Meanwhile, back at Summer 2013


Sunshiney home

I’ve veered off on a tangent. Which is what happens when I actually get to our french house – I want to show you all pictures in real time but if that happens I’ll lose my train of thought and the narrative bits of our story. Yes its finally nice, we can sit in one room and be warm and dry while others sit in a different room and concurrently experience warmth and dryness. Fancy that?

Its the house we always dreamed of and in Summer 2013 we threw open the doors, shutters and all other apertures of La Maison Blanche to a host of fabulous guests. I spent the longest I ever have over there with my husband and sons (regular blog readers will have read tales of my separate summers but it not click here .) And despite my usual bouts of ‘oh god why can’t I be in some sort of organised resort with a kids club’ woes – this summer was the summer I saw the value of our french folly.

Iphoto is a wonderful tool – you can spend hours just flipping through a visual history of key moments of your life (daubed with a healthy selection of selfies/foodstagrams and comedy videos if you’re anything like me!) and, if you’re like me, you can sit back and say WOW my life looks bloody amazing! If looking at other’s facebook feeds can sometimes make you want to slash your wrists in terms of self underachievment (just this week I had people posting everything from first class flights to Barbados, to Billie Piper at their new year’s eve party!) Then my iPhoto feed serves to provide just the opposite.
A quick scroll through one year of photos makes you realise just how much we pack into our lives. And how many amazing people wander in and out of it along the way, family, friends and this summer some porcine friends too.


Ride on time!

And so it is with summer 2013 – an iPhoto scan shows the White Family on our own having fun, the white family plus my parents having jazz fest fun, the white family and possibly one of our all time fave guests – baby Io having fun and finally us plus The joyous Murray Leslie family having fun with rope swings, camels and more. So really it’s several blog posts to come. But here’s the visual whistle />


Gran and Grandad!


When kids do daycare


Kids, animals and other stuff

Oh and then there was the arrival of Dawn and Cora….. But that’s definitely another blog post!


Two little pigs

New Sitting Room makeover pics


Le Grand Salon!

I’m here! In my lovely French home – and you know what? It is really lovely. Could be warmer but with fires in all the rooms and extra blankets for the boys (and cashmere bed socks for me!) we can snuggle down.
And today when the pompiers came round for their annual donation (in return for which you get a calendar full of fire warden activities – recovery position anyone?) we were able to invite them in for the first time since we moved here. They decreed our salon ‘tres jolie’ and although it’s not finished yet I thought you might like to see some pics.
And if you don’t mind I’ll get back to playing Mastermind, listening to Plan B (and explaining to Sebastian why it’s Ok for HIM to use the F word?) and drinking red wine from our cubivin!! Oh and waiting for Uncle Richard and Stuey to arrive!!


Fake Christmas tree (for emergencies such as these – you try finding a tree on December 27th)


Drop down lights from graham and green, sofa ikea ektorp


Chandelier for 1 euro (need a bigger one but this will do for now)

Serge to the rescue…


This is the longest I’ve ever been without visiting La Maison Blanche. In three years of owning it we have always visited at least every five or six weeks. At the moment its been nearer 15 since we packed up and shut that great big front door for the last time. We know its OK, because Serge has his beady eye on it. Serge is our neighbour who lives across the road in two rooms of his quite large house. Who brings us wood on his tractor and mows our lawns but refuses to take payment for any of it because we are his ‘les Amis’. And woe betide anyone who tries to mess with the house of ‘les Amis’. He once called us in a grand panic at 2am in the morning. Peter answered his mobile having seen ‘Serge’ flashing on the incoming screen with a large measure of trepidation – the only two times anyone else has called at that time of night it was Peter’s family with the news that his father and subsequently his mother had died. No good news ever comes at 2am in the morning.

It was though in this case simply an incident with ‘les jeunes’ or YOOF as we would say. It turned out that Serge’s panicked ramblings at 2am were simply to tell us that some young people had kicked our gate. And then….. We asked? Well, nothing it turned out, they’d just drukenly wandered on to the next gate to kick.
I’m telling you this to underline how lucky we are to have Serge and his beady eye. Without him we would worry all the time because our house is our pride and joy. And as we’ve now got so much sweat equity in it, the thought of anything going wrong is horrifying.
So we give Serge a lot of love, parcels of English cheese (like snow to Eskimos) and British royal paraphanalia. He has a Baby George commemorative biscuit tin coming his way this Christmas which he will love. And Peter promised we’d put an extra latch on that gate.


How DID we end up with a house in France?

As I’ve got quite a few new followers, I thought it might be worth reposting one of my early posts about buying our house. Why did we do it? How did we do it? Again, why did we do it? So here is the story of La Maison Blanche ….

front door Photo0053 Photo0059


So how DO you end up buying a house in a tiny hamlet in SW France? Well this involved a lot of ‘bookmark bar dreaming’. You know the thing. You see a house you love for sale by trawling french property websites, you drag it onto your bookmark bar and then open it every now and then to see if its still for sale. Imagine yourself there throwing big dinners for friends, cooking Confit of Duck, wafting in the backgarden picking lavender. Chances are though, it still will be for sale because most tumble down French property is difficult to sell. Only crazy English people buy falling down, in need of attention, French properties. So in the current market they can sit there for sale, getting more and more run-down as months go on. Which is what happened here. Until, two unconnected events took place.

1) My mother-in-law, Joan, died. She was 82 years old and had lived a wonderful full life. There were stints in Africa as a midwife in the 50s, dodging doodlebugs in WW2 in London delivering babies and then going to Canada as part of the war effort where she met her husband, Lee. After returning with Lee and his children from a previous marriage to her home in Devon, she went on to give birth to my husband Peter and his sister Ruth. They, finally settled in Bristol and had several grandchildren. These children and grandchildren, including my husband Peter were left a nice sum of money when she died (her husband Lee had died in 2000) for which we were very grateful but had no plans to spend impulsively.

2) Peter did a bit of ‘bookmark bar dreaming’ clearing out. He decided to revist all those properties he had optimistically bookmarked and have a REALITY check. There was no way we could afford any of them even with a little windfall. Except…. As he got to a Maison Du Maitre in the Haute Pyrenees with it’s own 1 acre wood, 6 bedrooms and bright yellow (albeit falling off) shutters, he noticed the price had been reduced by almost 150000 Euros! Zut Alors – this would never happen at Foxtons… Miraculously, this home was now within our grasp.

And so, in May 2009 with the children left at home with my parents, Peter and I flew to Pau to meet up with a slightly smarmy (probably slightly desperate) estate agents called Patrick at a property that had been on his books for over 2 years. We fell in love straight away. We saw beyond the nicotine stained, EVERYTHING, mould encrusted bathrooms, ceilingless and floorless rooms with rats and mice living there. What we saw was an enormous house where we could holiday with our friends, a huge barn that we could spend a lifetime renovating long after the house was finished, a wood where the family could build a treehouse and a local village with restaurants that served soup, salad, steak and chips followed by creme brulee and a carafe of red wine for just 12 Euros each. And so reader, we put in an offer…..

The epic Interview

My son blogged today too!!


Hi, so this week I interviewed an actor from two of the Doctor Who episodes. His name is Damian Samuels he played Arthur Lloyd(cool name!!) in The empty child and The doctor dances. Here is the interview

 What was it like in Doctor Who?
It’s always exciting getting an acting job, this felt like just another job at first, as Doctor Who hadn’t been on the televison for years and so there were very low expectations of what it might be like. It wasn’t until I was doing the table read ( The first readthrough of the script) with all the actors that I suddenly realised how amazing this could be. Christopher Ecclestone was incredible with Billie Piper and it was Captain Jacks first ever episode. It was all Steven Moffats first ever Doctor Who script so there was real excitement in the room and you felt like you were…

View original post 376 more words

The Grand Salon (or, how we finally painted our sitting room!)


Cosy huh?

When we first bought the ‘house in france’ one of it’s biggest selling points was the sheer size and scale of the rooms. Majestic one could say. Certainly compared to London living where if you can afford a three story shoebox with a postage stamp sized garden its considered living in Versailles! And the french house had rooms the size of entire floors of our London home. And so it was with the ‘Salon’. Too grand to be called a ‘sitting room’ and the word ‘lounge’ brings me out in funny lumps n bumps and certainly not a ‘drawing room’ as we had no intention of withdrawing to it – in fact we intended to spend hours of our time there so we plumped for the french – ‘salon’ when referring to it.

Initially the salon didn’t have a floor. It had rats running through it eating up the broken floorboards and so we closed the doors and avoided it at all costs. But once we’d had some people come in and concrete the floors (sorry Ratty – maybe they’re still there like Han Solo – frozen in time or people in Pompeii having their tea when the volcano hit) we started to use the biggest room in the house.


a bit cosier…

And for Christmas each year we built big fires and had the tree and a couple of sofas thrown in to sit on. The mid century modern sofa eventually ended up in the kids sitting room (see blog post here) but the big squishy grey sofa will remain. It came from IKEA and is a bargainous EKTORP – the cheapest one they do. But as it’s already had children peeing on it and paint splattered over it as part of project redecorate I think it was a wise move not to go for Parker Knoll!

It is essentially the last room we need to decorate and in some ways I’m worried about where my blog will go once I’ve shown you this!!! Although we still have sub rooms and hallways and barns and exteriors to make over. So don’t abandon me just yet.

Once Peter had plastered the most damaged bits of wall (and the Kings Speech style peeling paper had finally been removed) we started painting. I’d had an idea that I wanted this room to be pink. I cant even remember why I got this in my head but I must have seen a pink sitting room in some back issue of Living Etc or some such. And Peter insisted I get an Earthbourne paint as they are clay based and better for our damp walls. So THIS is what I plumped for being the only pink they had at the time. And then we started painting. And we made the kids help…


Who needs kid’s clubs?


Pink to make the girls wink

And it was VERY pink. And we used two whole tins of relatively expensive paint.


our brush with pink

And then it was almost finished and……. I HATED it. It looked like a 10 year old girl’s bedroom. All it needed was some White Company bunting and a One Direction poster and that’s where we’d be. And I knew that I could not leave it like that no matter how much our expensive, clay based paint had cost. So we went back to the drawing board. And the quest for the perfect pink began again…… like Indiana Jones hunting for the Holy Grail – I was looking for my dream paint colour. The quest was on…

mad about matt

My son, Arthur has started a blog – he is a bit depressed as no one has visited it yet- I’ve told him it’s a long game in blogs….



Ok so in this post i’m going to talk about people’s favourite doctors. So in the comments leave your favourite doctor and why  . My favourite doctor is Matt Smith because he is always really exited when he meets new life forms and how he reacts to problems. For instance when he was playing chess with himself he used intellect to win back his body which was epic. Plus in 2011 while we were at a music festival(latitude), i met him in person and he was really kind. So to recap please leave a comment about your favourite doctor .Thanks see you next week.

View original post

We’re board!


Game on!

When we bought La Maison Blanche – we naively thought that bringing our children to rural france for every holiday would mean shared rustic experiences. There were to be no televisions in the house, so for at least ten weeks a year they’d be unable to watch that god awful rubbish on the Disney Channel involving the same rotating five actresses all bleating on about “dating and like, friends and like, totally relating…”

Instead, we thought, smugly, we would all sit around and talk. They’d ask questions about our lives before them – show interest in the history of us, the house or themselves. Oh no. We might occasionally get ‘WHAT?!!!*** THERE WAS LIKE NO MOBILE PHONES WHEN YOU WAS YOUNG….THAT SUCKS’. HOW DID YOU, LIKE, INSTAGRAM?’ But of course these days you don’t need a TV to watch, er, TV (yep thanks netflix and youtube). So electronic items have seeped into our french life. And access to moving pictures is unrestrictable as Peter needs his computer there to do his work and I need my ipads to play Candy Crush Saga. So it began with the children then using them to watch films. And then came the Olympics so we worked out a way to live stream via to watch the Opening Cermony and so before you know it you’re right back to where you began with constant, 24 hour, TV access.


Anyone know what the thing behind me does though? Plays big black plastic disc things…

But if the battle against electronic items is a losing one – the war is being won slightly thanks to our enormous and ever increasing board game selection shown above. In London we may occasionally get the Monopoly out for a long, slow, torturous game which always ends with Seb banging his fist on the board and sending houses flying when he is losing, but that’s it. Apart from games of cards or endless pokemon card exchanging that I still don’t understand. However, in France just the lack of a TV seems to encourage game playing. And trips to Vide Greniers always result in some classic being bought in another version french or multilingual (I once found the French equivalent of a Countdown game)

My best ever buy is Mastermind – a 70s classic based around the TV show but nothing to do with the TV show. You have to work out the sequence of coloured pegs your opponent has selected. If you’ve got right colour, right place – you get a black peg. Right colour, wrong place – a white peg. Sounds wild right? Well it is.


Mastering your mind



And who could fail to be excited by french versions of English classics. French Trivial Pursuit played late, drunkenly at night can keep adults entertained for hours “c’est Vanessa Paradis?” Pretentious nous? And even Monopoly when played with french properties somehow seems just that bit more exciting. Occasionally we even get to the end of a game without anyone storming off in a huff of bankruptcy. Or reaching for the remote control to find out what’s happening to Austin and Ally.

La Rentree


what do you mean you can’t wear that hat to work??

It might be time for a post about my London life. I’ve kept these to a minimum as I wanted to paint a picture of bucolic, shabby chic life in France. But its important to show the dichotomy I think every now and then. If only to underline why I love being at my French home so much. It really is an escape from a slightly bonkers London life I have inadvertently created for myself and my family. A life that on paper/instagram/facebook looks quite, well, glamorous. With not that normal stuff happening involving celebrities and fancy clothes. But the truth of the matter is – its really just stuff. Normal stuff to me and my boys, maybe not normal to others but no better for it. My happiest times, hand on heart are hanging out in France where the most exciting person I run into is Madame Bertini next door with the news that her hens have laid fresh eggs – whoo hoo pain perdu all round!!

The French have an expression ‘La Rentree’ which is that time in September that we would call ‘back to school’. And the end of my summers really do feel like that. Flip flops are abandoned in favour of uncomfortable heels, I make a trip to Hershesons to get my roots done, nails re shellaced, and I try and remember what the hell I wear to work (cos it isn’t denim cut offs and a silly straw hat – that much I do know – there is an entire gallery devoted to what I wear to work here on should anyone care!)

You can’t cycle to the river in those heels!

So first up this Rentree was London Fashion Week which passes in a blur of shows, parties and stressing about where you’re sitting and what you’re wearing. And for the Top Shop Unique show Seb came along…..


Seb takes to the FROW

And then to Arthur and I went to X Factor and as, over the years I’ve got to know the lovely presenter of Xtra Factor, Caroline Flack pretty well, she swept us off to the dressing room area to meet Olly Murs – see, I told you this is no normal back to school September for the White Family….


Olly where’s your shirt??

But the thing that meant this year was to be probably our most exciting London Rentree yet was the still, arm pinchingly ‘really?’ fact that Uncle Richard landed a place as a celebrity dancer on Strictly Come Dancing. He was in talks quite early on, so we had all been sworn to secrecy and pledged not to tell the children as they might then blurt it out at school. But in our first weekend back in London we went over for lunch and it was confirmed. Uncle Richard would be donning sequins and walking down those stairs to dance under a glitterball on primetime Saturday night TV.

What would Serge have to say about THIS?

It may sound silly as we are all used to Uncle Richard being on TV – he’s been a fixture on the GMTV then Daybreak sofa for over a decade. Arthur has even made his own GMTV appearance several years ago where he played on his Nintendo on the sofa only looking up to say ‘Hi Mum, Dad and Sebastian” while Ben Sheppard tried to talk him away from Super Mario Bros – unsuccessfully. But we sort of forget that Uncle Richard is actually, well, famous. But now it was unavoidable. This is Saturday night TV – that families huddle around their TV to watch and Ladbrokes take bets on. Once the boys could tell people at school their teachers were excited, dinner ladies over the moon and my various god-daughters and all our friends pledged to wave goodbye to Saturday nights out and instead sit on the phone voting for Uncle Rich!

As it turned out he did much better than any of us expected (sorry Rich… but you know we figured three or four weeks tops) and was still there sparring with Craig Revel Horwood by the time the dancers and their celeb partners get to go to Wembley and so I went too. You can see me on TV sitting behind Lee Mead, Denise Van Outen’s husband. And as luck would have it, this also became the week Richard was voted out. Luck because he had done so well and it was lovely that I was there for his final week and a huge glitterball last dance. In fact, there was nothing to do but celebrate.


Just the three of us

He’d done amazingly well, but the end of his Strictly run meant we had our Uncle Richard back for Sunday lunching and Friday nighting (as his training schedule had pretty much taken him out of our lives for the best part of six weeks) and so, along with his other godson and his family who luckily we’re super close to (hi Vicky!!!) we went out for a big, long, slightly drunken Sunday lunch to celebrate our own familial Rentree.


Strictly back with the godsons!


How to build a treehouse!


A few months earlier, we’d all ventured as a family to a large house in Northumberland for two friends’ joint fortieth birthday. A stunning, enormous country home with tartan wallpaper, monks’ seats, priest’s holes and presumably some agnostic architectural features too. It was so far north that other party guests spoke of nosebleeds, needing passports etc etc but for me, it was about thirty minutes from my childhood home. I grew up in Northumberland but rarely go back, so despite my southern friends’ initial reluctance, I was quite proud to be able to show them the white sand beaches, fifty foot sand dunes and incredible ruined castles (Hogwarts included!)


So while celebrating Dan and Louisa’s 40th in Northumberland, or more precisely, at this amazing house called Ellingham Hall with roughly twenty adults and twenty kids, we discovered they had a treehouse. And it looked like this….


So excited about this was Peter that he took lots of pictures of nuts, bolts, rope attachments and stair formations. Was he planning a Christian Grey style ‘red room of pain’? Thankfully not, he was instead planning to recreate said treehouse, in our woods, in France, this summer. And the boys would be helping.

Now one of the things that has always mystified (and impressed) me about my husband is his ability to build things. He just knows where nails and screws and things need to go in order to erect structures. He knows how to put pipes into things to get water to go to it or poo to go away from it. He also knows how to cut things at angles. This is the cleverest thing of all – AND I’m the one with the maths A Level (I’ve also got economics A Level though and my bank manager would surely scoff at that one!). And so it was with project tree house. He trotted off to Bricot Depot for wood and then started sawing things at angles, convinced that he knew in his head how this was all going to look. And the boys helped by passing him screws.

Or by pretending to saw their legs off, or my head off. And Peter grew tired of our lack of commitment to wood cutting at certain angles and basic construction techniques. So eventually we all went in and watched a film, leaving him, like Charactacus Potts banging and sawing away in the woods.



Come and look! He finally shouted. And we dutifully trooped out to see the framework all done so that it looked like the pic above. We all ooed and ahhed about how fabulous it was – Arthur momentarily looked up from his Nintendo to declare it ‘Epic’ and Sebastian tried to climb up it without a ladder.
“Ah no, just wait a sec,” said Peter, “I need to make one crucial adjustment to this nail here,” he continued, wielding his electric drill.
And then with one unscrew, we watched as plank by plank, it toppled to the ground, like those dominoe topplers who used to be on Roy Castles Record Breakers. Not a scrap of wood was left standing. The treehouse lay at our feet.

At this point I would probably have burst into tears and given up on the whole thing, but Peter simply shrugged and said it would be easy to fix – after all, the hard bit had been cutting all those angles. So he started again and with a couple of design based ideas from me it looked like this.

Apparently this is phase 1 which will be added to with other houses joined by rope bridges. One day I’m told it will be just like the one at Ellingham Hall. Trouble is, by then out kids will be in their late teens. Oh well maybe one day we’ll have grand kids!!