Be our guest (part 5)


We’ve got the keeeey…

I have lost my thread blog wise… (And frankly in all other aspects of my life most probably) but in particular I’ve veered off on a tangent chronologically. So let me take you back – cue wibbly, wobbly, blurred screen device…..

We are still in summer of 2013 – I warned you in a blog post here that this was a summer of many parts. Guests, fetes and pigs. And while I’ve told you of the arrival of Dawn and Cora here And talked of parental visits and holidays with baby Io, there were five guests still to come – the Murray-Leslies.

We first me the Murray-Leslies when they were just a couple back in the early 2000s via some mutual friends. And then we never saw them again…. well not really. Not properly until the same friends hosted a 40th birthday in Northumberland (which coincidentally was the inspo for our treehouse – see post here)

By now there were 5 Murray-Leslies and our eldest two children who hadn’t met before that weekend struck up a friendship and so as parents we did too – forced together by our children’s love of ipad film viewing. And after a great weekend we stayed in touch and met up occasionally for Greenwich Park fun and we introduced them to the joys of Nandos. And when Peter suggested with his customary hospital flourish that they come and visit us in France (The Murray-Leslies are seasoned travellers and have not one but TWO campervans parked up at their home so he figured they could cope with the shortcomings of La Maison Blanche) they said yes straight away. Great. I thought. And then I thought again. We didn’t know them THAT well. They seemed like very nice people but did we want them in our home for five days of summer? Was this going to be one of those occasions when you realise that two hours of Nandos and chat you can do – but FIVE whole days of someone else and their three kids???? But we prepared the house for their arrival and planned fun stuff to do….


Making the place look nice

When it comes to hosting guests it CAN be a tricky business. Over the last three years we have come to realise that everyone arrives intending to be brilliant guests. Our friends and family all love us and are good people so no one would intentionally irritate or annoy us when in our home. But at the same time, having a holiday home that is a holiday for others and then becomes a hotel for you can be a bit stressful no matter how brilliant the guests are. And so, over time, we’ve realised that as hosts it is up to us to make it as easy for guests as possible to be perfect guests… And so the Murray-Leslie’s were our test case. We specified that in return for staying at our home they had to plan, shop for and totally co-ordinate one kids meal and one adult meal. This helps ease our food bill and gives me the chance for one eve at least to sit in the garden drinking a gin and tonic with nothing else to do!


I never did finish Wolf Hall (I did finish the G&T tho)

And as it turns out, the MLs didn’t need any help on how to be good guests. They were actually some of our best (sorry everyone else, it’s not a competition although we are tempted to turn the kitchen blackboard into a Top Gear style league table…)
Not only did our kids all rub along brilliantly, but we adults did too. And as well as a delicious dinner cooked for us, Nick and Liz also insisted Peter and I go out on a date night while they looked after the five kids. They had read my imaginary manual of dream houseguest behaviour and delivered on every chapter.
(chapters include 1) thou shalt be stupid fun at all times 2) thou shalt have children who do not behave perfectly at all times thus making ours look bad 3) thou shalt go to the shops and buy a large bottle of Ricard then help us drink it all and dance in the kitchen 4) thou shalt embrace Peter’s broken garden tractor and tools with geniune (or faked) intrest.

And most of all – thou shalt make day trips to all our fave places even more fun…. Come back soon MLs!!





Seb was such a gracious loser to Lulu


Just an ordinary day out stroking a camel


How to train a llama




Ready to climb!!!


Where’s my water?


Tom Daley wouldn’t stand for these conditions!

Every holiday home needs a pool. Somewhere to focus the all day lounging. And in the first summer as the temperatures had soared in SW France we had made do with the above. It was even too small for Arthur but Seb rose to the mini challenge (he was behind on the pain chocolat consumption something he would make up for in years to come!)
We had, by now an exhaustive list of local pools of which there are many but they all only seem to open for one month of the year. When we first bought the house and had no hot water I had the genius idea of going to a swimming pool where we would be able to shower/swim/shower (any other combo would have resulted in us getting thrown out for environmental reasons). And so we spent days in our early first visit on a crazy wild pool chase – finding one on the Internet, driving for miles…. Finding it closed. We finally googled an indoor one in Lourdes where I hoped I could bathe in holy water and come out a size 8 but when we arrived at it – it was the one day of the week it closed. So much for spiritual enlightenment.

Even our little local French villages have amazing outdoor pools but they reserve opening for July and August only. I have no idea how the business model on this works but there is clearly little economic sense in opening before then.

We did eventually find one brilliant outdoor leisure complex in Mirande – only twenty minutes drive away which opens in June.


Ludina at Mirande

A combination of three pools, slides, table tennis tables, sunloungers and snack bar – we thought we’d hit the jackpot one June half term when we discovered it open. As we paid our entry fee though, the lady behind the counter eyed us suspiciously – “les anglais?” She posed. “Oui” we said excitedly. “Ah” she said as if that explained it all. We were the ONLY people in there. It was warm and sunny outside but not boiling and as soon as our pasty, white, english flesh hit the water we understood why we were solitary bathers. It was FREEZING. As with most french outdoor pools, there is no heating. So if you happen to be there at the beginning of the season when the water has had little sunshine on it – you may as well be in that bit at the end of Skyfall when Bond tussles under the ice with a bad guy. Obviously so as not to lose face we carried on regardless. The kids feel no cold anyway and were thrilled to have the slides to themselves and I shivered in the shallow end praying for it to be over.

Once it IS July or August though there are loads of great local pools to visit in Marciac, Vic-en-Biggore or Plaisance. And best of all in years to come we discover the Lake at Aignan which is a man made beach next to a gorgeous green tinged lake.


Aignan and on and on….

With slides and a rope park with zip wires and dangerous climbing feats to attempt. The kids love it.


Peter got ready for his bushtucker trial

And we love the amazing restaurant there with prawns the size of small aliens you can crack out of their shells and get covered in prawny juice but not care cos you are in a damp swimsuit anyway! Best way to eat seafood. Which makes sense really – perhaps that WAS the original purpose of the bikini – to eat seafood without spoiling your clothes!


Breton cover up you say?

Of course the easiest way to do some swimming in rural SW France is to build a pool. And this of would have been Peter’s preferred option. In fact he had plans to do this before we even had a kitchen or a bathroom but good sense prevailed – in other words I told him not to be so ridiculous. The truth is, if we did build a pool we could rent our lovely holiday home out for others to enjoy and charge more and find it easier to rent. And readers – I hope in the not too distant – real life we will be doing this, but you’re still a couple of years behind when we had not the finances or the time to do this. So instead we bought an INTEXimage pool which takes days to fill, is freezing cold at first and which Rebecca Adlington may find restrictive in terms of Olympic length swimming, but for our two boys it was ideal. At 15ft across there is plenty of room for them to swim about and for peter to float in a lilo with a bottle of beer in hand at around the 5pm mark. We have none of us worked out yet how to take chips n dips in there with us – but if we did it would be just about perfect.