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!!!


Oink oink


The Two Little PIgs

It’s time to talk pigs. My youngest son, Sebastian has for quite some time been nagging us about getting a dog back in London. We have said no. Many times. As husband, Peter points out, he would end up walking it, feeding it and picking up its poo. He is, funnily enough not that keen on this. Sebastian always insists that he would ‘help’ but until they have produced a dog in a lab that can use his paws to play Minecraft it’s unlikely that Seb’s interest would last beyond a fortnight.

When in France, one of his favourite things to do is visit our friends who own a camel farm (click here for their story – it is too long and complicated to explain again why they have camels in south west France!) and on an early visit there they showed us this year’s bumper crop of piglets!


Please can we have one????

And so his campaign began…. “Pleeeeease can we have one?” And both Peter and I quite liked the idea of some cute pigs roaming around the patch outside our back door (a ready made pig sty in fact), rushing up to us for food and strokes. Oh yes, it would be like Babe only without the talking. And Sarah who owns the Camel Farm insisted we take two (an only pig is a lonely pig) and that’s how we ended up with two pigs living at La Maison for the summer.

We had to decide on names. Ant n Dec? Kate and Wills? Eric and Ernie? Kim and Kanye were all ruled impossible as the only two pigs slow enough to let us catch them and take them home were girls. And so it was left to the children to suggest one name each and they chose…… Dawn and Misty!! Peter said they sounded like strippers and vowed to check the parental settings on our laptop when we got home to see just what the boys had been watching on youtube…. .but it turns out they were Pokemon references which he persuaded them to change to Dawn and Cora (marginally less ‘stipperish’). And the names stuck.


They ate like pigs!


Trotters Inc.

And for at least a couple of days, everyone was fully committed to feeding Dawn and Cora. A diet for baby pigs of bread, milk and sugar sometimes topped up with the scraps from our meals (anything as long as it wasn’t pork – inadvertent cannibalism, even among pigs was considered very dodgy). But unsurprisingly after about a week and the realisation that pigs don’t really DO much except eat and then run away into a dark corner squealing, the boys got bored of their porcine friends. And despite my efforts to get Dawn and Cora to interact with us, they remained terrified of anything except the Marks and Spencer Andante bowls filled with bread and milk (maybe they’d seen that Gordon Ramsay programme and knew their eventual fate at the hands of humans – maybe pigs are born with an inante fear of humans – like the rabbits in Watership Down!) Whatever their reasoning – they steadfastly refused to become our friends.

But at the end of the summer, when we packed them back into their box – after a most amusing game of ‘catch the squealing pig’ which involved us all falling over a lot in the mud until Peter finally pinned them down – we were a bit sad to see Dawn and Cora leave. Especially as we knew their fate and it wasn’t a lifetime of running about in fields growing old and fat. And the bowls we used to feed them for the previous six weeks wound up back in our human crockery rotation. And if I sat down to eat soup out of those Andante bowls, I’d find myself getting a bit emoshe – especially if it was ham and lentil….

Enter the Camels!


My BFF had the hump

Its amazing the cast of characters that weave in and out of your life at various times offering support,fun, mischief or simple friendship. Over the years, I’ve collected some AMAZING friends via school, uni, work, randoms I’ve met and can’t even remember how I met them. No story of our french house would be complete if I didn’t around this time bring in some eccentric and wonderful new friends – ‘The Birds’ (people whose surname is Bird but they own a CAMEL farm! Yes I know – I will explain all as we go along…)

I desperately wanted to avoid being one of ‘those’ english people in france. The ones who seek out fellow Brits to chat about marmite and hellmans mayonnaise or lack thereof. In my early twenties I lived in Australia and made the fatal error of only befriending english people. As a result, we sat around bars in Paddington, moaning a lot about how rubbish Australia was (yeah all that year round sunshine and those endless sandy beaches are a REAL downer!) It was only around the time I was leaving that I made an Australian friend (hi Kelly if you’re reading this) and got to see Syndey through some optomistic Aussie eyes and it was WAAAY more fun. But then I had to leave – I had a new job in LA and Kelly and I moved to Melbourne for a month (I don’t even remember why) and had a ball. And I’m facebook friends with Kelly fifteen years on. She has two boys too. And she’s had a nose job (hi again Kelly – don’t mind me telling everyone -it IS a great story). And the point of all of this is that you should seek to make friends with people from the country you’re living in not just jaded ex pats. however…


Alice was embarassed to hear she had a camel toe!

Back to The Birds and their camels. You probably want to know why there are english people living in rural france running a camel farm. You need answers right? Well sorry to disappoint but to explain away the Birds and their wonderful existence in Castlenau Rivier Basse would be far too simplistic. Suffice to say – WHY NOT?

I had heard of an animal park La Maison Des Chamaux only about 15 minutes drive away from our house and decided to take the kids there while Peter messed about with the septic tank or some such. I had no idea it was run by english people and expected nothing more than killing a few hours looking at some camels and encouraging my children to take an interest in animals beyond Patrick the starfish in Sponge Bob.

The park is tucked away off the main road and has jolly signs showing you where to park and which way to go. We arrived a little late for the demo which involved a lady wearing an ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ style hat and waving a stick at some llamas while children could lead them around the park and feed them. There were dozens of kids there transfixed and Sebastian couldnt wait to have a go at ‘training’ the llama. Arthur had already established that he ‘didn’t like animals’ and wandered off into the wood to do a nature trail. There were goats, pigs, sheep, llamas and the jewels in the Camel farm crown – three enormous camels wandering arms reach away in a field and river as if it were perfectly normal for them to be living in rural france not in a desert with Lawrence of Arabia on their backs.


I’m on a Camel Farm – get me out of here!

And as my kids learnt how to spin wool, make a goat jump over a fence and what the French for camel is, I got chatting to a nice Englishman called Paul. It turned out, he was Mr Maison des chamaux and the lady with enthusiasm you could bag and sell, leading the llamas around in the IACGMOOH hat was his wife Sarah. He mentioned that he was an electrician (as well as running a camel farm – camels need lights right?) and as I currently had two sockets servicing my entire house, my ears pricked up. He ended up coming over to help Peter with our wiring, inviting us back to sample the joys of the local ‘cubivin’ and to properly meet Sarah when she wasn’t knee deep in llama poo and we loved them right away. They have pet pigs who sometimes live in their house, a plentiful supply of red for the grown up guests accompanying the kids we bring over for animal feeding, and a cheery voice at the end of a phone every time we arrive in France. The Maison des Chamaux has become somewhere we visit early on during each trip to our french house. the kids are desperate to see JAh JAh the goat, who they fed from a bottle when he was born and who now is a large goat with horns, whose main aim in life is to eat all the food he can. Like goat vs food with JAh JAh in the Adam Richmond role. They love the Bird boys, Elliot and Oliver who are two of the most polite boys I’ve ever met – proving that its not just ‘French children who don’t throw food’ but also ‘English children brought up in France who don’t throw food’ though, they do love to play on an x box.

And the Birds are totally immersed in local French life. Their kids go to local schools, their animal park is famous in the local area (terry Wogan has a house nearby and goes about his Intermarche shopping without anyone noticing but Sarah is ‘la femme de la Maison des Chamaux’) and they’ve built a fabulously unusual life for their family in this rural part of SW France with the camels they rescued from slaughter somewhere in Russia. So they’re not ‘those type’ of English people either but I’m glad they made an expat-ception for us!
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