Joyeux Noel part 5

Zut alors this was our fifth Christmas in France and it had quite a different look and feel to the early years where we huddled around the kitchen fire with a tiny table and no heating.

Five years on and we have a large kitchen table, a rather grand dining room for Christmas Day lunch and even a comfortable grand Salon in which we can watch Downton! And it was all lovely. My parents came for the first time in years and the sun shone so we were able to have our pre lunch champagne Outside.

But looking back on the Christmas with nothing is quite a nice reminder that actually it isn’t about grand dining tables and Instagram worthy trees (though am v pleased with my TWO whoppers) it’s actually about who you are with and making the best of whatever you have. And failing that a game of Monopoly can usually sort anything out though it’s best to establish a time limit first!

So here is a whistle stop picture visit around our fifth French Christmas at La Maison. When we managed to watch five seasons of Friends on Netflix (the kids had never seen it before and I resisted spoiling it by asking if Monica and Chandler had got together yet?!)

The one where Peter refused to watch any more Friends

The one where Peter refused to watch any more Friends


Rudolph and his friends


Now that’s a Yule log!


Someone pulled a cracker


Silly glasses even for Gran and Grandad


Happy new year


The boys made a cheesecake not sure its traditionally French though


There is no escape from Dr Who on Xmas Day!

Update update!

Argh – I have neglected my blog. I feel bad about this as I was so passionate about keeping it up to date for so long. I think the problem is two fold…

  1. I was playing catch up, telling our story room by room with historical photos and tales. Now I am in essence updating in real time so have much less to work with.
  2. The changes we are making now are much less seismic. We are even re-renovating things we renovated when we first moved in.

But just to get you all up to speed on progress – here are some pics from this summer. A summer where we were visitor free for the first time since we bought the house so in theory we should have had loads more time. Our first project was to redecorate the kitchen.

Here is how our kitchen looked when we first bought the house, complete with Flintstones grotto..


yabba dabba do!


And here is how it looked once we’d painted and added in a kitchen.


overtly olive in 2011

But this summer we decided to give it an overhaul. It was the first thing we decorated when we moved in and as such it was looking a bit tired. And I’d also tired of the Overtly Olive walls that we’d plumped for when we first moved in.

So I headed to B&Q and bought myself many tubs of Valspar Smoky Lashes and some Dulux Egyptian Cotton. And voila – add in a metal sign we found in a Vide Grenier and we have a brand new kitchen. The ceiling still needs to be painted but we both feel a it sick at the prospect of forty or more in between beam sections.

Next visit I am replacing the floor but may stick with a black and white theme as it feels like part of the house.

And I simply can’t part with the ‘ugly chair’ I bought after a fight with a woman in IKEA’s bargain corner. It was one of the first things we got when we bought the house and just needed anything to sit on. It has housed the bum of all our guests who sit in front of the fire checking their emails or reading a book and despite stains, burn holes and general wear and tear, I think it has to stay.

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Rent our house for the Marciac Jazz Festival


We have decided that it may be time to throw open the doors to La Maison to paying guests. Although we would love to be there for the entire summer (and in the case of my husband, he actually could be there for the entire summer as he works for himself!) we’ve decided that we should probably try to make the house start paying for itself.

We’ve invested so much over the last four years to get it up to speed and make it a lovely place to holiday that is seems a shame for us to be the only people to get use from it. And there is a very popular jazz festival that takes place just down the road from us every year, bringing with it dozens of tourists etc (see our Marciac Jazz Fest experiences here) and if YOU are one of those tourists, our house would be perfect for you.

The way I see it, Jazz lovers are probably the type of people who will appreciate the charm of La Maison. They will like it’s real fires, slightly rustic sensibilities and quirky interiors. Best of all, it’s big enough to fit Akerbilk and his band almost so if you are two families it is a bargain!


  For lot more pics and all the details of how to rent click here for our Air BnB listing.

Making an entrance


If Peter looks a bit mad starey eyed here – it’s because he was. He began project hallway very early on in our Gensac House renovations – wide eyed and optimistic (you can tell this was a while ago from the lack of grey in his hair!) but then the magnitude and the amount of other projects meant it was left alone. 

The stairs would get a polish and clean and Peter insisted we bought some curtains to cover the huge front door to keep drafts out, but this gave the whole place a rather spooky Twin Peaks feel which I hated. “I’d rather freeze,” was how I normally reacted. 



And so, as much of the rest of the house was now finished, I nagged and nagged that I’d like the hallway decorated now please. And my look of choice involved wallpaper which is Peter’s least favourite diy job. 

I looked at dozens of lovely statement wallpapers but they were all roughly £75 a roll or more and we needed at least four rolls. And then one day, I was wandering through John Lewis and saw a sale on end of the line wallpapers and a pale grey one with odd stripes was in the pile – four rolls of it to be exact and it was £4.50 per roll! That’s more like it. And as so often has happened with the French House having limited funds has made choices for me – which in many ways make it easier. 

We then found a chandelier in a Vide Grenier which was totally broken, but pete assured me he could fix it. And the rugs I already had as I buy them up in bulk from Matalan. I threw those red velvet curtains in the bin and peter made a cupboard to go around the electricity metres which you can’t see in pic but is life changing. 

And – Tada! An entrance hall worthy of a grand entrance.  


New job, more cooking and how the two things finally connect.


Sunshine in October

I haven’t blogged for ages. You would think that the months I’ve had without confirmed employment, could have been spent blogging, creating, setting up a business from my kitchen table etc. I could have become one of those women who tell tales in glossy mags of how they founded thier dotcom empires as the result of getting a life knock. But what I found about being with no specific employ, was it became harder to do anything. And I mean ANYTHING. I was rudderless and energy less. Getting paid to do several things at once but nothing specific took all my spirit. I feel ashamed that while other people use difficult situations to spur themselves onto greatness, I used it as an excuse to sit around feeling sorry for myself and in the evenings lie on the sofa watching Lewis/Grantchester/Scott and Bailey.
On the other hand, lots of people did point out that I’d had a very full on job for ten years which had involved 24 hour thinking, planning, and in the latter months knowing I was steering an oil tanker through a gugrling stream, so I could afford to give myself a break for four months. Plus, my idea of ‘not doing much’ did involve completely renovating a room in our London home, settling our eldest son into secondary school and consulting on several brands also published at Hearst UK.
I also found time for two trips to France – the latter of which was an amazingly hot week in October with zip wiring, lake walks and plenty of cooking which as you know is actually one of my favourite things in the world to do. A glut of squash from our various neighbours meant I persuaded the entire family to eat squash soup with every meal. Plus I made a beef stew with squash and chillis for guests one evening.


Home made Calamari and squash soup with sage croutons

My love of food is well documented on this blog and on instagram and while in France most of my relaxing time is spent cooking. I even treated myself to a crepe maker this visit.


oh Crepes!

And as I’ve mentioned several times on this blog, things all happen for a reason. And on my return from France and a lovely restful week of genuinely doing nothing, I had a call to go and see my big big boss. He had some news. I’d been working on lots of interesting projects across Hearst for the last few months (from Elle to Digitial Spy) but my favourite temporary role had been dropping into Good Housekeeping magazine to work on their digital strategy and social media. The biggest selling monthly lifestyle mag in the UK was a very different beast to my old home on a relatively small title like Company. On Good Housekeeping everything was big. The office bigger, the departments bigger and best of all – there was food! Recipes to be tasted, tested and triple tested. An entire cookery department, hundreds of thousands of recipes on the website and things to instagram that I genuinely have an interest in. And the news from the big big boss – was that Good Housekeeping wanted me to stay permanently with them. To be their Digital Director! And so I have a new job. A fabulous new job that means although I won’t be hanging out with One Direction and wearing improbable fashions anymore – I will legitimately be able to live tweet while watching Midsommer and my French idyl is considerably more on brand than it was before. My ‘real’ life and my work life have finally come into sync. I can stop pretending that I listen to experimental indie music at the weekend and luxuriate in Buble’s Christmas without guilt. And best of all – I can bore you all with my food pics on instagram.

One last one….


Quiche for kids AND adults (one half without asparagus!)








All change…..

20130629-075054.jpg“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden change.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

And so it was this summer…. After ten years as the editor of Company Magazine, I returned from a short early visit to France, leaving behind my husband and sons for their third feral summer without me, to be given the news that the print version of the magazine was to be closed down. And in a strange way I wasn’t that surprised, not shocked, certainly not angry, but sad that something which has been part of my life for as long as my eldest son (I became editor shortly after giving birth to him!) was suddenly not to be. My team, some of whom I have worked with every day for 5-10 years, would be working on other mags, living their lives somewhere where I wouldn’t hear as they gossip about husbands, boyfriends, flatmates in my earshot every day. The walk from Charing Cross to my office in Soho that I have trudged through sunshine and sometimes snow for 10 years might now be a different commute. It might be no commute at all. And all those years of worrying about circulation figures or advertising revenues were for the time being a thing of the past.


But the news, which for the first few weeks I had to keep secret, meant that my summer being single had taken a very different turn. My usual three weeks of partying, seeing friends I don’t normally have time to see or just going a little big wild for a few weeks were off the agenda. I couldn’t really see anyone for fear of getting drunk and blurting out my secret. And, my emotional state was just too fragile to face most people anyway – especially not in a chi chi Soho bar/restaurant. So instead I stayed home and watched an entire season of 24 on Apple TV. I drank too much wine and to counterbalance this I went running a lot. Run, drink. Drink, run. And luckily I was allowed to bring one friend into my circle of knowledge, one of my besties who also edits a magazine within the same company so was deemed a safe confidente. And so every few nights I would go and stay with Lorraine and her four offspring – with my goddaughter Mabel donating her new bed to me complete with pink princess bedding. And then Lorraine and I drank wine together – which somehow doesn’t seem so bad as drinking wine alone. And Gracie, her second eldest said “do you two do anything except drink wine?” and so indignantly, we started going to ‘Pyscle’ (spinning in the dark!) together on a Tuesday morning before work to add to my extreme binge/purge summer. Or we baked with the kids and watched Johnny English. And we talked and talked about change and life and jobs and kids. So by the time I did announce the sad news to my team almost three weeks later – I had ‘worked through it’ as they say in the US. And I hope, in doing so, I was able to help them face this enormous change with a sense of strength and calm (and a weight loss of about half a stone!)

And then finally, I got to go back to my boys and my French home – where everything is always alright and Arthur asked if this meant I would have to give my iPad back and wether he would still get to go to X Factor. And Sebastian wondered what would happen to Tanita my Creative Director’s giant pencil that sits on her desk. And I realised that none of it really matters anyway except having amazing friends and family around you and a sense of self outside of what you do for a living. Most of all, I realised that what this actually marks is a new chapter. A new adventure and that can only be a good thing right?

“Just when the caterpillar thought their world had ended. They became a butterfly…” Anon



Renovation project Number 2 (meanwhile back in London..)

The French House had taken shape and over the last three years we’d achieved a huge amount. Sometimes I had to sit and look at old photos of dirty concrete floors and rats nests just to remember how bad it had been. The early days where we huddled around the fire in the kitchen with only an acroprop for company! And a bizarre Flinstones grotto!



Yes there is still a lot to be done and we’ve even had to redo certain rooms like the downstairs guest room here (am planning a big kitchen makeover in 2015 – watch this space!) but essentially it was comfortable and clean. We’ve even listed it for rent on Air BnB (link here )

And yet, about a year after starting the French house project, we decided to buy a house of similar disrepair in London. So now when we arrive back at our London house after the fourteen hour drive home – we leave a relatively nice, comfortable, clean french home – back to a dirty, ugly, building site of a house! Truly it’s basic. And the speed of fixing up our London renovation project is nowhere near the pace of France. We are seasoned renovators (Peter has done up and sold three or four houses over the last few years) so we thought we should have a go at a large family home that came on the market on our street in London. Actually it was three bedsits – with an external staircase to access the top floor one. In the early days of living there we had to go outside just to go to bed.


But as it was over four quite large floors, we saw ‘potential’ the renovators dream! Large, high ceilinged rooms, room to expand out on all sides, separate sitting rooms for us and the boys, four bathrooms and a huge garden by London standards. (Non London readers, anything others than paving slabs of 10×10 is quite a luxury)

So reader, we bought it and moved in. And three years later we don’t seem to have done much at all compared to our French House. Maybe because when in France we have little else to do whereas in London combined work lives and social lives suck our time like a Dr Who vortex!

It has taken so much longer to do anything as we are living among it all. Just moving all the wiring in the four floors of corridors and replacing skirting and architrave around doors (oh and taking all doors off to sand and repaint) has taken a year. But recently we turned a bit of a corner as the boys bedrooms in the loft are almost finished and work has begun on their top floor bathroom.
I have no before photos as these rooms simply didn’t exist – they were one big attic room we had a loft conversion company come in and build out to both sides.

I let the boys get involved with colour choice and tried to make some fun elements for both of them. They each have a sofa bed from

Seb has a magnetic board with minecraft magnets so he can put up posters etc while Arthur has a whole wall made of cork tiles to pin his various Dr Who related stuff.


magnet board made with a bit piece of MDF and magnetic paint



The boys both wanted shades of blue so for Arthur it was a ‘almost teen friendly’ Hague Blue from Farrow and Ball. And for Seb Borrowed Light – “it’s grey” he wailed when it was done, but I persuaded him that no it was blue, very pale blue. I have promised him an orange cupboard eventually to brighten things up!

And although it is small steps and the rest of the house is really, still huge amounts of work, the progress we made over the years in France means I KNOW that we can do it and one day it will be nice. I just have no idea when that day is!!!

Home alone…again


I’ve written a feature for Red magazine next month. It’s about my single summers. The up-to-four weeks of every year since we bought La Maison Blanche that I spend home alone in London while my boys get fattier, dirtier and scruffier in France. Like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys refusing to grow up, ignoring the inevitable start of another academic year. One day that summer will be the summer before GCSEs or A Levels. One summer, in the not too distant future, it will be the last summer before leaving home….oh who am I kidding? This generation are NEVER leaving home…
Anyway, this summer (or rather, last summer, because, blog readers I am still a year behind real life! Keep up at the back there…) I had less time home alone than usual but it was, as ever, a combination of whooooppppppeee free, free at last. And the odd evening of meal for one, Coronation St on catch up and sleeping like a starfish in my super king.
The funny thing about being alone is that I never seem to get any time to myself. My friends book me up so that I have something planned almost every day and night. While weekends become a blur of all day drinking at Shoreditch house – and I can at times exist for days on nothing more nutritious than wine and peanuts. I pointed out to a childless friend for whom this is the norm all year round – that perhaps the real reason we have children is just to safeguard our livers.
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So when we ARE reunited – we go out and drink rose. And appreciate our marriage, our partnership and we heartily recommend that all couples spend a bit of time apart. It makes you realise how nice it is being together.

The way you make me feel…..texture, fabric and other touchy feely stuff around my French House

Bonjour! Je suis en France. And as per usual this means blogging takes a back seat to complete relaxation. Eating and relaxation in fact. As we speak I am feasting on cherry compote with fromage frais with one hand and writing this with the other. One of the great joys of being in France is eating – as much and as highly calorific food as I can. 

The other joy is wandering around, looking at all my finished projects. Taking a little mental walk down memory lane. And I thought I might take you on a stroll with me on this blog post using textures and fabric to tell the stories. Or at least to kick start them.



lumpy and bumpy

This is our hallway. Smooth huh? The walls in La Maison Blanche are not smooth. They are in fact the exact opposite. Craggy, lumpy, bumpy, like wall cellulite in fact – everywhere. And although some were so bad we had to replaster them, most. like this have been painted over and left. Lumpy. Peter insists this adds to the house’s character. I’d truthfully like to plaster them all up a bit and at least make the edges a bit neater but as he’s the one doing the work I can’t really do much about it. This wall is half way up the first flight of stairs and I bought the light in one of the first Vide Greniers we ever went to. There is a door on this wall. I have never been beyond it. There are lots of these in our house – doors leading to attics – which sound like romantic, hidey holes for children to play in. If CS Lewis were writing this blog post we’d all be in there discovering secret lands and faraway adventures. But sadly – they are just dark, cobwebby attics probably full or rats or bats or both. 


Who IS the fairest of them all?

Marble plus mirror in my bedroom. A very early purchase and for bigger pics of the bedroom cick here. This mirror came from my favourite shopping destination – ebay…..and I have always wanted one just like it. They are however very expensive – but this one wasn’t because it was broken. There were a couple of pieces of glass which had fallen off the mirror so the vender couldn’t charge much for it and no one else wanted it. And when it arrived, Peter simply glued the broken pieces back on and voila. My dream mirror. The marble fireplace in our bedroom is the original fireplace and very grand. But our only attempts to actually light a fire in it ended in us being smoked out of our bedroom, eyes streaming, gasping with smoke inhalation as opposed to sitting gazing into each other’s eye’s romantically in front of it. 


Star Studded

These are our dining chairs. Which Peter upholstered himself. Each morning he likes to get up early. I am never sure if this is simply a way of getting time alone before everyone else gets up or wether his body clock is wired differently to everyone else in the world . If he’d been married to Margaret Thatcher they’d have been always bumping into each other at 4am – her deciding wether to  defend small island nations, him wielding an upholstery gun. Anyway, I love these chairs. I barely let people sit on them I love them so much. And they populate my dining room which is the best room in the house.


Le Metro tile

And now my own personal homage to the Metro Tile. The budget conscious renovators best friend. Which is lucky because I love them. And if you can’t use a Metro tile in France then where can you (unless of course these tiles were so named because of the Newcastle Metro – whay aye) These ones came from Topps Tiles and we drove them over in the back of our estate with the back end dragging along the motorway! I think the real trick to make metro tiles more interesting is to get a coloured grout. In Jamie Olivers Italian near us they have orange grout in between which looks really cool. Though taking loo inspo from restaurants can be dodgy as before you know it you’ve ended up with your home looking like Nandos! 


Charlton Hessian

These are my home made curtains. I am very proud of them as I’d never made curtains before. If you look really closely it turns out I’ve attached the linings to the wrong side so the hems are actually on the outside but by the time I’d done this, sewing three metres along both sides and a metre along the top and bottom, I couldn’t face redoing them. And who will look THAT closely anyway. The fabric I bought on ebay for next to nothing as well as the lining fabric. And the whole project took me about a week to complete. I’ve bought the fabric to do the same for the sitting room but can’t even face getting the sewing machine out of it’s box. It might be easier just to go to John Lewis like any normal person.


yeeeeeee haaaaa!

My final fabric/wallpaper is this and features Seb as it IS his room. I have always loved this cowboy fabric from Cath Kidston. When we bought out first flat together in Balham, London, I bought some of this in the oilcloth fabric to cover some old chairs Peter had retrieved from a skip for our kitchen. I then painted the kitchen to match with green walls and cream cupboards but I had never managed to persuade Peter to use it any more liberally than that. Until now. Perfect for a boys bedroom although terrifyingly already feeling a little juvenile for my growing boys. Arthur has in fact moved out of this room now and into his own more minimalist designed den. And I can’t help but feel that in a year or two Sebastian won’t want cowboys on his walls anymore. And so it is with all children’s room decoration – it serves to remind you that they aren’t children forever. And those sheep cot mobiles, designers guild cat print curtains,  and toy wooden forts are but for a fleeting point in time. A time that YOU appreciate far more than they ever will which is no doubt why we spend so long decorating children’s rooms. Mine are happy if they get to put a Harry Potter posted on the wall (posters are strictly forbidden in our home, as are cartoon related duvet covers) which one day, when they leave home they can do. Until then its cowboys and farrow and ball paint colours. But from the look on Seb’s face he SEEMS happy enough with his wallpaper. Until he’s 13 and decides he wants to paint it all black anyway.