Another bite-sized chunk, about building a nest in France, from my newly rediscovered friend Emma Lee-Potter - newly rediscovered via Facebook, of all things, so I have my daughters to thank for dragging me into it. Emma rose bravely from her hospital bed to write it, having been treated for a detached retina, and promises to keep us posted about her house with no name..
I had a big shock when I set eyes on my tumbledown French farmhouse for the first time in four long months.
If it had looked dilapidated before, it was 10 times worse now. Three-foot high thistles sprouted out of the courtyard, the first-floor shutters dangled pitifully from their hinges and despite the scorching Provencal heat the whole place reeked of damp.
Standing next to me, my teenage daughter was made of far sterner stuff. She promptly began pulling decades-old wallpaper off the walls and went into raptures about the view across rolling fields towards the imposing Roche Colombe in the distance.
“When do you think I’ll be able to invite all my friends here?” asked my daughter, clearly anticipating summer rave-ups on the sun-drenched terrace. I watched a spiral of faded pink wallpaper float down into the courtyard. “About 2020?” I said.
The way we are going at the moment, 2020 is probably on the optimistic side. Back in the UK, I’m having sleepless nights, wondering if and when the house will ever be restored. My architect friend Bernd and his burly sons have made a tentative start on the ground floor but with a host of other building projects on the go and me hundreds of miles away progress is painfully slow. The only other developments to date are that Serge, the next-door neighbour, has scrawled my name on the letterbox, the farmer’s cut the grass for me and I’ve been thinking about what colour I’d like to paint the shutters. Hmmm – perhaps a tasteful shade of pale grey.
When my intrepid husband and son were last in France, they knocked down a ramshackle pig-sty, demolished the front porch and removed the hideous 1960s partitions on the first floor. As they swung their pickaxes at the bathroom wall, a shower of dead rats and walnut shells fell out of the ceiling. They hardly had time to blink before a host of live rodents jumped down the wastepipe and ran for their lives.
I’m now trying to take my mind off the mega renovation ahead by dreaming up a name for the house. At present it doesn’t have one at all – so I simply call it the house with no name. When I asked the previous owner how the postman managed to deliver her mail she shrugged nonchalantly and insisted it had never been a problem.
Maybe I’m geographically challenged but I even have trouble explaining whereabouts in France the house with no name is. When I tell people it’s in the Drôme they mostly look blank. Even Anne-Marie, my sophisticated Parisian friend, didn’t know it.
So, just to clarify. The Drôme is north of Provence, west of the Alps and east of the busy route de soleil that runs from Paris to the Côte d’Azur. The countryside is lush and green, with small farms, olive groves and majestic crags that tower over the landscape – a bit like Provence crossed with the Lake District. Gorgeous in fact. And if I play my cards right maybe the house with no name might be one day too...
* See also: my French dream home...the first instalment