Teaching friends how to play Pooh Sticks


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.

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.


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.

When kids decorate


The kids were so little when we moved in, the house looked even bigger!

I hope by now I’ve made it clear that this is a family project. One of our main reasons for buying the house was to give our kids a wealth of new experiences in a different country. Of course they will probably grow up hating France, French food, us, broken old houses and DIY. They’ll most likely rebel by moving into a new build Barratt bungalow one day full of wipe clean leather furniture and surround sound like Patrick Bateman in American Pyscho. But until then, we hope, this is to be an enriching time, learning how to order mint ice cream in restaurants, eating steak tartare and spending their time building rope swings and dens (well for the forty minutes a day they can be dragged off their nintendos). One of our greatest frustrations with this project is the distinct lack of excitement shown by the children towards it. ‘House in France? Yeah whatevs’ seems to be the general mood. Perhaps all children are like this about things of which they know no different. Maybe the Beckham kids say things like ‘houses in LA, bucks, France, London, whatevs.’ Suri Cruise probably doesn’t say ‘oh goody another pair of red patent tap shoes – you are so kind to me Daddy’ and so it is that mine think owning a wood, two fields and having chickens on your land has the excitement factor one would normally associate with getting an extra piece of broccoli for your tea.
Things they do love about France though – vide greniers and the cheap plastic tat they can amass there, eating out, cooking in, mint ice cream and Madeleines. Add to that, a stripey hammock, rope swings, orangina and our local pizza place called Restotop and its not all bad!


Arthur discovered the best way to cut onions…..


Even the hammock had a breton theme

But there was the issue of their bedroom. Not used to sharing, the boys were bunked in one room here in France. Not due to lack of space but moreover as the house feels so big it would be weird to have them too far away from us. Oh and the fact that as most rooms were uninhabitable it was easier to focus on doing up one room rather than two. The room we’d earmarked for them looked like this


The worst thing about this room? It’s pink!

And this is AFTER our friend James had been over with Peter and stripped off the old, peeling, dirty wallpaper declaring it ‘unfit for purpose’! The boys didn’t seem to care. They loved being given free reign to make a mess, not make their beds and draw on the walls.
We suggested that perhaps they choose a colour for the walls (as at home I insist upon subtle shades of non child friendly grey or khaki for their rooms – they dream of Ben 10 duvet covers and Disney related bedroom stuff). They chose – RED! A bright, fire engine red. Ketchup colour in fact. I persuaded them into the idea of combining this with Cath Kidston cowboy wallpaper and bedding and we struck a deal! A giant wooden cupboard was bought at Emmaus a kind of permanent car boot sale near Pau. This could house all the rubbish they’d bought at vide greniers and the various toys they brought over the years from home. These toys serve to remind us how quickly they grow up as there are Charlie and Lola books now deemed ‘lame’ still stored inside the Emmaus cupboard. A moshi monster treehouse that neither boy wants to play with any more but we save for when baby Mabel comes to visit. And a wooden toy railway that looks great in photos but truthfully I’m not sure anyone ever played with it! Now they have iPods. They FaceTime their friends. They watch films on their laptops. But in those early months when we had no wifi or broadband we all survived.


A cupboard full of plastic tat

We played endless games of monopoly, blackjack or took a trip back to the 70s with Mastermind – a game my grandparents used to own and which I bought again at a vide grenier and my kids love.
And their room is a brilliant combination of old and new. A cornucopia of funny old toys and games and when I snuggle them up there in the evenings, when they shout ‘wrap us up like sausages in our blankets’ it’s like being in the 1970s only without the bad sitcoms and green cross code man.
And their room is so lovely, they’ve forgotten to complain about sharing. And I rather like their ketchup coloured wall. It’s no farrow and ball but I rather like it.


walls the colour of ketchup


Is that another IKEA HEmnes drawer unit? Why yes it IS!


Spidey ‘sensed’ someone’s wife had made them throw that trophy away. Somehow WE ended up buying it!


Cath Kidston cowboy paper – yeeee ha


We ran out of wallpaper!!!! We have enough now to finish it but haven’t got round to it yet….