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!

What’s French for Christmas?

Joyed Noël obvs. Today’s slightly – ate too many mince pies, drank too much mulled wine – blog post is a lazy one. I thought you might like lots of lovely festive pics of La Maison Blanche at Christmas. I’ve blogged about previous festive seasons in France here and here and here but for an easy peasy tour of Christmas Chez nous – I’ve rounded up my fave pics. They go from Christmas number one to our most recent. And this year we’re off to France on Boxing Day…. I’ll be adding more pics then. Bonne Fete xx


A tree – dig it!


Children refuse my protestations for a ‘minimal’ tree


Yule fool!


Nom nom


Berry nice right?


Giz a kiss


Shabby…. But cosy


He’s been!


Finally get my minimal tree


A dining room fit for xmas

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.

Tidings of joy?


And before you know it, it was Christmas again – this time with partial heating AND my parents. In less than two years we had managed to take a house with no water, heating, walls or heart and turn it into a family home. A warm, bustling, family home for the first time in twenty years. With noisy meals, heated games of table football and plenty of rowing about what time bedtime is. Regular, family stuff.

We had learnt by now via neighbours a little about the enormous french family who once lived in what we, the White family now refer to as La Maison Blanche (see what we did there?) It was once home to a family called Mouledous. The Mouledous had eighteen children and they all lived in our house in Gensac. Like the old woman who lived in a shoe. There are now dozens of Mouledous scattered around the local area. There’s Dr Mouledous in Maubourguet who we took Seb to once for scurvy or some such Victorian illness for which Seb is a magnet.

Then, there is the genteel and elegant Francoise who is no longer a Mouledous by name as she married. She is a retired paediatrician and lives in a beautiful old windmill on the edge of our village and invites us over for aperitifs and speaks such posh French we can understand every word (unlike Serge our other neighbour, with whom a conversation is probably the French equivalent of a chat with Gazza). Francoise’ daughter is married to an English Dr and they live in Ealing with their three ‘English by birth but French by manners’ children.

Finally, the best Mouledous of all is Frank Mouledous. Frank recently returned to his family home in Maubourguet with his Hawaain wife to open up rural France’s, one and only California surf shack, burger bar. Called The California Kitchen it’s the kids fave place to eat in France – go figure – but it’s not just the enourmous burgers which are made from scratch and delicious. Or the american style cheesecake which Mrs Frank makes from scratch and is delicious. Its not even the fact there is no loo at the California Kitchen so you have to run across the street to the Town Hall if you need a pee which the kids think is way cool. the big draw of the California Kitchen is the fact that Frank is a big bear of a man in a chef’s outfit who talks to the kids in a French/American accent. He might have stepped out of one of those dreadful shows they watch on the Disney channel where the Dads are always overweight and bufoony, and the Mum’s naggy and in charge. And Frank always offers up free desert for which my children would happily follow the child catcher, never mind a man who could be Selena Gomez’s onscreen Dad!

So this Christmas we would have a family Christmas the like of which our still a bit shabby house had not seen for about twenty years or more. A Christmas to make the Mouledous memory proud.

Peter and the boys bought a huge tree that filled one ‘kings speech’ style corner of our salon. And because we now had a concrete floor in the salon, we moved all Christmas operations into it. The table we normally use in the garden with a white linen tablecloth to disguise the fact it’s an outdoor table. And mistletoe found in abundance in our woods.

And my mum had brought onesies for the boys from Primark so they could feel cosy when they got up on Xmas morning to see if he’d been. Which of course he had.


And we could begin to see how our holiday home could actually be a real home. With a sofa, (ikea natch) and lots of rooms that we could spread out into. We may not be a family of 18 but when all our new Mouledous friends pop round for a glass of wine and some cashews we hope they’ll be impressed. And perhaps explain where they all used to sleep! Because readers, next Xmas we’ve got our friends the Candys coming to stay and they are the closest thing to Mouledous we know as there are six of them! We may need a bigger goose!



Joyeux noël


Our first french christmas tree

Probably one of the best things I have ever done is spend that first Christmas in our French house. Freezing cold? Yes. No Christmas Downton? Sadly. Hand picked baubles from The White Company? Nope. Instead we had a goose with its head and gubbins still in place, a tree decorated with paper chains and some borrowed flashing fairy lights from serge. And we had Pere Noel. And he came, he came!


pere noel il arrive!

I LOVE Christmas. Always have. Family Christmas for me has always been a special day of eating, game playing, Xmas TV watching and more eating. My grandad would rally us all into a game which involved kneeling on a chair an throwing cards into his upturned, felt, trilby hat which always had a thick layer of Brylcream on the inner rim that was residue from his heavily brylcreamed hair. I think you scored points for getting the cards on the brim, in the hat or on a newspaper the hat was placed on. Sadly I can’t remember exactly. Which is one of the problems with family traditions – you’ve got to keep them going. My grandad died almost thirty years ago and I don’t think we played the trilby game ever again without him so now I can’t remember it.
So you make new traditions – and for us, the winter of 2011 meant all new FRENCH Christmas traditions. Starting with Lucy, our goose. At home we always had turkey despite Peters pleas for goose for the best part of a decade.


Lucy’s goose was about to be cooked


please note our 7 letter words!

I wasn’t sure I’d like it. My father with his limited food palette was absolutely sure he wouldn’t like it, and besides we ALWAYS have turkey I argued. So Peter was overruled. Until this year. My parents had decided it was too far and would be too cold (they were right) so elected to stay home which meant I was the lone voice of dissent against the goose. Peter’s gain was Lucy’s loss. As I had to work all the way up to Xmas eve, Peter and the boys went on ahead and I did the very civilised London to Pau flight from City Airport later on. This meant it was up to them to ‘get everything ready’….. A goose was bought from Leclerc and a tree procured with some help from Serge. The boys made paper chains to put on it and by the time I arrived there wasn’t much to do except get into a onsie (no photos!) and sit in front of the fire with our trusty scrabble board.

In France children leave their shoes out for Pere Noel to fill with chocolates. They also eat chocolate logs. In fact it is small miracle that French children aren’t all enormous given the vast array of chocolate options open to them. Some mornings I wake to find my kids eating pain chocolat, drinking chocolat chaud and about to top it all up with some bread and Nutella. If we lived here permanently I would have to treat chocolate with same strict quota rules I have I place for playing Minecraft.


logging on

And on Christmas Eve we made fondu and I added too much kirsch and the children said it tasted like ‘wine’ (let’s not phone Esther rant zen to report the fact my kids seem to know what wine tastes like – I’m guessing they recognise the smell) but I declared fondu and all it’s stomach filling, artery hardening properties a new White family christmas tradition.


The children began to realise how cheesy their parents were


yes we fon – DO!

I once read that children like traditions. They love it when as a family you do the same thing every year. Like my Grandad and his trilby. Well so it shall be with fondu even though no one seems to like it but me. And in years to come we even inflict it upon guests who don’t like it. I care not because ITS TRADITION!
And Pere Noel came. And he had had presence of mind to get English books like a Lego annual not in French. And he filled the shoes with chocolate (cos we needed a bit MORE chocolate) and he filled the Christmas sacks with presents. And Lucy was cooked the night before and reheated on Christmas Day (Jamie Oliver’s best day ahead goose recipe) and we all loved it. Even me. And we huddled around our tiny table in the kitchen (the only warm room) and we pulled crackers brought from England and put on silly paper hats. Sebastian even ate a sprout. A tradition he was not keen to continue but which we have made an annual ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of here bush tucker trial’ style experience.


Sebastian went crackers


Is that green stuff on my plate???

And there was no pressure to even get out of our pyjamas (tho we did) and there was no timetable. if we wanted to eat at 4 o’clock or 9 o’clock we could. And once we’d packed the children off to bed we got the scrabble set out again and didnt even mind that we were missing Christmas Day Corrie (well I minded a bit but I’d sky plused it back home anyway) And we wished it could be Christmas every day. Just like this one.


Happy Christmas!!!!