Whenever friends or family come to stay, they’re a bit taken aback at how busy my life is in rural northern France. “We thought you’d be having a lie in every day, you know, taking it easy. Putting your feet up.”
Yes well, that’s not quite how it works. At least not when you have an extended family of 72 animals. And heating is from a wood fire, which means there’s always wood to chop. You’re trying to be more self sufficient by growing your own vegetables and fruit. And you are addicted to writing, like Forrest Gump if he’d picked up a pen.
I rise at 6am, as I always have. After life in London, the peace and quiet of my little village in the Seven Valleys still surprises me. An owl might hoot in a barn, considering me inconsiderate for turning on the light in the courtyard so I can see my way to my way to the pigsty, now my office, where I like to start writing first thing in the morning. A pheasant may rustle its feathers in the hedge. Sometimes a tractor will pass. No traffic, no airplanes, no sirens.
George Clooney and Brat Pitt get the party started
However, as soon as I put the kitchen light on at the back of the house to make a cup of tea, it’s a different story. My cockerels Brad Pitt and George Clooney kick it off. They crow loudly and constantly at the artificial sun/kitchen light. This is followed by chickens clucking, geese honking and ducks quacking, shattering the peaceful tranquillity of the village.
One year I let the ducks roam freely in the garden, I loved how they waddled to the back door to greet me in the morning.
“You look like a demented Pied Piper with that lot following you around” said my husband. There’s nothing like the adoration of ducks to make you feel good. They ran amok. Or rather, I let them do as they wish.
“It’s fine” I said, all blasé when my neighbour Jean-Claude tried to advise against it. “Don’t do it” he urged, “let them out – and they’ll create havoc, you’ll be sorry”.
Quite why I didn’t listen when I know, after several years of him being my mentor in France that he is always right, I am not sure. What was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t thinking at all, as Jean-Claude delights in reminding me.
That year 52 ducklings hatched. I spent several months rehoming as many as I could to new owners who wouldn’t eat them. I ferried them about in crates all over the region. There is now no roaming free in my garden. Men to the left pen, ladies to the right pen.
Once my tea is made, I turn off the lights, head to the pigsty and with the darkness, peace returns temporarily.
The birds, the birds
When the sun comes up, I feed the wild birds. The minute I open the back door there is frantic activity in the trees as chaffinches, sparrows, robins, finches, blue tits, great tits, doves and birds of all kinds get ready to swoop. Arthur the ‘Alf an ‘Ead pigeon is always well-mannered, he’s missing half his head (yes the name is a give away) and sits calmly on the washing line waiting his turn at the food trays.
Then I serve the chickens, ducks and geese to a cacophony of squeaks, clucks, quacks, honks and cock-a-doodle-doos.
On the way back to the house I feed the escapees. Chickens Kendo Nagasaki, Barbie, Belinda and Beatrice refuse to stay in the pen and run wild in the garden where they dig holes for dirt baths, which I regularly fall over in.
Then I let the cats in or out. All of them screeching for food, cuddles, this and that. By now the dogs are barking to be taken for a walk.
Did I say peace and quiet? All that’s missing at this stage is a marching band!
Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream – My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France – available as ebooks, print & audio, on Book Depository, Booktopia, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online…