Return To Paradise

I’m sat writing this post with my feet dangling in the pool from where I have an uninterrupted view of Cordes, within arms reach is a glass of chilled white wine, the sun, even at 7.30pm is still hot and I am pretty much alone in the hamlet of La Martinié – this is complete and utter escapism, heaven on a stick and for the next few days its all mine!

poolAn unexpected twist of fate has today seen me back at La Martinié without David, who was meant to fly out on Wednesday but the French air traffic control strike put pay to his trip.  I was scheduled to fly out to join him today so rather than waste my flight I came alone and I’m here until Sunday, while David is flying out on Tuesday evening and staying until Saturday.  Ships that pass in the night… but with things still needing to be done before the first of the summer season guests arrive I’m here with my list of jobs, and when I leave David will arrive to do his.  I got home barely an hour ago and it took me less than five minutes to consult my list of jobs before throwing on a bikini, pouring a large glass of wine, grab my Mac and here I am, telling the world about it – while secretly feeling pretty smug at my good fortune!

In the two weeks since we left the entrance area to Maison La Martinié has been transformed beyond all recognition.

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The Garage – July 2012

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The Garage – June 2013

Allen has worked in all kinds of weather to finish the garage, lock up and wood-store and has laid tons and tons of gravel.  He has created a lovely gravelly path leading from the parking area to the front of the house (which will be very much appreciated by those whose shoes were muddied up on previous visits).  And then … there’s my lavender gardens… oh wow!  Steff has worked tirelessly to transform the previously overgrown, messy, barren area opposite the new garage into a gorgeous, well manicured lavender area.  The last time I left I did so leaving her with 70 lavender plants and funds to buy bark and everything necessary to transform this ‘no mans land’ into something beautiful and that is exactly what she has done.  The only thing, which remains to be done in the parking area, is the building rubbish needs taking out of the new garage (one of David’s jobs next week) and the roof needs tiling – this won’t be completed after the last of our guests leave in September.

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New Entrance – June 2013

I had planned to come home this evening and make a start on painting the outside of the windows but… as I sit here with my feet in the pool, the sound of the cicadas, the overwhelming sense of peace and contentment that I feel here as the sun sinks down behind Bournazel I realise that the painting will have to wait until tomorrow.  As someone once said “we only get one life…” and right now I’m taking time out to appreciate it.

Going Nowhere…. Fast…!

Today the sky was blue, the temperature soared and the sun REALLY came out – this can only mean one thing… yes, its home time!

We are booked onto the 5.15pm flight and for once I didn’t really have any pressing last day jobs to do – well apart from the 12 pots of lavender which have sat out the back of the house since I bought them on our way to the house on Friday and since the lavender fairy hasn’t come over the weekend it looks like its down to me to get them in.

This new batch of lavender are to go in the patch of ground to the right hand side of the gates, but looking at the state of the soil there its clear that I’ve a whole load of digging before planting them.  Despite spending a fair bit of time this weekend wandering back and fore to size up my spot, (usually with a glass of rosé in hand), I’ve yet to actually pick up a shovel and start digging.   So while David took his van full of debris to the déchetterie (tip), and George and Sabrina went off to Cordes to buy a painting that they had seen in a gallery, I headed out to continue with my quest to bring Provence to Maison La Martinié.

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Not quite Provence – yet!

20 minutes later with the place all to myself, the heat of the sun on my skin (and the lure of the day bed which sat on the terrace) I told myself that lavender thrived all over Provence in rocky, barren, sub standard terrain and that to make their home here too comfortable wouldn’t be of any benefit to them, so I quickly dug some holes, (ignoring the weeds, stones and rubble from the building of the wall) and just stuck the lavender in.  Giving them a splash of water I wished them well and headed for the daybed!

daybed

Soon after this David returned from the déchetterie muttering unhappily about ‘a pointless bloody exercise’.  It appeared that the three hours loading the van on Saturday with the disposable contents of our studio, prior to getting the van stuck on the lawn had all been for nothing – as the déchetterie was closed on a Monday!  Therefore the van had to be unloaded again which still left David with the problem of what to do with its contents.  At this point I extracted myself from the comfort of the daybed and busied myself with lunch as David’s (understandably) black mood didn’t bode well for a pre-lunch kip in the sun!

George and Sabrina returned from Cordes and we all gathered around the table on the terrace to eat anything and everything that I could find lurking in the fridge.  David and I normally miss lunch on our last day as we are always too busy running about but today we made time to eat with our friends – in fact we made a little too much time and found ourselves rushing about to leave for the airport.

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George and Sabrina left ahead of us as they had bags to check in. David and I, proclaiming ourselves experts at leaving just the right amount of time to arrive at the airport waved them off and arranged to meet them in the departure lounge.

At 3.30pm, having had a leisurely tidy up, a bit of a hoover about, dead headed a few pansies and stood back to admire my new lavender we hopped nonchalantly into the van and prepared to saunter to the airport.  It was only then that it hit us that we had precisely an hour before check in closed!

We’ve had many a hairy journey to Toulouse during the last three years but today’s was nothing short of terrifying as the van went screaming towards the airport, taking each twist and turn in the road on two wheels.  I felt rather than saw our journey pass as I spent the whole of it with my hands covering my eyes.

On our way we encountered the worlds slowest drivers, a happy band of cyclists riding 3 abreast making it impossible to pass, we drove behind a vintage car for many a mile on a stretch of road too dangerous to overtake, and in Gaillac, for the first time ever, the barrier at the level crossing was down waiting for the train to Toulouse to come through the station – which it eventually did in no apparent hurry.

Arriving at the car return area at the airport we were convinced that the vans great height wouldn’t fit under the overhead barrier leading to the Avis cabin and so we wasted five precious minutes or so driving around looking for an alternative way in.  Finding none, David gritted his teeth, shut his eyes, put his foot down and launched towards the barrier in the hope that we wouldn’t take it out – we didn’t’ the van fit underneath it with about an inch to spare!

At this point we had approximately 30 minutes before our flight was due to depart.  We sprinted through the airport terminal to security, where the nice people on duty were enjoying a bit of playful banter and were having way too much fun to be hurried.  Next we were at passport control waiting behind a chap who had all the time in the world. Judging by the length of time he took to place his passport carefully into its holder, give it a quick polish before debating which one of 20 zipped compartments in his rucksack he wished to put it I doubted very much that he was due to fly anywhere for at least another four hours!

At this point my mobile started flashing up increasingly frantic “where the hell are you type” messages from George and Sabrina.

Finally, we were at our departure gate, which was empty apart from the two people on duty.  The final few people were going up the steps at the back of our flight as we launched ourselves at the desk with me optimistically waving my ‘Speedy Boarding Pass’ at the attendants – “your too late” was the reply. “But we’ve got the front two seats, and speedy boarding” I reasoned, but to no avail. My mobile bleeped again with a text from Sabrina – “you’ve missed the flight haven’t you!” it said – yep, we most certainly had!

Off we trooped to pay for seats on the next flight, which was at 9.55pm.  With best part of five hours to kill David and I debated grabbing a cab and heading into Toulouse but in the end we headed for the bar, ordered a couple of G&T ‘s which we drank while looking miserably out of the window at the glorious sunshine.

A couple of hours later we headed for the restaurant where we had a really lovely, very expensive dinner. We were the first people in the queue for the next flight, which was so turbulent that the seat belt signs remained on most of the way home, preventing the gin from being served!

I reasoned that ‘it was about time we missed a flight given how small a window we always leave ourselves for our trips to the airport’.  David just shot me an evil look and declined to comment!

Saint Antonin

The day began with one smugly chuffed Northern Man in a digger, pulling a sheepishly embarrassed Northern Man in an Avis van, out of our lawn.

With the van safely sat back on the gravel we all climbed into George and Sabrina’s car and headed off up to Saint Antonin market. Afterwards, we had a lunch reservation at “La Festin De Babette”, a lovely restaurant on the river.

With the market being in full swing and the tourist season having started, Saint Antonin was packed but we managed to find a table right down at the end of the market for coffees and croissants, before heading off to the restaurant.  When making the reservation we’d asked for a table overlooking the river and spent most of our time there watching a couple of old ladies who live in a house on the river opposite the restaurant feeding a swan who had pitched up at their house for lunch.

No matter how many times we’ve been here before the novelty of this place just doesn’t wear off especially on a day like today when a two hour lunch in the sunshine, with this amazing view reminds me of how lovely this little corner of France is.

La Festin De Babette, Saint Antonin

La Festin De Babette, Saint Antonin

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Having stuffed ourselves at lunch we decided on a low-key dinner and ended up eating bread, pate, cheese and loads of wine around the coffee table in the lounge.

Everybody had an early night tonight, as three days of champagne, wine and food had taken its toll and with tomorrow being airport day a reasonable nights sleep was in order.  Tomorrow might be our last day but I’m already counting down the days until the end of this month when David and I will be back again with our friends Jonny and Gina, and then they all go home and leave ME there for an extra yummy four days – just me and Maison La Martinié – bliss!

A Day Of Disasters!

Sabrina and I got up admitting to feeling slightly rough after last nights champagne fest, our other halves claimed to have been unaffected, but did in fact look suspiciously rough.  While David and I did jobs around the house our guests took themselves off to Cordes market with the promise of returning in time for lunch on the terrace.

First thing on my agenda was to unpack the new rug for our bedroom, move the existing one (which had got burned when a log fell from the wood-burner during a recent holiday letting) and get the new rug ensconced in the bedroom.  The new rug had been chosen to match the size and colour of the existing rug as closely as possible and so far we hadn’t had a chance to see it.  I had ordered the rug from a company in America using dimensions given to me by a friend, who had been staying at La Martinié a week or so earlier.  The dimensions our friend had given me were, in the absence of a tape measure, estimated to be the size of the existing (burned) rug, and based upon these measurements the new rug had been ordered, and delivered into our shed a few days earlier.

The existing rug was pretty much large enough to fill the entire bedroom, and everything in the room sat on top of it.  This meant, that in order to remove the burned rug, we first of all needed to strip the bed, drag the (heavy) mattress down the hall into another bedroom, dismantle the bed and move the bed frame out of the room, take a chair and two bedside cupboards out of the room, pick up a very heavy antique armoire, the end of which also stood on the rug, and only then would we be able to pick up the old rug prior to carrying its replacement upstairs and then start the tedious process of putting everything back together again with the new rug in situ.   After much sweating and swearing we hurled the burned rug out of the bedroom window and then went fetch the new rug in.

The new rug was in the shed where the delivery guy had left it. It had been rolled up and packaged in black plastic for transportation and on its side it stood higher than my waist.  After giving it a tentative prod it was clear that it was VERY heavy… and the only way we were going to be able to get it up the stairs would be to roll it along the lawn, unpack it on the terrace and make a long sausage out of it, rather than try to maneuver it upstairs in its current rolled up shape.

We managed to get it onto the terrace, unrolled it and laid it out flat.  The first thing that became apparent was that it didn’t contain the same shades of blue that the old rug had done, and which we had designed the bedroom around.  The door to the cupboard, window frame and the inside of the fire-place had been painted in that special Farrow & Ball blue that I love (Borrowed Light)… the blues in the pictures and the cushions and throws on the bed had all been chosen to compliment the colours in the old rug.  The hues in the new rug were more lilac than blue – I mentally recalled the phone number of Farrow & Ball’s International Delivery Department fearing that a new delivery and some repainting would be required!  The other problem was the weight of the rug – there was no way that even sausage shaped David and I would be able to get the thing up the stairs, so being almost lunch time we decided to wait for George and Sabrina to get back to provide some extra manpower, and poured ourselves a pre lunch time drink while we waited.

Some 15 minutes later our friends appeared on the terrace … looked wide-eyed at the rug, looked at each other, looked at us, looked back at the rug and exclaimed “where the BLOODY HELL is THAT going???!!!!!!”  (Slightly taken aback, I thought ‘ok, so the colour isn’t quite right, but it wasn’t as though it was red or anything) – “into our bedroom” I replied.  “You have GOT to be kidding”, said Sabrina, “that rug is MASSIVE”! At that point it occurred to David and I that yes, it did look a tad big and that we hadn’t actually measured the size of the existing rug for ourselves and compared it to the one in front of us, we had simply gone on the dimensions estimated by our good friends who had been at La Martinié a week earlier.  We took a tape measure to the rug; 17.4 ft x 19.9 ft… hmmmm… big rug.  All four of us then trooped up to the bedroom and measured the entire size of the room, (taking into account the fire hearth which sticks out into the room and at which point the rug has to stop)…. 16.1 ft (to the fire hearth) x 12.4 ft – oh sh*t!

After a lovely sunny lunch on the terrace, accompanied by much merriment at our rug fiasco and some gorgeous Gerberas bought by George and Sabrina, our guests took off again to visit some of our local bastide villages while David and I carried the old rug back up to our bedroom and set about returning all of the furniture we had earlier taken out of it, declaring “well, that’s one way to waste an entire morning!”

The worlds biggest rug sat festering on the terrace for the remainder of the afternoon while we debated how we were meant to get the thing back to America.

Having wasted the morning I decided to paint the new armoire that we had bought yesterday while David started to empty the studio of all the rubbish we have managed to accumulate since we bought La Martinié in September 2010.  There is a loo and a very rudimentary, bohemian shower in the studio and we were thinking that this second loo, and shower might come in useful for larger parties who are renting the house this summer.

Taking a look at the reassuringly blue, cloudless sky I dragged the armoire out onto the lawn and started to paint.

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Cordes In The Mirror

Cordes In The Mirror

Meanwhile David drove the Avis van across the lawn, parked it just in front of the terrace and spent the next couple of hours ferrying empty paint pots and wine bottles, cardboard boxes, broken sun loungers, odds and sods and about 40 sacks of unused lime mortar into the back of the van ready for a trip to the dechetterie (the French equivalent to our tip/dump).

Half way through my second coat of paint, a huge black cloud appeared from nowhere and from it a whole load of rain.  David and I made a dash for the rug adorning our terrace and heaved and pushed at it, in an attempt to manhandle its great bulk in-doors.

The rain was really coming down now and I managed to drag the still drying armoire into the studio while David, hopped into his van with the intention of driving it back onto the safety of the gravel, rather than risk it getting stuck on the already waterlogged lawn.

This however, was not to be!  With much screaming of engine, spinning of wheels, flying of mud, digging up of lawn, and swearing from the drivers seat the already full and heavy van embedded itself into the grass!

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What followed next was not a pretty sight as van, picnic bench, dining table and chairs and everything else in its path got caked in mud from the vans spinning wheels, while David continued to rev the hell out of it in his attempt to shift the now firmly rooted vehicle!

After 30 minutes of wedging various things under the front tyres to give it leverage, and following a highly feeble attempt by me to push the van, it became clear that the only thing which was going to shift it was Allen’s digger but as Allen was going out that evening to celebrate Steff’s birthday, we decided not to bother him until the morning.

Writing today off as a complete disaster, we waited for George and Sabrina to return (and for their subsequent howls of laughter to subside!) before heading off up to Cordes for drinks, where our favorite bar was closed!

Turf-less in Toulouse

So, we were first off the plane and soon standing in front of the nice lady in the Avis cabin who told us that our ‘big truck’ was all ready and waiting for us.  I experienced a moment of horror as an image of an Eddie Stobart sized juggernaut sprang to mind but seeing the look that passed between David and I she corrected her statement to our ‘van’ being ready and waiting.  My relief was only short lived when we arrived at our van and discovered that it was actually, rather larger than I’d intended.  David was a little taken aback at my super-sizing the van but in true Yorkshireman fashion rolled up his sleeves and climbed aboard.

In the time that it had taken for us to disembark from the plane and get to our ‘large truck’ we had decided to go to La Troc, the famous French institution where you can pick up a piece of quality antique furniture or a cheap bit of tat depending on what you are looking for.  We decided that as we had this humungous sized van we might as well fill it and buy an antique armoire to put into the studio next to the house, in which to store the spare bed linen and towels ready for our summer rentals.  So off we set, with David hammering down the auto-route, big van man stylee while I kept my eyes closed and gripped onto the dashboard waiting for our high sided vehicle to overturn.

Arriving at La Troc we were greeted with a whole range of suitable antique armoires and selected one for me to paint in a shabby chic cream style.  Money changed hands and we were soon heading for the supermarket in Albi.  After a spot of lunch at the supermarket restaurant (which isn’t the grim affair offered in UK supermarkets but a very acceptable dining experience complete with wine) we headed off to find the turf.  Feeling slightly troubled by the fact that we had almost filled our van up with the armoire and enough food and wine to feed a small pocket of Wales we arrived at this huge Turf outlet, only to discover that we needed to give 5 days notice before we would be allowed to actually buy any turf.  Promising ourselves we would call and give the required notice once we had measured up we set off home.

Upon arriving at La Martinié it became apparent that the garage was nowhere close to roof height, but really, the weather has been pretty hideous since we last left and so building has been slower than expected.  If the rain had hampered progress on the garage it should at least have helped my grass seed to grow but as Steff had said, there was no signs of it.  Luckily, while at the supermarket this afternoon I had snuck two more boxes of the stuff (enough to cover another couple of football pitches) into the trolley and would be having another attempt at kick starting growth this afternoon.

At just before 7pm our friends George and Sabrina arrived from the airport, Sabrina wearing the highest pair of heels ever seen in our hamlet, while waving bottles of Verve Cliquot at us.  These were drank on the warmth of the terrace, the warmth being provided by thick overcoats and blankets and when we were finally driven in doors by the cold we all curled up by the log-burner and proceeded to guzzle further bottles of fizz well into the early hours, guaranteeing Sabrina and I tomorrow mornings hangover.

 

35,000 Feet In The Air

On the 6.30am Flight Gatwick – Toulouse

We bounded out of bed at 4am to lovely day and zoomed down to Gatwick in record time, just 45 minutes from the time we left home to parking the car.  I commented to David that ‘one of these day’s we’ll come a cropper leaving so little time to check in’, but thankfully, today wasn’t that day.  Its spring bank holiday weekend in the UK and miraculously the weather is set to be generally sunny, even more miraculously (for us) the weather prediction in France has improved during the week from a forecast for full on rain every day, to rain today and the rest of the long weekend looking sunny and fine.  We have some friends arriving this evening, George and Sabrina – they will be with us in time for drinks.

I’ve got plans this weekend, big plans!  By the time we leave on Monday I aim to have laid turf to the right and the left of the gates at the back of La Martinié as based on a conversation that I had with Steff earlier in the week it appears that the 2 boxes of grass seed that I sprinkled the last time we were there hasn’t come to anything.  The conversation went like this – ME:  “How’s my grass growing to the right and left of the gates Steffie” STEFF: What grass?   ME: Oh, I poured two boxes of grass seed down a month ago…. STEFF:  Well there’s no signs of it!

This has come about following a spate of “Lawn Envy” at the sight of our next door neighbours perfect patch.  Last autumn, Mr & Mrs Poisson next door had a load of grass seed scattered onto their huge expanse of barren brown earth and this has since flourished into something which Glen Eagles golf club would be proud to call their own.  The last time we were at La Martinie, and after spending way too much time gazing upon this vision of perfection from my own brown barren patch I decided to do something about it and set to work.  I spent hours manically raking over the soil, moving a ton of bricks, rubble and other objects from the ground, pulling up weeds and doing everything that the grass seed box told me to do before liberally sprinkling the stuff, (each box apparently enough to cover the area of a football pitch), only for the area to remain an unsightly brown bit of mud.  So, this visit instead of hiring a car I’ve hired David a small van to drive with the intention of filling it with lovely turf for this weekends “Turf & Lavender Project”.  Steff has given me directions to a turf place on our way to the house so that is to be our first port of call after leaving the airport. I guess it would have been good to actually measure the area to be turfed before buying it but David and I have never let a small detail like that deter us from jumping the gun and buying whatever it was we needed without knowing exactly how much of it was required!

Other excitements this weekend is the delivery of a lovely new rug from America, for our bedroom and our new garage (hopefully) having been built up to roof height.

David spoke to Yan this week and asked him to bring the pool out of its winter state, add a load of nice friendly chemicals and put the pump on again, so at some point over the weekend the murky green water will begin to clear, and will remain sparkly until its put to bed again for the winter.

I love going down to La Martinié at this time of year when spring has really taken hold, the weather is warming up, the bistros and boutiques in Cordes are open and La Martinié begins to come out of her winter slumber.  It’s the peace and serenity time before we have to hand La Martinié over to our summer guests and say goodbye to her until the autumn.

I’m hoping that David and I might soon be able to start thinking about, and working towards a lifestyle shift which sees us downsizing our main UK home and moving towards La Martinié.  We’ve been discussing various scenarios for the last couple of months and its now just a matter of finding one that works for us both and then putting a timescale on it.  I’ll be spending 4 days alone at La Martinié at the end of May, and that will tell me whether its feasible for me to live there from Monday to Thursday alone while David carries on working in London and returning to France for weekends and holidays.  If this is the case we can sell up in Surrey, keep the house that I own in the Cotswolds, buy a chic ‘pied a terre’ in London for David to live in during the working week, and me and the animals move to France.

But right now, we are about to land and I’m hoping that in a few hours time we will be heading for La Martinié with a van full of luscious green turf.

Lavender & Lawns

Wow, time doesn’t half fly in this part of the world.  It’s that time again, the day has arrived when we will be preparing the house for the holiday guests that are due to arrive next weekend, and then we will head off to Toulouse and back to the UK.  This visit has definitely been too short given how long it’s been since our last time here.

The morning was spent in a flurry of cleaning and tidying activities.  David finished off his pruning and cleaned some windows while I huffed and puffed about with the preparations inside the house.  Before we came away, a friend of ours commented “you are so lucky having a holiday home”….!  I replied “HOLIDAY… you must be joking… it’s more housework –  just a different country, with a different coloured hoover!”  But, that said, we ARE lucky, although if we actually needed/wanted a holiday we would have to book somebody else’s ‘holiday home’!

Later, I walked around to the lane to have a look at last nights gardening efforts and was pleased to find that my lavender plants are all pretty much in a straight row.  I took a box of grass seed with me and scattered a ton of it on my newly dug and raked earth, there’s lots of rain forecast next week and for once I was happy about that.  My new little project looks a bit bare at the moment but I’m hoping that by the next time we come my grass will have grown and I’ll be greeted with a lawn to match Barbara and David’s next door, with flourishing lavender, the likes of which you’d have to go to Provence to find.  I’m also hoping that by then David will have stopped chuntering on about how lovely the lilies were and how I should be shot for pulling them all out!

At 1pm we sat down at the table outside to a lunch of ham, mozzarella, tomato’s, pate, bread and red wine (yes, very French).  We’ve often tried this combination back in the UK but it just doesn’t work quite as well… must be something to do with the lack of ‘World Heritage’ view of Cordes sur Ciel or something! The weather has turned much milder since we arrived on Friday and although there was rain threatening it was really quite pleasant.

We actually left on time today and although we aren’t officially meant to be back until the start of May we vowed to sneak a little visit in sometime in April if we can.  I’ve got a few more things up my sleeve for my new garden, and then I plan to do the same with the bare patch of brown earth to the right hand side of our gates.  I wont write here what my plans are as I know that David will read this blog, but suffice to say, watch this space and message to David “Can you stop going on about those flippin lilies now?!”

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