Sorry I haven’t blogged for ages. So long in fact that the interface on wordpress has totally changed since the last time I blogged.

I received an email this week from a friend who has just moved into a new house, well it’s an old house, that needs quite a bit of work. “Please come over, and give us the White renovation pep talk,” he suggested. “Reassure us that it will all be OK one day.”

Which got me thinking of the days when our French house was hideous. And I would cry and wonder why the hell we had done this. Check out these pics for example.

Or for those who can’t be bothered to click on the link.. this was once my dining room!

So I gave him my five point plan for renovation motivation or moreover things I say but don’t always do or feel but they sound like sage advice!

1) Make one room nice straight away. Then you have somewhere to sit in the evening and watch TV or drink wine, or both. In the case of France this was our kitchen as it was the only room with a working fire. In UK renovations I’d go for the sitting room as I am assuming you have heating and/or running water. If not then I salute you.

The fire we huddled around for the first six months

The fire we huddled around for the first six months

2) Sort out a shower. Showers are on that Maslow’s Triangle of needs. Well if they aren’t they should be. Maybe Maslow was more of a bath man? If you have a working shower with nice tiles and some Aveda shampoo you can face anything. So get thee to or for affordable bathroom fittings and do it asap. You can always upgrade to fancy Duravit stuff in a few years time.


My bathroom in London – done in haste but enjoyed every day!

3) Remember that the reason you bought a house that needed work is because you couldn’t afford the same size house all done up or because you knew that buying a wreck can mean potential money making opportunities. And then think about how cramped you’d all be living in a high spec penthouse with all mod cons. You see – you feel better already!

4) Only invite people around in the early days who appreciate the joys of a project. People like Peter and I in fact. We will swoon over your peeling paint and original features. We will talk about potential. We will be jealous of the fact you are at the beginning of a renovation project and not nearing the end of it. (I still have wallpapers, tiles etc that I have nowhere to put now in France and entire pinterest boards devoted to rooms that don’t even exist!)

5) In the case of my male friend who was asking my advice on the above I pointed out that the best thing he can do is to accept at all times that whenever his wife has had a bad day, or is fed up with bare floorboards when all her friends have Fired Earth tiles, it is HIS FAULT. ALL OF IT! That way everyone is happy. See – I’ve cracked this renovation malarky….

The Grand Salon (or, how we finally painted our sitting room!)


Cosy huh?

When we first bought the ‘house in france’ one of it’s biggest selling points was the sheer size and scale of the rooms. Majestic one could say. Certainly compared to London living where if you can afford a three story shoebox with a postage stamp sized garden its considered living in Versailles! And the french house had rooms the size of entire floors of our London home. And so it was with the ‘Salon’. Too grand to be called a ‘sitting room’ and the word ‘lounge’ brings me out in funny lumps n bumps and certainly not a ‘drawing room’ as we had no intention of withdrawing to it – in fact we intended to spend hours of our time there so we plumped for the french – ‘salon’ when referring to it.

Initially the salon didn’t have a floor. It had rats running through it eating up the broken floorboards and so we closed the doors and avoided it at all costs. But once we’d had some people come in and concrete the floors (sorry Ratty – maybe they’re still there like Han Solo – frozen in time or people in Pompeii having their tea when the volcano hit) we started to use the biggest room in the house.


a bit cosier…

And for Christmas each year we built big fires and had the tree and a couple of sofas thrown in to sit on. The mid century modern sofa eventually ended up in the kids sitting room (see blog post here) but the big squishy grey sofa will remain. It came from IKEA and is a bargainous EKTORP – the cheapest one they do. But as it’s already had children peeing on it and paint splattered over it as part of project redecorate I think it was a wise move not to go for Parker Knoll!

It is essentially the last room we need to decorate and in some ways I’m worried about where my blog will go once I’ve shown you this!!! Although we still have sub rooms and hallways and barns and exteriors to make over. So don’t abandon me just yet.

Once Peter had plastered the most damaged bits of wall (and the Kings Speech style peeling paper had finally been removed) we started painting. I’d had an idea that I wanted this room to be pink. I cant even remember why I got this in my head but I must have seen a pink sitting room in some back issue of Living Etc or some such. And Peter insisted I get an Earthbourne paint as they are clay based and better for our damp walls. So THIS is what I plumped for being the only pink they had at the time. And then we started painting. And we made the kids help…


Who needs kid’s clubs?


Pink to make the girls wink

And it was VERY pink. And we used two whole tins of relatively expensive paint.


our brush with pink

And then it was almost finished and……. I HATED it. It looked like a 10 year old girl’s bedroom. All it needed was some White Company bunting and a One Direction poster and that’s where we’d be. And I knew that I could not leave it like that no matter how much our expensive, clay based paint had cost. So we went back to the drawing board. And the quest for the perfect pink began again…… like Indiana Jones hunting for the Holy Grail – I was looking for my dream paint colour. The quest was on…

Lets look on the postive!


You’re welcome

I am sometimes accused of moaning. I know? Fancy that. My husband says I complain too much about things and says I need to be more ‘half full’. My friend, and former boss Meribeth who is Canadian and thus I suspect born with inherent positivity starts most sentences with “you know, you gotta look at the positive..” and I really do try. And our great friends Johnny and Ana Maria who were about to arrive at Maison Blanche for New Year are great examples of ‘happy people’. Maybe they moan behind closed doors – in fact maybe they are both perpetually morose when not round at our house or entertaining us at theirs, but I doubt it. Ana Maria is Columbian and refers to everyone as ‘my darling’ or ‘amore’. Perhaps if we had one word for ‘loved one’ in english maybe we’d all be happier and more positive.

And so our gorgeous, positive friends came to stay for new year and they were the perfect guests to see our ‘almost quite nice’ house as they are fellow lovers of renovation projects AND some of the most stylish people I know when it comes to interiors. And, er relentlessly positive. They loved our newly decorated dining room. They cooed over our half finished salon with the peeling walls and no floors. Ana Maria played Cluedo for hours with the boys (they have two boys Thomas and Alberto who my kids have known since they were all born in houses next door to one another – not literally – it wasn’t Angela’s Ashes, we just lived next door to each other at that time!) and we even persuaded all our children to look positively on a massive walk around a frozen lake at Gavarnie


It is THIS much fun here honestly kids

And even when it rained and was cold and wet Peter managed to achieve the one thing he’d wanted to do since we got the house – host a screening of The Italian Job using his 16mm projector. I bought the projector quite cheaply on ebay as a gift for him not realising that to buy 16mm film is ferociously expensive. As a consequence, The Italian Job is the only film we have and setting it all up requires a lot of effort, so we’d never actually bothered – until now! And the boys all snuggled under a duvet in our half renovated salon while Michael Caine attempted to ‘blow the bloody doors off’ and the adults opened a bottle of champagne to see in the New Year. And even I was forced to admit that things really had turned out nice again.



recap recap – where ARE we up to?


Book em danno

So blog lovers, its time for a recap. We are now three Christmases into our French Home project and each year the tree gets bigger. This year we have plans for a Poseidon Adventure style tree that we’ll tip upside down at midnight and climb up the middle like Shelley Winters and Gene Hackman (younger blog readers – ask your parents!)

But what’s really going on with the house? How do we feel about it now? Now that the days of peeing in a bucket and not showering for days are over has it been worth it?

Truthfully the jury is still out. Sometimes when we’re in France and we’re cycling around in the sunshine it seems totally worth it. And just the idea that we actually OWN a lovely big house in France is so bonkers it makes me happy. But there are lots of days when I would like a)the money we’ve sunk into this project and b)the opportunity to visit other places. When friends regale us with tales of luxury resorts where they stick their kids in clubs where they learn to water ski or do macrame workshops I wonder if that’s what I should be doing. And it also means that I never truly relax. Like never. I work five days a week, I do housework at home in England in a house we’re renovating and as I live with three men/boys it is never clean. I barely keep on top of the kids increasingly busy lives and then when I go on holiday I’m cooking and cleaning there. We have no nannies to help with childcare (Peter and I do it all ourselves around our jobs), I have no parents nearby to babysit or do emergency pick ups and then I go on holiday where aside from the Landauers coming in to clean (and its about time to note that this is the beginning of our eventual breakdown in relations with the Landauers… more on this in a further blog) I’m then running a household of guests and families in France. In short – I’m exhausted. Brutally. Every fibre of my being is spent and emotionally it has started to take a toll.

But is this the fault of the house in France? Would a two week sunshine break alleviate all the above? If we lived in a wipe clean tiny new house in London would I still find week old pants under a bed and have to pick them up and move them to an overbulging wash basket? And if we had a nanny to give my children nutritious meals that involved some sort of green vegetable would Sebastian still refer to everyone he meets as ‘poo poo head’?

Can I really ‘blame’ my french house for all of the above? Who knows? So perhaps this is a good opportunity to really focus on the stuff that is great about having a house in France – especially as it is now fully habitable and we have in a sense realised ‘our dream’. The sense of achievement in that is second to none. Just the idea that you could go from this


To this….


Is such a major achievement I am metaphorically patting myself and Peter on the back on a daily basis. And I think, importantly as you grow older and your marriage becomes more mundane (sorry Pete but you know, I mean this with affection!) you need something that binds the two of you. For some that’s playing tennis together, for us, it’s talking about our French house. Planning our next bit of the project, sitting opposite each other at the dining table on our respective lap tops, me googling designer furniture sites, him sourcing broken tractor parts on eBay! And I am convinced that this sense of joint achievement and the fact that when we are in France we are able to experience a sense of actually living in a foreign country as opposed to ‘just visiting’ is a truly worthwhile experience. Sitting in our kitchen playing scrabble as a massive fire burns is a very gratifying feeling.
You just don’t get that if you’ve just done two weeks in Santorini do you?


40 years young


A trip to Istanbul to celebrate getting old!

And so readers, it’s at this point in the timeline of my blog that I turn 40. I’ve never really worried about ‘big’ birthdays. I truly believe the only reason for melancholy around them is if there are things you wish you’d done. A life you wish you’d led or something you fundamentally wish you could change about where you are right now. And at this point I am perfectly fine with just how its all gone to date.

A good friend of mine recently starting blogging about her approach to fifty as it had thrown up all sorts of questions in her head about life and where it takes you. In her case, as in mine, life has been pretty amazing (as I pointed out to her while we reclined on a rattan sofa in Soho House LA, drinking champagne) And I sincerely hope not to sound smug but I point this out only to underline what facing milestones is all about. Its about working out where you’ve been and deciding where you want to go. Life is linear, there’s a start and sadly there will be an end (well not that sadly I really don’t want to live to be 102 and fed thru a tube – can’t see the point really. Though a friend recounted the other day a visit to his 102 year old gran, when I asked what she did all day he said ‘mostly plan her meals and watch Loose Women’ suddenly it didn’t sound so bad!) Anyway the point is, there’s no going back you’re heading in one direction and even Walt Disney and his cryogenics or plans for eternal youth or whatever he tried can’t hope to change this so MAKE IT COUNT and NO REGRETS.

And owning this house in France has for sure added to my life contentment. Madness at times? Cause of huge rows in the White House? Yep. But an adventure for sure. Not as crazy as emigrating to Australia aged 24 and not if I’m honest, as much fun as my year spent living in LA aged 26. But an adventure. And one that offers future fun for all my family. So when I AM sitting in a chair watching Loose Women 2073 (presented by the offspring of Nadia Sawalaha and Lorraine Kelly no doubt) I know that in rural france somewhere my sons and their offspring are probably finally getting round to replacing that cheap kitchen. Good luck to them…. For now I’m 40 and I’m fine with that and I OWN a house in france. This is what french forty looks like…… fun huh?


French cuisine innit?


sometimes I read books in France! No really, I do..


“egoiste” (only funny if you remember the Chanel ad!


Ski-ing Barbie!


Alice n me!


Look how happy we are!! (we prob had a row about Fanta just after this)


Rope Swing Barbie




Jazz at marciac


The white family and the white stuff

a separate summer

‘And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation’ Khalil Gibran.


Good morning barn

It was the summer of 2010. Before Kate and Wills got married. Before One Direction and when I thought I’d never find a guy as great as my husband. It was the summer we separated.
The school holidays yawned ahead of us like an eternity. Weeks of telling Arthur, who was now 6 nearly 7, to turn off electricals and go outside and kick a ball about. Then remembering that we live on a relatively busy London street and have a postage stamp sized garden, and its not the 1950s. As Peter was to be sole carer of the children over the summer while I went clipping off to work each morning in inappropriate footwear, he began to hatch a plan.

“What do you think about me taking Arthur to France for the whole summer and you staying here with Sebastian?” he mooted one morning over breakfast. Six whole weeks apart? The longest we would have been apart in over ten years. I wasn’t sure. I’d miss him. I’d miss Arthur. I’d be looking after Sebastian ON MY OWN (you may not have met him, but let me tell you he makes the kid in Home Alone look under-resourceful). Id have no one to work the sky plus if it broke! And most of all, isn’t it weird to think its OK to spend that long apart. Does it mean our relationship is somehow flawed if we are able to live comfortably with only Skype to communicate. We’d been married for 11 years at this point and while there were elements of resigned comfort in our relationship – we get quite excited when there is a BRAND NEW episode of Midsommer Murders – I like to think we are also more in love now than when we met drunkenly at a party fifteen years earlier. (He has no recollection of our meeting – in fact the only thing he claims to remember about said party is that a transvestite porn star was there – he’s right but it was LA in the 90s, there was a transvestite porn star at most parties.)

But it made sense. We had all that space in France, a wood, fields and about ten broken bikes leaning up against one another in a barn. In London, we had a Victorian terrace with an urban decked area complete with olive tree and seating area that we had done pre-kids.


The deck factor

And so it was agreed. Seb and I would stay home with Yvonne our amazing neighbour agreeing to look after him until I got home from work in the evenings. Peter and Arthur would spend one feral summer, wearing the same pants for days, existing on bread with Nutella and making plans for an enormous treehouse they would one day build in the forest.


Now that’s a back garden!


a rooftop pool you say???

Seb was really too young to care where Arthur and daddy had gone, and besides I took him to shoreditch most weekends with uncle Richard and he got sole attention, ice cream and swimming in a rooftop pool, what’s not to love? Our Shoreditch summer was really so enjoyable that we forgot to miss our nuclear family. Our new alternative, child free family who drink cocktails at midday, spend hours shopping for fresh flowers and hang out in private members bars DID have a certain allure….and besides, my boys overseas were happy. Eating their body weight and gaining around 6lbs each, their skin the colour of stewed tea (could have been tan, could have been lack of hygiene) and their smiley faces over Skype telling me of trips to Bricot Depot and the time Arthur found a salt n vinegar crisp the size of a saucer!


Its all gone a bit Dalston….

But on the day we landed at Pau airport, reunited for a two week holiday, the sight of their (dirty) faces through passport control made me realise the best thing about being separated for the summer. The realisation that you can’t wait to be reunited.


My husband and a glass of rose! Back together again (husband – obvs we HAVE rose in London too)

Uncle Ricard


There are five of us in this French House

So there is someone else you need to meet. Someone who has been our most frequent guest over the last few years at La Maison Blanche. My BFF. My children’s godfather. Karen to my Valene (Knots Landing ref – youtube it) for the best part of twenty years now – Uncle Richard. He’s obv not my Uncle Richard – though he is the older of our twosome – but as my children always refer to him as such it has stuck – or it did until he came to France where he gained a new moniker. But more on that later.

Richard and I met twenty years ago in the kitchen of an unassuming publishing house – well, I say publishing house – it was two magazines housed in a garage down a back alley of an unfashionable bit of central London. But to us it was the publishing house of dreams. It really was. This, despite the fact we had to dodge junkies to get into work each morning and, once, when a pigeon died in our water tank our boss told us just to walk to Habitat to use the loo or wash our hands. And we were fine with this because we were JOURNALISTS! Journalists who ended up buying one of those paper lampshades every time we needed a pee, but journalists nevertheless.

It was our first job in and Richard and I were respectively, features writer and features assistant on Inside Soap magazine. This meant that he got to write about EastEnders and Corrie and I got to do Emmerdale and Brookie! Partly this was some sort of soap hierarchy, but moreover, it was because as the youngest of the two, I had a young person’s railcard and it was cheaper to send me on the train up north. Glossy media London it was not, but as we both came from spiritually and physically miles away from London – to us it was like we’d landed a part in Press Gang – only it was real. And Dexter Fletcher wasn’t in it. But nevertheless, STUFF. OF. DREAMS. We worked hard, we went to every free party going, we got inappropriately drunk with the cast of Soldier Soldier and we made amazing friendships with our colleagues on our sister mag – TV Hits.

We dreamed of working at ‘proper’ grown up magazines with staff canteens and payrises. And somehow, over the years, the entire team of people from Inside Soap, TV Hits and a short lived one off mag called ‘Supermodel’ managed to land ourselves a series of ever improving jobs. Richard in TV and me in women’s magazines. And this meant we could no longer share a desk, the walk to work and our lunchtime trips to Cafe Mania – the local sandwich shop where we once spotted Prince Edward grabbing a lunchtime baked potatoe. But we talked in some form or other, and still do, almost every day. And when I moved to Australia to edit a magazine, he came to visit. And when I moved to LA, he came to visit. And we laughed all the time. Usually over things that no one else could understand – our first boss used to say we were like Dolphins with a language like a series of sonos squeaks decipherable only by us.

Now my children love him as much as I do. And he loves them as much as I do. And these days, he and Arthur send each other text messages every day that make each other laugh or LOL cos its all electric now. And I can’t imagine any part of my life without him in it. So if we go to France – he comes too as often as he can. And as we see the house take shape through his hugely positive eyes it keeps us going even when sometimes we may want to throw in the towel and go on a Mark Warner holiday instead.

And when Uncle Ricard arrives at Maison Blanche, he settles himself in and pours himself a Ricard (he usually arrives in the afternoon – we’re not talking 9am Ricard drinking here!) And he sits down in front of the fire checking his emails and says ‘This really is what life’s all about love.’ And so he became known as Uncle ‘Ricard’ and we amassed a huge amount of Ricard related paraphenelia which the children insist on buying each time they see some at a Vide Grenier. So even when Uncle Ricard isn’t with us – we can recreate a familiar scene using Picachu.


Pikachu loved a Ricard after a hard day of evolving

On, this, his first visit though, Uncle Ricard arrived in a Renault Twingo having flown into Toulouse. I’d never seen Uncle Ricard actually drive having based our relationship for the last twenty years in urban London locations! But as he pulled into the driveway and announced ‘Oh My GOD It’s Chateau Vallon’ (short lived ancient French soap opera – again – youtube it) I knew this was to be a match made in heaven.


Oui oui – c’est un velo!

And we cycled into the village together on rickety old bikes that Peter had bought in a vide grenier. And we shouted Bonjour loudly at everyone else as they cycled past. And we bought baguettes and when they asked if I needed a carrier bag, I said ‘non j’ai un panier’ and we looked at each other and grinned from ear to ear. In fact, we wanted to videotape the moment because we were living a big french life. Right up there with the time we went into the shop on Rodeo that Julia Roberts gets turned away from in Pretty Woman with armfuls of carrier bags and said ‘big mistake. Huge!’ (Cos those assistants must NEVER have heard that before!) Essentially, we were in one of those scenes that if someone had shown us a flash forward while we were blagging our way into parties just to eat the canapes and drink the free drink, we’d never have believed them. C’est pas bloody possible! We’d have said and then died laughing. But we were. And we had the boys there too and Uncle Ricard would take them to the Tabac and buy them french Pokemon cards and a ten centime mix up. And then come home and have a little Ricard. Well it IS a holiday and all that cycling really works up a thirst!

Maison a vendre

I’ve decided to write a blog. I am roughly three years too late. Well, I’m actually about six years too late – even my nine year old already has a blog but in this instance I mean I am three years too late on my chosen topic. We bought this house in rural South West France almost three years ago and I knew it was the perfect project to document Grand Designs style on a blog. But I didn’t. But I am now. I’m starting from the beginning and eventually I will get to present day, like Kevin Mcleod turning up in his North Face parka to see ‘how it all turned out’. A sort of suspense thriller blog of doing up a house….. do we ever finish it? Do we find just the right shade of grey on the Farrow and Ball colour charts for the bathroom? Well you will have to wait and see…..

Found on the internet. One visit later and we bought it.

Found on the internet. One visit later and we bought it.