Adventures before Dementia #2: Vive la Différence!

adventures-01Second guest post from our lovely correspondent Bebe today, (did you read the first post?) with a bit more of the story on life in her new French village and how she got there. Over to you Bebe…

So our Adventure Before Dementia began in September 2013 when we had the light bulb moment that with exorbitant property prices making London no longer an option on retirement, we should cast our net further afield and revive an earlier dream of a house in France.

Finding Chez Gigi was a serendipitous moment and I am a firm believer in serendipity. Having pinpointed Haute Vienne as the most viable option – good transport links to the UK and Paris coupled with a sunny climate and most importantly, cheap property prices, we started hunting. By chance we spent a magical afternoon in Montmorillon, otherwise known as Cite de l’Ecrit – an apt place to visit given that T.O.M (The Old Man) is a writer — and meandered along the Gartemps River in the autumn sunshine admiring a lane of pretty cottages.

We went home and thought no more about it until 2 weeks later when my beady-eyed daughter sent me a link to a property she’d found on an obscure website of privately listed properties for sale. Not only was it in Montmorillon, it was also in the row of cottages on the very riverbank we walked along 2 weeks earlier. Serendipity. She said she thought it was “very me”. She obviously knows me well and the rest is history. So one year and nearly 100 packing cases later, T.O.M and I started our Adventure…….

adventures-02I’d spent many sleepless nights wondering how on earth I was going to squeeze 45 years of accumulated family life into a higgledy-piggledy house with a spiral staircase running through the middle. Not to mention it was already fully furnished down to a drawer full of wine stoppers (obviously they have proved to be very useful …) so I had double the problem. It took us a month of unpacking, arranging, rearranging and repacking unwanted stuff in boxes to store in the attic before our pictures were hung, the books and china were all housed and suddenly we had a home.

adventures-03A home and a very different lifestyle. From a flat with no outside space on a bustling road in the middle of London to a house with 3 gardens on a quiet lane wedged between our friendly French neighbours, Fernand and Nobert, neither of whom speak a word of English. We quickly discovered life in France is not all about Camembert and crusty baguettes (though they certainly enter my equation on an almost daily basis), there are a minefield of things to overcome when French is still very much a foreign language. From getting your Wi-Fi installed to opening a bank account and suddenly realising the instructions for cleaning products are ALL IN FRENCH ! Why did I never think of that?

adventures-04And if I live here 20 years I’ll never get to know what all those products on the Cremerie shelf in the supermarche are for, not to mention the overwhelming choice of bread. And the endless varieties of saucisons. One of the biggest differences for me has been realising just how season-less living in the UK is, certainly in London, where if I needed fresh coriander, it was available in my local M&S whatever the season. Here if it’s not part of the seasonal calendar, it’s just not an option and so I have learnt to plan my menus accordingly.

adventures-05I have grown to love the fact that September markets will be full of baskets of gloriously multi-coloured tomatoes and the last piles of the season’s fragrant Charente melons. October will see heaps of weird and wonderful squashes and the start of winter’s onions – who knew there were so many kinds? And now in April, the start of the spring crops ….. buttery yellow spears of asparagus, wooden baquettes of scarlet strawberries and violet-tinted garlic. All helping create a natural rhythm to life.

adventures-06There have been other learning curves too. Winter seemed endlessly long without the distractions of London – I now understand why animals hibernate. We have learnt how to keep the home fires burning – well the wood-burner anyway – and what T.O.M doesn’t now know about chopping logs isn’t worth knowing. Now spring is here I am having to quickly learn about gardening and have just planted my first lettuces and tomatoes. And of course just day to day living means we are slowly learning the language.

adventures-07I’d be lying if I said there weren’t things we miss – M&S lemon drizzle cake for one, the Sunday papers, having Peter Jones as my corner shop – but we are slowly adjusting to the relaxed pace of life and the fact shops close for 2 hours every lunchtime and all day Sunday and Monday. The church clock has just struck 1pm, I can hear a cuckoo calling and the sound of the river gently flowing. The Adventure has only just begun ………

(ps, I’ve just read next week’s Adventure Before Dementia #3, all about the joys of Brocante…you’ll want to read it…Ax )


  • Jane says:

    Love the idea of proper seasons – what an adventure.

  • Jane says:

    What a stunning house xxxx

  • Sarah says:

    Love reading Bebes adventures (and lovely photos too) the comment about the dairy products made me smile with recognition. I lived over the border in French speaking Geneva for a few years, I started out with my O-level French but by the time I left I could discuss a dripping tap with the tradesman, that’s when I thought I’ve nailed it!

  • Judith says:

    Your home looks wonderful Sue, so warm and welcoming and I love the decor!! Hope Mike is well…. sounds like you are settling in and getting used to the new pace of life!!

  • michele says:

    Sounds glorious. I look forward to the next installment of your new adventure. Looking towards retirement myself with my own TOM, living in California, we are looking at Mexico. My friends have moved to a small Italian island to make their retirement money last longer. It’s a shame that living where you would rather be is often out of the question for a lot of us.

    I wish you the very best of Good luck with your new endeavor.

  • sue evans says:

    Thanks Michele, and good luck with your Adventure. I think we all need to grasp life with both hands when we get to a certain age. We never know what is round the corner and it’d be awful to go through the rest of our life thinking “If only”.

  • Elaine says:

    Just started our adventure at 60, renovating an old house which is much bigger than the one we have. I only see possibilities, my husband only euros! I need to do this as I’m not ready to downsize or trundle off into old age. Don’t want to live thinking “I should have done it”. Looking forward to your next installment.

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