November 20th, 2017, the Tarn, south-west France
Everyone has their own idea about what life in France is really like. The usual cliches spring to mind: fields of lavender, vineyards, rapeseed and sunflowers. Quaint medieval villages, traditional music, Michelin starred restaurants, dark, moody bars, majestic chateaux on mountaintops, misty valleys, roads lined with plane trees, fascinating markets with fresh local produce, cheap wine, cheap property, space, light and freedom. We certainly had our own vision and many of those dreams have turned out to be true. But some have turned into nightmares. Nightmares have a way of teaching you stuff. We’ve learned a lot of stuff in France, about people, old houses, weather patterns, cooking, wild animals, insects, temperamental wood-burning fires and swimming pool pumps, dangerous drivers, the French idea of ‘entitlement,’ hunting, arrogant ex-pats, bureaucracy, septic toilet systems, the benefits of closing the shutters in winter, wine, conservatism, socialism, refugees, isolation, killer wasps, friendship, French etiquette, the language barrier that can lead to misunderstandings, cars in cold weather on dark country roads, domestic cats that become feral, and commuting by plane with Englishmen who cough.
In this blog I’ll be sharing some of these experiences, including what it was like to live with my elderly mother in a converted farmhouse in the forest. When we first brought her to France I naively told someone I was thinking of writing a book about it. “But who’d want to read it?” she said. Ah, the vagaries of censorship by insult. The same person described pollarded trees in a French village square as looking “like cripples.” Also sitting in the car that day was a friend who had lost her leg in an accident. I guess it’s easy to forget we live in the 21st century when you’re transplanted to rural France. Political correctness is replaced by drunk or thoughtless tongues. In the mountains and valleys you can get away with murder . . .
Which brings me neatly to a book I’m working on that is inspired by our own French experience. It has all of the above ingredients and more: murder, mystery, psychological terror. Isolation, fear, poisonous mushrooms, disgruntled wild boar. Thieves, emotional Frenchmen, Frenchmen who become your closest ally and best friend, abandoned pets, the neighbour’s dogs, hippies who assume your belongings are also theirs, marijuana plantations, heroin addiction, moulins abandonnes with dark, deep wells, and competitive ex-pats who make you feel stupid.