January 3rd, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Why not to send your husband to buy a house (continued)

So, there we were rattling about inside our 'house with the five toilets' in the South of France when we decided, like spring geese, to move north for a cooler climate.

I'd never experienced real heat before. Being a north European of the ginger-haired persuasion and someone who'd never travelled further south than Cornwall (same latitude as Newfoundland) for his summer holidays, summers in the south of France were a shock.

And not good for the garden. Our English garden lore was suddenly turned on its head. In the UK the best place for a vegetable plot is in an open sunny position. Shade is the gardener's enemy.

In the south of France shade is your friend. It was noticeable that the longest lushest grass grew in the shade of trees whilst out in the open everything was brown and wilted.

Not good when you intended to grow all your own food. Or when the local slug population hide in the bushes until you've finished watering the few remaining living plants before descending upon them like a slimy barbarian horde.

And the heat was sapping. 15 minutes light weeding and my clothes chemically bonded to my sweaty skin. And the brightness ... I only had to step outside and three new freckles appeared on my face.
And the animals didn't like it. Which, if you live in a one paw, one vote democracy like I do, was the killer.

We had to move. Now.

Which was when we caught the DIY bug - something which I'd successfully avoided for many years. But then I started watching all those This Old House re-runs with Steve and Norm, Bob Vila ... and didn't house renovation look fun?

So not only would we move north, we'd buy something cheap to renovate. We'd mould the house to our requirements - taking special care to keep the number of toilets and bedrooms down to manageable proportions.

And I was despatched north to find that property. With a firm mandate from every member of the household. No 'house with five toilets.' No extra couple of floors with rooms we never visit. A simple cottage with room for two bedrooms, ten acres of shaded pasture for the horse, a good supply of mice and a gate where our lurcher could lurk and bark at passers-by.

A week later I phoned home with the news. 'I've done it! I've bought a village.'

'What! Woof! Meow! Neigh!'

Perhaps I could have phrased my news better. Naturally I hadn't really bought a village. Well not in the English sense. But in Normandy village is what you call a small collection of houses. What we, in England, would call a village they call a bourg. So...

I was dragged halfway back through the previous paragraph. 'How small is a small collection of houses?'

I could feel many accusing pairs of eyes boring northwards awaiting an answer.

'Sometimes it's as little as one,' I ventured.

'And in this case?'

'It depends if you count the ruins..."

'There are ruins?'

'And a dolmen. Though that's on a hilltop half a mile away from the property.'

I pondered whether this was the moment to mention the head-shaped depression in the stone roof of the dolmen reputed to be a site where human sacrifices were carried out.

Pondered, but not for long. After all, the estate agent had assured me that no one had been sacrificed there for years. 'Centuries,' he added, swiftly correcting himself, while looking nervously at the odd red stains in the granite around the head-shaped depression.

So, that's how we happened to buy three derelict farmhouses, a ruin, a medieval granite quarry and a dolmen. And I could truthfully say, having searched thoroughly, that there was only one bedroom between the lot of them. And no toilet. So ... mandate fulfilled.