Full House!!


And then the Levetons arrived. And the house in France was as full as it had ever been during our ownership. We had six Candys, four Whites and now four Levetons. And everyone introduced themselves and although Candys and Levetons have met over the years they don’t know each other very well at all. And we all did lots of grand emotive ‘marvelous to see’ you sort of air kissing. And then Benny and Seb probably starting fighting as this is what they both love to do.

Best friend Petra has been best friend Petra (as opposed to Petra who works with friend Darren which is how she first entered my life) for twenty years or so. We met when we shared a house together back in the early 90s when she was a young accountant, I was an editorial assistant and we shared a diet of covent garden soup company soups and Jacobs Creek Chardonnay. Apart from our love of dry white wine we had little in common. It still baffles our other mutual friends that we were and are still so close. Petra is sensible. I am not. She has a big serious job these days doing something big and serious in a big bank. I edit a magazine about shoes and lipsticks. If we were in a Bronte novel, she would be that good and sensible older sister who wears her hair in a bun and marries well while I would have ringlets and be running off with some penniless, handsome soldier to Brighton! But best friends we are. And her daughter Cara is my god daughter and I aim to be a terrible influence on her and steer her into some highly inappropriate career in the media. In turn Petra is godmother to my eldest son Arthur and I expect her to return the favour and convince him to go into banking, earning loads of money so he can keep us all when we are old.

The Levetons were repeat guests and Cara was rightly a little miffed that ‘her’ room where she stayed last Easter had been given over to Mabel and Henry for the duration of their stay and she and brother Benny were squeezed into the guest room with their Mum and Dad. At least for the nights of overlapping guests. But to lighten the initial faux bonhomie I decided to take everyone to the La Maison Des Chameaux. Where better to bond than in a muddy field covered in Llama poo?

We can at La Maison Blanche provide wellies now for every size child as we’ve been collecting them over the years, so while the girls had style issues (tho Gracie, who has forged a pretty great fash-identity already by dressing in boys clothes 80% of the time was thrilled with her black pirate ones) we made like we were off to a festival.

And Sarah and Paul welcomed friends of La Maison Blanche to La Maison Des Chameaux with bras ouvert. Opening up, letting the kids feed the animals and showing them some basic goat and sheep training which for 8 kids who have been born and raised in central London is like seeing rhinos mating in the wild. And although my friends who between them edit a fashion magazine and do something important in banking are more used to lives that involve expensive restaurants and private hire cars (NB Petra stopped drinking Jacobs Creek a LONG time ago) in vertiginously high heels, they both threw themselves into a day of mud and camels.





And they have both dined out on tales of their friends’ friends who have camels and live in SW France. And the children tell their friends at central London day schools of the time they fed real, live, llamas and their friends probably have to google ‘live animal’ just to verify their existence.

And in the evening we invited Sarah and Paul from the Maison Des Chameaux to dinner and they brought their boys and Troy, an American 20something student who was living with them for six months to get some vet training. And Peter was able to bore/regale Troy with the story of how he was cut from the film Titanic. And Petra, Lorraine, Sarah and I were able to drink lots of rosé and dance in the kitchen. And the kids all watched a film or played table football until they were so tired they begged us to let them go to bed! And they were probably a bit bored of their rosé weary mothers saying what a “lurrvley time all of us togethuuur were haaaving”

Which left just Richard and Shona to arrive…. And for THAT We definitely needed a bigger cubivin!

Day tripping


We were still finding our way around the Gers. It’s a little known part of France without the glamour of Côte d’Azur or quaint picture postcard lavender fields of Provence. And as we’d bought the house without any advance planning or investigations we really had no idea what we would do for every holiday, for the rest of our lives in this part of France. Drink wine? Eat cheese? We did by now have French versions of trivial pursuit and scrabble but this alone could not fill four, two week holidays a year. We had a striped hammock for lazy day, book reading and we had explored a host of local eateries (in the early weeks with no heating or water, we ate out just to keep warm and use a nice toilet) our nearest restaurant is called Les 3Bs and serves everything with a nouvelle cuisine style whipped sweet potato mousse. Hake, pork or beef all with sweet potato mousse. And aguilettes de canard for the kids. But after almost a year in the house we could barely utter the words sweet potato without feeling billious. Besides, eating and drinking could not fill our days (well it could but we’d all be the size of pavarotti by the end of the holidays) so we began some local explorations. Here are our some of our favourite finds should you ever find yourself in the Haute Pyrenees or Gers.

1. The Maison des Chamaux
As I’ve already blogged, our friends Paul and Sarah Bird run a fabulous animal park only fifteen minutes drive away. And as we were now friends we could see camels and drink wine concurrently. This is not the same experience for paying visitors. But go anyway as its fun. Camels can be stroked, goats are jumped through hoops and wool is spun. My personal fave are the pigs. In mud. Happy as.

2. Biarritz
My craving for a slice of old school glamour led us on a day trip to Biarritz. A two hour drive but a place that makes me feel like I am actually on holiday. Chic people, posh restaurants and a faded glamour. The beach is big and if not directly in season, not too busy. We built sand castles, ate salad nicoise and wished we had more time to rent boogie boards.

3. Le petit train d’artouste
Discovered when our friends Ian and Alice came to stay. A good, almost two hour drive into the mountains, this is a cable car ride to a tiny train which then takes you on an hour long ride around the edge of a mountain. Best of all, along the way are dozens of beavers which being the only English people on the train we took great delight in shouting each time we saw one. Leslie nielson eat your heart out. At the end of the route is a great walk to the top of a mountain lake and a great sense of satisfaction that we had lung fulls of mountain air to flush out the night before’s peach schnapps marathon. Then, as bad fortune would have it, but giving us something to remember the day by, on the way back the train tombe en panne. We had to walk the final kilometre to the car park, dodging beavers as we went. But as we trudged wearily back to our car, we agreed that Beavers and Breakdowns would be the perfect title should Ian ever write an autobiography.
br />


4. The Marciac Jazz Festival
For which Uncle Ricard came to stay and did his best akerbilk impressions. The one thing guaranteed to send the children into spasms of embarrassment is uncle richard’s singing. Made worse only if I join in sonny and Cher style. Made even worse if the song in question can be sung ‘club singer style’. So imagine their horror and our joy to discover the local jazz festival which runs through the month of August features not only real, snare drum and trumpet style jazz, but also, New Orleans style jazz bands in the town square where you can all sing and dance along. The village of Marciac is taken over each night for a month by tented restaurants, bars, ice cream vendors and jazz bands so you can sit outside, eat amazing food and sing as you eat to ‘when the saints come marching in’. And on a balmy summers evening tHere really is nothing nicer, even when uncle Richard insists on conducting himself throughout the meal in his ‘dobby the free elf’ voice (dobby LOVES Harry Potter….) and Sebastian danced for a crowd, and we all had massive ice creams and Arthur prayed for a replacement family.

I could go on, but suffice to say, we had found plenty to do in our funny little, unfashionable part of France. And when all else fails, there IS French trivial pursuit where you can answer Charles de Gaulle or Vanessa Paradise for everything!