Elephants breath vs mouses back


Not quite Babington yet…

We may have had our fair share of guests by now but we’ve relied on their pioneer spirit to see them through. That and a supply of flip flops for crossing unfinished floors. The house was slowly taking shape and with each holiday that passed we became more confident that one day we would have one of those holiday homes you could imagine on a website of ‘baby friendly boltholes’. We had a few finished rooms and had started to collect some bits of furniture.

Until now we had vacated our master bedroom and bunked into a little room next to the boys room when people came to stay. You have to walk through it to get to the boys room which curtails any chance of privacy and means that Arthur wakes us up with his 5am rises which he has done since birth and even now age 10 doesn’t show any signs of changing. I am hoping that one day he will be one of those teenagers that you have to drag out of bed with threats of cold water. And the room itself is fin. Cute even. I found the granny quilt on ebay (you actually search for just that – granny quilt) and we have no problem moving in while guests come to stay.


Our room when guests come to stay. Cozy.

But as another Christmas loomed large, and this time my parents were feeling brave enough to make the trip (the prospect of heating and not peeing in a bucket had increased their levels of interest in another holiday) we wanted to get a proper guest room ready. The room pictured at the top was the one we had earmarked. It was downstairs and next to the one finished bathroom (see below). Image

So together they would make a really nice guest suite. I could possibly start sidelining as a B&B landlady. But as usual there was a lot of work to be done before getting Alistair Sawday round to give us a five star rating.


The loo/rats nest was in the far corner. Like Nimh. Then it was gone.

By this stage we were old hands at doing up our rooms. And this room did not phase us. Oh no. Despite originally having a loo in the corner with a rats nest underneath it (we tend NOT to share this info with guests before they’ve slept in it) The most horrible peeling ceiling. A funny coat rack thingy (technical term) which I actually kept and put in another room later on and broken windows.

We got to work with a vat of decorators caulk to fill gaps in the wooden ceilings. A gallon of white undercoat and gloss for ceilings and woodwork. Another gallon of white emulsion for the walls and a lot of patience to apply all of the above. Ourselves. And finally hours of pouring over Farrow and Ball paintcharts to choose the colour for the walls, about six changes of mind over which particular shade of beige or grey to go for (Elephants Breath vs Mouses Back – #firstworldproblems) We settled on Old White

Old White

Beige by any other name. Old White if you want to pay lots more for it

And we painted. And painted. And I got the children to help and they painted. And then Peter filled the holes in the ceiling and I painted that too. And this was probably some sort of school holiday/half term or other and my friends were facebooking about their sunshine breaks to Morocco/Dubai/Majorca (I even had pangs of jealousy as people fessed up to being at Centreparcs – not for long admittedly)

And it was finished. Although it didnt yet have a floor – just some mucky cold concrete but I bought a rug at Marks and Spencer and that would do for now. We bought a Leirvik bed from Ikea and carted it back from Toulouse. Along with yet more Hemnes drawers (I will be calling my next born Hemnes FYI)

Thanks IKEA

And finally we added a great glass chandelier we’d found at a Vide Grenier. And i made some curtains out of my favourite hessian fabric bought on ebay – with black out lining for extra warmth. Voila. And the rather splendid 1970s pic of the fallen madonna with the big boobies was found in a Vide Grenier for ten euros. A bedroom fit for parents and anyone else who descends from now on. Want to come and stay yet?




La Vida vide….


Ah yes this looks old and broken enough….

My husband loves old stuff. I hope this will be a good thing when I am in my 80s. He will have his very own living, breathing ‘relic’. What he really loves, is broken, old, stuff. When we first met, he lived in a wooden house with a porch in west Hollywood. You could sit on the veranda like a 1950s American prom girl waiting for her date. He’d rented the house when it was falling down and no one else would touch it. And then, he’d fixed it up. As a result, while most of our friends lived in small apartments in weho or Venice, Peter had an enormous house just off Sunset where we all threw parties and he could listen to his Motörhead vinyl so loudly that once, some nearby dwelling Hells Angels came by to ask him to turn it down.
And so buying a house in France equals peter’s dream. But one of the best things about trying to furnish this house is our weekly visits to vide greniers. Like car boot sales only much much better as each one holds prospect of hidden gems. Held on sunday mornings and publicised in the local areas as if Justin Beiber was playing a one off gig there with posters EVERYWHERE in the weeks beforhand. or you can visit http://www.vide-greniers.org And our kids LOVE them. Maybe in the way some boys inherit their father’s sporting prowess or love of a particular football team, peters legacy to his sons will be a love of broken, old tat.


what’s french for plastic tat?

We give them five euros each and some basic French ( enough to bargain someone down for old Pokemon cards – far more useful than a level French right?) and send them off. Meanwhile, Peter and I trawl these aladdin’s caves of wonder hoping to find stuff to fill our home that isn’t from ikea!
We’ve introduced all friends who come and stay to the joy of the vide grenier (some more impressed than others – my friend lorraine remains thrilled with her olive server complete with toothpick holder shaped like lily pad, her husband James, less thrilled with the fourteen pony club trophies their kids bought)
We have over the years bought everything from our dining chairs to tennis racquets. Plates shaped like fish (never used) to fire irons to hold our logs (used every day). And Now I’m going to share with you a selection of vide grenier jewels. Vintage finds or other people’s rubbish? Tat or treasure? To us, always the latter.


She really did have life on a plate


Knew that learing french for police hat would come in useful one day – un kepee s’il vous plait


we are the champions


Hall chandelier. Bought, painted, rewired and lit


smashed painting – bought some new glass and is good as old


Nobody puts cupboard in the corner!


Nothing to do with TV show of same name. No one knew why in the 70s. Still don’t today.


An armchair by the fire ours for 30 euros


NOTHING to do with Walford?


Tell me about it….stud

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!

Come on kids its like Disneyland but with no water. Or heating. Or Mickey

Look what Mummy and Daddy bought

Look what Mummy and Daddy bought

So I won’t bore you with the year it took us to actually buy the place. There were unusual french laws, strange bank demands and a bizarre incident where Sebastian pulled the 1970s style lace curtain down in our solicitor’s office (a child with taste – obviously). But almost one year to the day after we put in our offer – we had the enormous, Scooby Doo-esque key to the house!

From memory I think Peter went twice before us on his own taking down Calor Gas heaters and some thermals to get electricity and water connected and all that sort of thing. He has his own ‘building blog’ with the deets on it http://www.gensachouse.co.uk


Anyone for scrabble?

And then we all went for a holiday. And there was no water for loo flushing so I learnt how to do this by pouring water down with a bucket. We had a fire to keep us warm in the kitchen and nowhere to sit except for four old wooden chairs we’d taken with us.

And it was AWESOME! We discovered the joys of the local Super U – ate out – A LOT, met our neighbour Serge – more on him later, discovered the joy of the vide grenier (literally translated it means Empty Attic and is the french equivalent of a car boot sale but with the odd hidden gem!
And we spent our evenings in front of our fire, drinking wine and planning. Planning how we would transform our new french home. Thinking of how we would redecorate each room and how to best utilise the space. Dreaming of a time when we would come here and it would be warm, comfortable and chic. And until then we were happy as it was. Happy with Scrabble and a bottle of Madiran. A steak cooked on our Smeg range we had driven down with us in the back of our car bought on ebay. And happy to go upstairs and see our two boys sharing a room with a fireplace big enough to climb into. Like something CS Lewis would have written about. And if you think I’m exaggerating about just how bad it was…


One day this will be a dining ro

flinstones grotto - we still have no idea why?

flinstones grotto – we still have no idea why?

the only working (ish) bathroom

the only working (ish) bathroom

Its just like a boutique hotel really

Its just like a boutique hotel really