I write this at I’m guessing tens of thousands of feet in the air. I have no idea how high, the captain hasn’t deigned to inform us of this. A meringue-like blanket of cloud is below us, I’ve been fortuitous enough to get the window seat for once. Our small aircraft that transports us is of the type that only has two seats either side of the aisle, and there is therefore no unpopular middle seat to have to be lumped with when travelling in twos, but its never my luck to get the window seat. Its a little before 10pm central european time, and therefore the sun is setting fast. It’s as if the horizon is on fire as I look to the edge of all I can see. Its truly a stunning sight, whilst I ponder my return to the UK.
Two whole weeks. Of achieving little more than remembering the opening times of the local epicere in the village. Of managing to remember enough french to string together the sentence “ou est le Buerre” one day. Of managing to get my sorry ass out of bed three times to go for a run, one day forcing myself 45 minutes after eating a Magnum and NOT vomiting outside the local registry office halfway through the shlep uphill towards the countryside we trot out into.
The house in the Ardeche is typical of the area. Stone built, it was obviously part of a small holding or farm at some point. God only knows if anyone farmed the area, the area is so rocky and uneven you’d have thought those tree climbing goats would be native to it, such would need to be the level of dexterity any dwelling animal would require to navigate it. The stone of the house is a double edged sword, thick and sturdy, it serves its purpose. I should imagine as the season turns wintery it keeps the cold inside and won’t let go, like a wilful toddler in a supermarket who has swiped a Twix off the shelf and is testing their mother’s resolve in the face of a brewing meltdown. It is set in a courtyard to the side of what I imagine was the main farm house. The House must have served as the gateway to the village. Outside is a large stone oven, like a pizza oven, which apparently the village is allowed access to. I should imagine this is like one of those weird restrictive covenants people find in the deeds to their home, such as you can only ever raise 5 or fewer deer on the verge outside your semi-detached house in Wolverhampton or the like. I cannot imagine the people of the village could be arsed to march uphill with a bag of charcoal to barbecue a chicken communally, only to walk it back home again. Maybe in an apocalypse. Or a war where energy is rationed. But then again, given that only 30 people live in the village 365 days a year, the rest being holiday homes or seasonal workers, I struggle to imagine there is a shortage of Weber grills on the terraces of the villages many properties.
The main house is no longer just one big property, its divided into a smaller flat and the remainder of it is a bigger house. The occupant of the flat is a man named Maurice, who in a delightfully French way has been joined by different lady companions on each of the visits he’s made whilst I’ve visited over the last few years. Maurice appears happy go lucky. And given that he leaves his landing window open often, I can announce the acoustics in the area have made it abundantly clear that whilst in residence he’s been very lucky indeed. The larger property is owned by a Belgian interior designer and his sister. The property, we are told, is stunning. They are very polite when they see us, smiling and sharing a bonjour. But alas, the civility doesn’t extend to the parking situation. Previously, we would park one car in front of the house we stay in, they would park alongside it. it appears this isn’t the way they want to go anymore. Instead there is now an odd little table and two chairs, with a vintage set of boules on it. I have no idea why, because no one would ever sit opposite the front door to someone else house, and no one will ever play boules on the driveway between three peoples homes. The table, alas, is symbolic. it makes people asserting their parking rights problematic. Apparently there have been cross words about where a car should be, how it impacts on the other cars blah blah blah. Personally, I have little desire to expend my energy on such levels of pettiness. ( I accept that we appear to be entering an era in automotive design where length and girth are reaching peak ridiculous levels. Seriously, I have no idea how someone in the new Volkwagon Tiguan is going to park up in Atkinsons Car Park in Sheffield. If you are in South Yorkshire and “between careers”, may i suggest a bit of panel beating and body respraying, you’ll never be short of work.) Honestly, please, look at the bigger picture guys. You are so successful you can afford a beautiful home in a postcard ready village with a private pool. You can treat family and friends to weekends and weeks away, sitting outside eating food and drinking very good local wine which its almost impossible to spend any money on. This is what its all about. The late nights at work, the early mornings. the bitten lips, the small sacrifices on a day go day basis. Just fucking enjoy it.
In summer, the house is like a basic science lesson for primary school children. The rooms at pool level, the basement if you will, even though its not accessed via a creepy door down basic, cold painted steps like every basement known to man, these rooms stay cool as a cucumber. keep the shutters shut, and the door closed, and at night its cool, its serene, and your 8 hours are managed in complete comfort. on the ground level, its harder. The ground floor houses the kitchen, the utility, a loo, and one bedroom, and steps out on the terrace. During our stays, this is where we get busy living. The door is open, the thoroughfare is regular. at night time, the bedroom is balmy, but you’ve suffered worse. but the top floor is another matter entirely. you know what i said about science? what is it they teach you about heat? my god does the heat in this house rise. and it doesn’t move. windows open, shutters open in the early hours- no difference made. we put a fan on at one point, and it just made it hotter like a fan assist oven. Everything stuck to the fitted sheets. At one point i had to sit in the wing back chair in the room fanning myself with a copy of Good housekeeping staring out the window as i had to move away from Pete, as i feared the heat emitting from our bodies was just increasing one another’s discomfort. I have NEVER been as warm and uncomfortable. to make matters worse, facing me in the bedroom, at the side of the bed were 2 unfitted air conditioning units. My frustration grew and grew the more i couldn’t sleep. That i didn’t end up taking a chair leg to the things in a crazed meltdown a la Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest was simply because my physical strength and motivation to rage had come out my pores, run down my back, down the crack of my arse and could now be found seeping into the Ikea mattress below. Long gone.
To add to the crazy nocturnal fun, there are all sorts of airborne bite-y friends to enjoy. we all seem to have areas of great interest for these friends. they enjoy the left side of Pete’s body. Plainly, he must settle at night on his right side. Me? They go for the buttocks, and my feet. I have been bitten between my toes twice. twice. They have attacked my ankles so much that I have basically been a pregnant woman from the calf down, with cankles and a pair of Birkenstocks on at all times. As soon as the heat began to fade from about 8pmish, we all regrouped on the terrace and glossed ourself in Jungle Formula, or towards the end of our time a generic “lotion repulsive” sourced from the supermarche, which goes some way to prevent the biters, but sadly my bum cheeks are testament to the fact that it offered no guarantees.
But ignore my focus on the idiosyncrasies that come from a stay in a rural area of France. It was blissful blissful peace and relaxation. At night the sky is so clear from pollution that you see stars in a way that the modern urbanite could never have expected. The sheer number is overwhelming. I realise we have all seen stars and most will have experienced this phenomenon, but that means you will understand how insane it is to see the stars like this every evening. One evening we found ourselves so moved, and pissed on rosè, that we ended up on the patio with the Bose speaker and a specially curated playlist of songs about the blanket of lights which we were finding ourselves so moved by. We began with Coldplay’s Sky Full of Stars, I then almost ruined the mood with Simply Red’s Stars, before Pete decided to lift the spirits so we had Reach by S Club 7. We rounded it off with Waiting for a Star to Fall and Paris Hilton’s Stars are Blind. I still smile thinking about how much fun such silly moments are. I love being silly some of the time. If you think of the most god awful people you know, I bet you can’t imagine them being daft and impulsive like handstands and belly flops in the pool, or singing an impromptu rendition of the theme from Jurassic Park whilst Kayaking. They are usually dry, serious people, who never let themselves betray their duty to the fun police to stamp out joviality and enjoyment. Anne, Mel, Pete and I were not those people. We embraced wine on the breakfast table. We looked at the dessert menu after dinner. We would have an aperitif. We had one more for the road. OK this makes us sound like alcoholics, but the thing I wanted to convey is that we let go. We did what we wanted to do. And if you can’t do it on holiday, when can you.
So there has been a timelapse. A week in fact since I wrote the above and now. And you find me a full week at work down, a night on the tiles (why do we say “on the tiles”? Any ideas? I know I could Google, but whats the fun in that?) last night leaves me less delicate than I deserve but not fit for the long run I was intending to do.
I have to say, holidays are great for many things but that hope of rejuvenation for the workplace isn’t one of them. I think it will be easier to cope with my summer of little chance of a break due to school holidays etc given the fact I’ve had such a nice long period off, but I feel a bit like I’ve been dropped back on the treadmill with it turning over at 12km per hour. I’m only just about adjusted to the pace I must admit.
The extension work keeps going. Its been a tough old slog. We took the house apart around Easter, and haven’t had a kitchen to call my own really for 3 months. We are nearing the completion date we were set, and like that quote from Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy I’m reminded of the thing one has to love about deadlines is the sound they make as you fly past them. We are a good 3 to 4 weeks behind that. I always told myself the date was unrealistic. I’m now older than the inches making up my waist line, and if I have learnt one thing its to avoid disappointment where possible. I tend to find the worst type of disappointment is the one where you disappoint yourself, so I reminded myself that all best laid plans got awry. I have to tell you, this past week has been tough to come back to living in such a cramped house. We are effectively living out of one room, and sleeping in another. Both rooms are chock full of stuff. Kitchen units, cooks books, food mixers, blenders, bags of non-perishable food, arm chairs, a mattress, a divan base, lamps, clothes, boxes of plates and bowls and mugs, you can imagine the scene. 4 rooms dismantled and shoved into the two remaining that aren’t due any building work. In the room we sleep in, there is no room for the dog bed, so she is on the bed with us. We have to undress on the landing as we have nowhere in the room for our clothes. Its just so ridiculous. Daphne isn’t complaining, she loves sleeping on the bed with us. She also is getting an extra walk off me, as I can’t stand being in the house as its driving me mad, so we’ve taken to having a walk to the park in the evening. Its worth it for some lovely summer skies.
Im glad I’m doing the blog again as I fear I will get that amnesia that one gets at the end of a process. The house will be worth it, that is obvious. You wouldn’t do it if you weren’t safe in that knowledge from the outset. But it is tough. Its hard to improve something, as you have to destroy it first. And living in a building site, where the dust is insidious, the frustrations at time all consuming, and the costs spiral so quickly that you start talking about costs of things that are hundreds or thousands of pounds like they are negligible. On one day I won’t buy shoes because they are £40, but the next I’m agreeing to spend £300 on a radiator. It makes no sense at all, but its the contradiction of the middle aged I think. Why spend on fashion, when no matter what I wear I won’t look as good as I did when I was 25? At least a fabulous lamp will make my room look fantastic no matter the age of the property.
When we got home, the builders had knocked through to the new bedroom. We are at that point where the jobs they are doing start to pull the job together. By being able to walk into the new room, we could see the room, its dimensions, how it will look. Then they put the stud walls in- again, now we could see how big the corridor would be, how big our old bedroom now is, which plugs and light switches were now in the wrong place etc. It starts to look like the house we will live in, not a knackered version of the house we have been living in. The bifold doors will be on tomorrow. And then the old chimney breast comes out and then the room can start having the first fix. Electrics, plumbing, plasterboard and then plastered.
I am thrilled we will have the house we dream of, but my word, its been a hard slog. And my waist line will be glad of us regaining a full working kitchen in our future. Too many meals cooked on baking trays have really taken their toll on my belly. The words truffle shuffle come to mind.
More building and belly updates in due course. Hopefully fat of progress and thin of waist and not the reverse…….