them back into their box – after a most amusing game of ‘catch the squealing pig’ which involved us all falling over a lot in the mud until Peter finally pinned them down – we were a bit sad to see Dawn and Cora leave. Especially as we knew their fate and it wasn’t a lifetime of running about in fields growing old and fat. And the bowls we used to feed them for the previous six weeks wound up back in our human crockery rotation. And if I sat down to eat soup out of those Andante bowls, I’d find myself getting a bit emoshe – especially if it was ham and lentil….

Lets look on the postive!


You’re welcome

I am sometimes accused of moaning. I know? Fancy that. My husband says I complain too much about things and says I need to be more ‘half full’. My friend, and former boss Meribeth who is Canadian and thus I suspect born with inherent positivity starts most sentences with “you know, you gotta look at the positive..” and I really do try. And our great friends Johnny and Ana Maria who were about to arrive at Maison Blanche for New Year are great examples of ‘happy people’. Maybe they moan behind closed doors – in fact maybe they are both perpetually morose when not round at our house or entertaining us at theirs, but I doubt it. Ana Maria is Columbian and refers to everyone as ‘my darling’ or ‘amore’. Perhaps if we had one word for ‘loved one’ in english maybe we’d all be happier and more positive.

And so our gorgeous, positive friends came to stay for new year and they were the perfect guests to see our ‘almost quite nice’ house as they are fellow lovers of renovation projects AND some of the most stylish people I know when it comes to interiors. And, er relentlessly positive. They loved our newly decorated dining room. They cooed over our half finished salon with the peeling walls and no floors. Ana Maria played Cluedo for hours with the boys (they have two boys Thomas and Alberto who my kids have known since they were all born in houses next door to one another – not literally – it wasn’t Angela’s Ashes, we just lived next door to each other at that time!) and we even persuaded all our children to look positively on a massive walk around a frozen lake at Gavarnie


It is THIS much fun here honestly kids

And even when it rained and was cold and wet Peter managed to achieve the one thing he’d wanted to do since we got the house – host a screening of The Italian Job using his 16mm projector. I bought the projector quite cheaply on ebay as a gift for him not realising that to buy 16mm film is ferociously expensive. As a consequence, The Italian Job is the only film we have and setting it all up requires a lot of effort, so we’d never actually bothered – until now! And the boys all snuggled under a duvet in our half renovated salon while Michael Caine attempted to ‘blow the bloody doors off’ and the adults opened a bottle of champagne to see in the New Year. And even I was forced to admit that things really had turned out nice again.



A very Candy Christmas


Yep still not painted those sitting room walls…..

It can’t be time for Christmas again? Ooooh yes it can! This is our third Christmas at Maison Blanche and this year my parents had decided not to make the journey (Newcastle to SW France is a LONG way especially without budget airline assistance – be great if Easy Jet, Ryanair etc could sort a flight from Newcastle to Toulouse or Bordeaux – thanks in advance)

Christmas really should be the more the merrier and it doesn’t get any MORE than our friends the Candys. There are six of them (plus Duke the dog but he wasn’t going to be making the trip for Christmas – we got him a squeaky toy to be handed over once he got back from Grandma Pru’s) so we persuaded them to come and visit – there’d be kids, candles, crackers and champagne – yes this would be a christmas for Instagram to remember.

The plan was for us to perform an advance party arrival via road and for the Candys to arrive via air on Christmas Eve. We could take ALL the kids’ presents (er kids if you’re reading this we mean take the presents that Santa brought you all obvs!!!) in our car hidden under blankets etc. All kids had expressed concern about Santa’s ability to find them in rural SW France but we assured them that he just KNOWS – or for the elder, more curious children we explained that the elves have an online database that parents keep updated. There was also concern around ‘christmassyness’ of it all so we asked Serge our neighbour to get us a tree and a goose before we arrived. He then very kindly covered it in chocolate sweets and gaudy flashing fairy lights from Super U which I waited til he was out of sight and then switched for more tasteful white paper balls from cox and cox sorry Serge – he rarely comes into our dining room so would never know.


Don’t show Serge!

We then searched the whole of the Tarbes/Lourdes area for a suitably large tree for our ‘salon’. It didn’t exist. We called Gamm Vert who said we were too late – trees were all gone. Peter finally tracked one down that was about an hour and a half drive away so we sent him off to bring back in a manly, trapper like fashion (tho all he was doing was driving to a garden centre miles away!) He arrived back with a corker coming in at just over 9ft. After all, what’s the point of a big, grand house without a big, grand Christmas tree. This is what we ended up with….


The biggest tree in SW FRance

As you can see, our walls look pretty much the same as last Christmas. It’s all very ‘Kings Speech’ in the Salon but we did at least have a couch this year for us to sit on while the kids tore open their gifts. (Which we’d established a universal value for all to avoid any bickering on Christmas morning – most likely between Lorraine and I!) Santa had become an egalitarian for one year only. So we were ready. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, all good plans ….. Peter, Seb and I all came down with horrific colds the week before our journey. We were barely on the A2 when Sebastian vomited all over the car. And our usual plans to drive through the night while we take turns to sleep were thwarted by our illnesses. Neither Peter nor I could drive for more than twenty minutes without having to stop and rest. So our normal 14 hour door to door journey took us nearer twenty hours (and with the lingering air smell of vomit remaining in the car). The Candys were equally thwarted by illness and their youngest, Mabel was sniffly and not sleeping. So despite plans for adult all night drinking and Trivial Pursuit playing (cos THATs how Rock n Roll we are) we were all in bed on Christmas Eve by 9.30 and Mabel then woke up about four times in the night. Lorraine and I did manage to struggle gamely through a couple of these! But the reality was that Christmas morning could not come soon enough even for the grown ups among us.


G&T if you dont mind

We left out carrots for Rudolph, red wine for Santa and stockings for each child (tho how he was going to fit an x box into one of these was a real worry for Arthur!) And we all went to bed dreaming of a host of gifts to open in the morning – or in the adults case the prospect of feeling less like death.


Stocking fillers

And in the morning – HE’D BEEN! All the way to France – the elves had guided him in the right direction and it turned out that he’d had the presence of mind to bring all the children an Amazon gift card to the same value! Which meant they could order stuff online and have it delivered to their London home. How clever is Santa?

And then we did what any normal family do on Christmas Day, we ran around outside in our pyjamas, made Peter dress up as Father Christmas, ate our bodyweight in chocolate and started but didn’t finish about five games of Sherlock themed Cluedo (a gift for Lorraine which we made her leave behind we enjoyed it so much).

And then we ate a huge Christmas lunch in our newly renovated Dining Room (click here for before and after pics) with goose and pigs in blankets and the children all sat at one end of the table and the adults sat at the other and we suddenly felt a whole lot better.

Things to do in SW France (by Arthur and Sebastian)


Welcome to Pau!

So here they were, my boys, to meet me at the airport. My single summer was over and I had two weeks in the bosom of my family in France. Two whole weeks without deadlines, fashion crises (omg pink’s out, punk’s in!) or worrying about what to wear to work (all documented on .company.co.uk should you ever want to see). Instead, I faced two weeks of wearing shorts, stripey t shirts and a variety of flip flop type footwear.

I could at this point do nothing. Nada. Sit on a sun lounger or our beloved hammock and just chill. But I can’t. And as my boys had spent four weeks doing little more than playing in the pool, visiting vide greniers, eating pizza at Restotop our local restaurant, or visiting our friend’s camel farm, I decided that now Mummy was here – activities would commence. Wether anyone wanted to go or not. I scoured the Internet, visited the local tourist info office and it turned out there was plenty of stuff to do within an hour or so’s drive.
So should you ever be in SW France – here is the White Family guide to places of local interest as written by Arthur and Seb.

1) The Pic du Jer Funiculaire


A rare moment of affection (or is Seb trying to crush Arthur to death?)


Peter was a little underdressed for a day out on a mountain

Whilst we were waiting for the cable car thing that takes you up the mountain there was a huge beetle – we took a photo of it.
We took the train up the side of a mountain when we got to the top we walked to the very top it was exhausting and at the same time very fun. This is what it says on the internet about it….
The Pic du Jer, towering over the town, is recognizable by its large cross which is illuminated at night. You can get there by a hundred-year-old funicular railway which takes you to the summit at an altitude of 1000 metres in a few minutes; it’s a charming trip.
At the top, a gentle path takes you to the observatory, where you will discover a unique panoramic viewpoint offering a 360° view over Lourdes, Tarbes, Pau, the Argelès-Gazost valley and the summits of the Pyrenees. We had fun.

2)Crazy Golf in Plaisance


It’s pleasant in Plaisance

When we got to the crazy golf course at Plaisance we saw our friends Oliver and Elliot, they were at the swimming pool next door. At the crazy golf there are a total of 13 holes. I won by a point, it was Epic! The final hole you have to get the ball inside a well (Mummy came last). Seb and I both had a can of coke because it was so hot. After we finished playing our game, we had ice cream it was yummy. This is a good place to come to but it is closed a lot. In fact we have been here lots of times to try and play crazy golf but it is closed. I think maybe it only opens in the afternoons.

3) The Tour De Termes




Taking stocks

At the Tour which is not too far from our house – there was a cage where they used to put bad people, so Seb and I went in it. In every room in the castle there were some wax people in different scenes from the olden days. There is a really cool gift shop. I got a bow and arrow that Seb broke straight away – and he still owes me a bow. This is what I found on the internet about the Tour.
The Château de Thibault de Termes was a medieval castle in the French town of Termes-d’Armagnac, in the Gers département. The keep (La Tour de Termes-d’Armagnac) is the only vestige.

Construction of the castle dates from the end of the 13th century and start of the 14th century for Jean, Count of Armagnac. The keep is 36 m (~118 ft) high and includes six levels. Strategically built on a hill which dominates the valleys of the Adour and the Arros, it allowed the d’Armagnac family to keep watch over the frontiers of the province of Armagnac. Its most famous inhabitant was the founder’s son, Thibault d’Armagnac, companion of Joan of Arc. He gave evidence on her behalf at her trial. Cool huh?

4) The Rope Park at Aignan


Rope park!!!

We went to the rope park at Aignan we had to do like a little course to learn how to do it. There are four levels blue, yellow, red and a zip wire across a lake. Daddy was so heavy he got dipped in to the water when he did it – but I didn’t.

Although I got stuck on a red course because it was too hard. When you google Rope Park at Aignan Mummy’s blog comes up because she has already written a post about it. Cool. It is our favourite place to go and loads and loads of fun for kids. We would definitely recommend it.

Yeee haaaaa

Yeee haaaaa

5) The Chateau De Montaner

what Seb thought of medieval history

what Seb thought of medieval history

So I’m going to do this one myself as Arthur and Seb have apparently grown bored of doing blog post reviews. And besides, this was one of my favourite days out despite being a thousand degrees hot that day.
The Chateau plays host to medieval reenactment stuff but we had got there too late or too early to see people ride around on horseback in funny costumes.

What we did get to see were wild birds being trained – the owls were a big hit with the kids thanks to Harry Potter. There were more stocks…



But the best thing of all, was a calligraphy class they have running all day which brought out the Roy and Hayley Cropper in Peter and I. I absolutely loved it and despite being a completely unsentimental person usually who goes through the house throwing out kids early artwork, birthday cards etc, I’ve kept our calligraphy from this day.


If you would like to rent our lovely French home click here for details