Shortly after we’d packed our belongings in London and moved to live in our French farmhouse, the reality of living in France kicked in. I’d left behind long hours, never seeing my family, stress, take away food and never having any time for my husband. I had also left a job I loved with great career potential, a home I’d loved, my friends and family.
I was soon to discover that I‘d left much more than that.
Almost immediately, the septic tank in the garden decided to introduce itself in the worst possible way. We have no mains sewage so all household waste goes into a tank buried in the back garden. We subsequently found out that it had not been emptied for at least 15 years. I cannot tell you how unpleasant it was to have everything come bubbling up in the garden. Our lovely farmer neighbour came to help but made it worse by hitting the blow button instead of suck on the machine that is supposed to draw it all up and contain it. This was our introduction to most of the neighbours in our village of 126 people. The commotion could be heard echoing round the hills that surround our valley and many of them came wandering in through the gates to enjoy the spectacle of Les Anglais and their garden full of merde. I wasn’t quite sure what the etiquette was in such circumstances but the beer and wine we offered seemed to hit the right note. Since then I have come to realise that this is in fact the right way to act in almost all circumstances in my village.
We had no phone, which meant no internet. I couldn’t even keep in contact with anyone back in the UK. We have no mobile phone signal in our village so I’d have to drive up a big hill to the next village to get a signal and it was too expensive to ring often anyway.
Every time I put more than one electrical gadget on in the house, the fuses went. Every time we touched an electrical gadget in the front room we got a shock. We took to wearing rubber gloves to put the TV on.
I discovered a massive rodent nest in the garage, and it was utterly repulsive; there was also a problem with rodents coming into the house via old, disused pipes left in walls, a legacy of previous owners.
In the loft which we’d hardly explored at all since it was so dark and dirty, I discovered a cow’s skull, two cat skeletons and numerous dead birds. Worst of all was finding that the entire mezzanine floor of the loft was covered with about 30cm deep dried mud which had been used as a form of insulation, it had to come out.
The room we had been sleeping in as a bedroom was damp and smelled very musty. The space at the top of the stairs where a shower unit had been installed was filthy and unpleasant and the hot water was very hit and miss.
It gradually dawned on us that camping here for a couple of weekends each month was absolutely not the same as permanently living here. We knew of course that we had a big job on our hands to renovate the house but there were 21 rooms to completely renovate – every single one needing new walls and ceiling, new floors, windows and doors. A new roof was needed for at least 4 outbuildings, and worse of all – we only had one useless wood fire for the whole house.
At that point, I did wonder what on earth I’d done and there was an element of regret for the comfortable life I’d left behind…