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  • Writer's picture by Rae-Helen

L'autre vie #2

Our other life in France#2 by Rae-Helen Fisenden

So after an interesting journey navigating the train strikes in Paris and Bordeaux ( see blog #1 ) we finally arrive at our cottage in Berbiguières. This is where we store our car and is our necessary first stop before heading to our second property in Beaulieu. We purchased the Berbiguières cottage seven years ago from an Australian couple who, at the time, owned seven cottages throughout France. Yes, you read that correctly. Seven! The little Dordogne cottage had always been our favourite and in fact we had rented it several times. When we heard it was up for sale, we didn’t take too long to decide to buy it. It’s nestled amongst other stone cottages which are clustered beneath a rather impressive Château.

Looking back at it from a vantage point not far away it is really quite a breathtakingly beautiful village and there’s little wonder why it remains a popular destination for walkers and travellers alike. With its rustic charm and pretty views over sun drenched fields from the picture windows, it’s hard not to fall in love with the cottage and its charming

character. But several hundred years of character can create several unique problems.

We open the front door and on the surface, everything looks fine. There are the usual cobwebs to deal with but then Neil turns the water on ( it’s turned off during the winter cold to stop water in the pipes freezing ) and our first little problem is revealed when I use the loo. We have a flood issuing from the cistern. Oh dear. With the shutters open and the living room filled with light our second drama is


There is a thick black sludge resembling tar all over the wood stove which has pooled beneath and coagulated in the hearth. It’s a sticky black mess and we check our shoes to make sure we’re not trudging it through the house.

We then open the door to the little terrace. It’s a jungle of weeds, mostly waist high. This we expect. Growth in Spring is exponential and it will really only take a couple of hours to deal with it.

Having arrived so late we haven’t had time to shop so we have a dinner of bread and cheese that we’d wisely bought en route and a bottle of wine unearthed from the store room. We fall into bed shortly after. The problems can wait until morning.

Morning dawns and we wake to the 7 a.m. church bells. In my head I’m hearing Grieg’s familiar melody. Neil goes to fetch the car but returns looking forlorn. The battery is quite dead he informs me. The leads have been attached but it will take hours to charge. We have no food and no wheels. Meanwhile my Ipad lights up with a distinctive well known sound. It’s a last minute Airbnb request for the cottage for...Sunday. That’s tomorrow! Mon Dieu! No car, no loo, a sludgy mess and a jungle outside. We have 24 hours to attend to the problems. We respond with YES! You are welcome to come.

We look at each other and laugh. We must be mad!

Neil attacks the loo and locates the problem. The main seal had been compromised from water freezing in the cistern. It’s replaced and all is well. Meanwhile I spoon out as much of the creosote which has liquified and quickly realise that boiling water helps dissolve it. It’s a very messy job but between the two of us we manage to do it. The winter in the area has been severe with torrential rain and high winds causing an abnormal collection of water in the chimney resulting in the soot turning into an emulsion.

We manage to convince a neighbour to ferry us to the local supermarket using a 20 euro note as a teaser. He quickly obliges. We stock up!

Neil goes to check the car. It’s a bit of a walk and while he’s away I don my gardening gloves and attack the jungle. The weeds come out easily as the soil is damp but I’m careful to ease out the roots and shake off the extra soil. Within a short period of time I’ve managed to create a huge pile. It’s looking so much better! I then begin to pull out the creeper which is everywhere in the garden and choking the beautiful wild irises.

Suddenly I feel a stinging sensation down my right arm which is exposed. Nettles! OUCH!

Welts soon appear and the pain is quite something. I quickly apply some old fashioned Watkins ointment which is mostly mentholated camphor ( a family traditional all-fix) and the pain eases a bit. Neil returns and looks pretty tired. He says he doesn’t think he can muster the energy to do the garden. I open the door to reveal what I’ve done.

The look on his face is just classic and he turns to me and says-

“I think I LOVE YOU!" then gives me a massive hug. I cook a nice evening meal of corn fed chicken breasts poached in a creamy Dijon mustard sauce with leeks. We have steamed veggies too and walnut bread with delicious french butter all washed down with a nice Bordeaux red. We feel exhausted but satiated. The only one last hiccup could be the car. Will it start? Thankfully I hear the purr of the car the next morning as Neil drives it home. I wash bed linen, make beds with fresh linen, set out the fresh towels, fill vases with flowers and leave a bottle of red on the dining room table with two lovely wine glasses. The house is beautiful and smiling back at us.

We wait to greet our french guests at the appointed time. Expecting a couple we're surprised to meet two french guys and suddenly I think the abundance of flowers could be overkill. Their pleasure when entering the cottage however is evident. They beam with delight. They are hiking mates and are looking forward to some serious walking.

As we drive away we are thankful and relieved. We head for the house in Beaulieu to do a major clean and prep for incoming Australians arriving in a day's time. Life is never dull!

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