February/March 2017 – Spring is in the air…and snow…and sawdust!

We’ve powered on through February -the weather has been glorious… mostly!

Still basically in demolition mode, here’s what we’ve achieved this month:

We got the water turned on without a hitch… and discovered that the little water heater in the kitchen still works perfectly!


Hot water!

It’s destined for Joe’s workshop later, but for now it means we can wash up with hot water – what luxury! In fact our little ‘chantier kitchen’ works a treat – we can keep it warm, and relatively dust-free … and the cupboards are full!


A perfect start to the day!

Build catering is vital for happy workers in our experience!

We took out the funny little toilet (broken and unusable, even for the build), whacking down the wall, and pulling out pipes! (We’ve re-instated our old bus loo, which works a treat – (knew we’d kept it for the last eight years for a reason!)


Look at that shiner from the hammer-in-the-face incident!

Arty and Cloé took out the old mangers – beautiful timber, which we hope to reuse elsewhere in the house:


Burn baby burn- what a team!

We had a massive boost from Tence mairie, when they came to tackle the communal path down to our house. After the heavy snow melted, we were left with a bit of a mud bath – we were never sure if we were going to get out at the end of the day, and had a few mud splattering pushed exits, sliding around tantalisingly close to the wall of our neighbour’s house! And of course, it was getting worse and worse. When Joe and I got to the house on 13th Feb, we were chuffed to see there was a JCB depositing stones at the top of the path – little did we realise they were going to spend the whole day, with four guys – leaving us with the most glorious solid drive…what a difference it’s made!

Thank you to our lovely caring commune!

Next big project was to break up some concrete… we took down a couple of walls…meaning we now have a view from end to end of our home downstairs as well as upstairs:


A few more walls out!

And we attacked the concrete. As you can see the floor slopes fairly dramatically towards the central drain…to swoosh down those cows in days of old! So we need to level off certain sections – we got to it, wheeling barrowloads out and up to the front of the house – then we got the hoist to take the strain, lifting wheelbarrows full from the ground floor to the first floor (which is the barn entrance), and things became much more efficient… Little by little we tackled it section by section, and then on Friday three of Arty’s friends came over with Luke to help unload a big wood delivery, and they finished the job, putting us in a perfect position to dig trenches for the waste water. They were fantastic, and totally affirmed the dream we have of people wanting to come for a day here and there to help… for pleasure and satisfaction – what lovely friends our children have!


And so it begins…


the pile of broken concrete grows…


Arty and friends


digging out the stones


And we are level…(not the photo admittedly, but the floor – honest!)


lowering the floor, and thereby ‘highering’ the doorway!


Well you have to, don’t you?

There have been some splendid bonfires… one so splendid, Joe and I waited well into the evening before feeling comfortable about leaving! It was really exciting to see the house at night – so cosy and welcoming!

Next big job is to start cleaning the beams and walls – Joe and I have worked our way across the first 6 beams – these will be the Studio floor and workshop ceiling, so we just needed to get them de-nailed and blast away the cobwebs and loose debris with wire brushes and the air compressor. Quite proud of how I’m conquering my fear of heights!


There is an access tower beneath me! But I’m still up there!


In action!

Our lovely friend and neighbour Geraldine, who has already lent us props and an invaluable wheelbarrow, delivered her massive air compressor to us last week – it’s given us a huge boost! We’ve also invested in a sander to gently sandblast the beams, it arrived yesterday. So now we’ve laid down the sub-floor on the section we’ve cleaned, and the next task is to experiment with cleaning the walls and our beautiful roof beams. We plan to keep the South wall in natural stone, and insulate the others – just look at that exquisite warm Haute-Loire stone… with the carpentry of the roof, it’s one of the things we fell in love with when we first saw the farm, and we really want to keep as much of it in view as possible!


Access tower in place to start cleaning the beams tomorrow!


‘Top o’ the world!’


Higher than expected!


From the ground to the roof…


A good sized studio door!

So I’d better get to bed now – another early start tomorrow (ending with me teaching English at the CCI in the evening).

Thank you for reading – more soon!- here are a few photos of the magical woods surrounding our field… and me using the mitre saw in my Bob-the-builder tool belt …still very much a learner, but learning fast!


Yes, she can!

The first month – January 2017…slowly slowly catchy monkey (what does that even mean?)

We’re nearly a month into ‘the build’… and it’s been a month of giant leaps!

Since we signed for the house on 11th Jan, we’ve had a lot of magnificent snow – so we didn’t venture over to Solignac on the first weekend. Instead, we spent it in Bas, dismantling the studio and the workshop which we had constructed in the basement here … quite emotional, there have been many precious and creative moments spent in both!  We will use all the wood and insulation for construction at the farm, and we need to set up our chantier workshop over there too of course.


So many musical moments and parties… a genuine garage band location!

First visit after signing…

Once the roads were safe, Joe and I couldn’t resist heading on over the following weekend – to ‘begin’… we took the chain saw, and hot soup and a lot of warm clothes, and went with the modest mission of cutting down the over-grown pear tree nestled too close to the house by the front door…


Look at that excitement!


The chainsaw took a little bit of starting in the cold… but once it got going there was no stopping us!


Mission accomplished!

We temporarily weather-proofed the downstairs windows with clear plastic, and left it at that for starters… slow and steady, slow and steady…


Narnia snow!

2nd and 3rd trip

The snow continued, and on Thursday 26th we had an appointment at the farm with the electricity company, after a series of lengthy phone calls about whether we could be connected, as the previous owners had never had an account in their name which meant that the house has had no power for at least ten years. Joe and I drove there in two cars, as I had to go on to work afterwards, and he wanted to stay on a bit… however the weather turned to blizzard mode during our drive over. The EDF guys came regardless, and with cheery smiles and no fuss, turned the power on! I turned around and the kitchen light was on! So exciting!


Let there be light!


Can you spot the electricity men in the blizzard?!           (The house with the icicles is our neighbours’, with their nearly-finished garage just waiting for its roof)

With the weather worsening, we didn’t hang about, much as we wanted to, but crept back on white roads, not icy…just so much snow falling so fast.

The following weekend we went over with Luke and Marie taking the access tower, and our old cooker from the bus, and a bunch of tools. We put up our chantier sign and investigated the extent of our electricity.

And we’re off!

So into February – the snow has almost all melted away, and we had a massive weekend! – Arthur, Luke, Joe and I on Saturday; Luke, Marie, Joe and I on Sunday – and we achieved an unbelievable amount of work!

Basically we took out the whole barn floor, storing the beautiful thick planks to be planed and re-used;  and burning the rotten ones in a massive bonfire. We don’t have running water in the house yet, but we do have source water bubbling up through the rocks and flowing through a pipe into our field. So effectively we have crystal clear mountain water in abundance! The weather was idyllic on Saturday – with clear blue skies and sunshine. We cooked rice on our trusty bus cooker, drunk copious cups of tea, and ate outside in our T-shirts!

Saturday in pictures…

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And Sunday…

On Sunday we continued, less sunshine but the same spirit. We exchanged Arty (who was playing football) for Luke’s girlfriend Marie, who cleaned our site kitchen until it sparkled! We had a nasty moment where Joe received a blow to the cheekbone with a hammer (poor Luke was wielding it). It’s produced a real shiner, and is still pretty painful – but even that didn’t stop Joe powering on until the work was done! We swept and organised before we left, and were glowing with pride at what we’d achieved in one weekend.

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It’s ours!


Brave new year…

2017 has started well for us – after a truly magical Christmas of returning offspring and their loved ones. Simple and delicious: we ate and drank and talked and laughed and really appreciated each other’s company – bliss!

Beth and I recorded a little song, which was a great honour for me – her biggest fan! (although I was a bit croaky after the cold that seemed to catch everyone we know wherever they were in the world! ) –

Arty edited our annual Christmas video – taking the mantle from Beth now that she’s away studying…

And on Boxing Day, we went over to the farm and cracked open a  bottle of champagne while we were all together (before Harry and Armel returned to Paris and Beth flew back to England), even though we were still a whisker away from completing. We drank champagne and all played a magnificent and rather bizarre game of hide and seek!

Off to the Notaire’s…

So having finally received our mortgage offer just before Christmas…waited the obligatory 11 days taking us to just after Christmas (29th December) – we signed and initialed a mountain of mortgage papers at the bank.  We drove over to Tence on Wednesday 11th Jan 2017 to the Notaire’s.  The weather was beautiful – clear blue skies and perfect snow to left and right (but none on the road to hinder us).

All went smoothly – our charming, witty and meticulous Notaire went through our 57 page (I’m not kidding!) act of purchase, which we all duly initialed and signed… and the deed was done! … and the deeds were ours!



I was trembling with anticipation in the Notaire’s, adrenalin flowing…in fact we’ve been pretty fuelled on adrenalin ever since if I’m honest!

We went to see our great friends the Aicardis to share our news – and the four of us went over to the house, which was gloriously wearing it’s winter cloak – I was dying to see it in the snow… and it didn’t disappoint!



So now this thing we’re doing is really happening, and no longer a ‘fingers crossed’, ‘if all goes well’ affair…

To do list…

It’s time to reconnect the electricity… (after 10 years), and turn the water back on. Then we need to set up a temporary on-site office… probably in here –img_1735 if we can get that little wood burner going!

There’s a few concrete floors to dig out; the floorboards of the grange (the barn) to take up; pretty well all the windows to replace; the fosse septique (septic tank) to put in; and a whole lot of fun to have!!

Watch this space! And thanks for reading!


The latest big adventure – buying in France for the first time…

A bit of background

It all began earlier this year (2016) when Joe spotted a farmhouse for sale in our beloved Tence – the small town in the Haute Loire where we spent our first four years in France.

Over our 8 years here, we’ve looked at the odd property here and there, but never found anything that has given us the gut-feeling that we should go further than a single visit… This place, however, set our hearts alight the moment we saw it!

Four and a half kilometres out of Tence, in Solignac, a little hamlet of six or seven houses, down a small lane, lies our new adventure, nestled in the heart of the countryside, over-looking the most beautiful field, surrounded by woods… the field is ours too.


Across our field to our future home (fingers crossed!)

We knew as we walked away from the house that we were going to finally plunge in to the French property game, after 8 years of renting… Would we get a mortgage?  We honestly had no idea!

Property in our beautiful Haute-Loire is incredibly good value – but as we’ve watched over our years here, not easy to sell.  We knew that if we committed to a house here – it would be for the long term. We’ve been property-free for more than ten years now, and have loved the liberty it has afforded us – but neither of us are getting any younger… the freelance nature of our professions (and the debacle of the UK private pensions collapse), means that we have no pensions awaiting us…  maybe this was the last chance to hop back on to the property ladder again and afford ourselves a bit of security in the future.

We sold our house in Swanage, Dorset in 2005, rented there until we left the UK in 2007 for our year of travelling Europe with our four children, Luke, Harry, Beth and Arthur, in the bus we’d converted into a home.

We then settled in France, renting first in Tence and then moving to a beautiful house in Bas en Basset, where we are now, about 40 kilometres away. As the catchment area was changing, we moved to be nearer the lycée where the children attended and where I taught for four years.


Luke and Marie


Our eldest son, Luke, left first for University in nearby St Etienne, and then headed off for an adventure in Ireland, where he worked for a year or so, then 18 months in Paris with the same company until last summer (2015), he decided to move back to Monistrol and work with Joe’s design company 43 Media, bringing his sales and marketing experience to attract local clients.

He lives in a beautiful apartment 6 kms from us.


Harry left home in 2013 after getting his BAC, to live with Armel who was studying at the Sorbonne – they spent a year in Paris, a year in a Stockholm, and then returned to Paris in 2015 for her to begin her Masters degree. Harry started his web design business while still at lycée and has gone from strength to strength, working up an amazing client base and reputation for excellence!

Screen Shot 2016-11-06 at 17.24.57.png

Harry and Armel got married this summer – a glorious day of love, magic and family bliss!


Harry and Armel


Oh Happy Day!




Uni room – first night!





Then, hot on the heels of the big wedding, we drove Beth to England to start her Film Production Degree at the University of Creative Arts in Farnham.  She seems to be having a ball – can’t wait to have her home for Xmas!


So our big bustling family has been dramatically downsized in recent years!





Arty and Cloé

Just the three of us now – Me, Joe and Arthur, who still has a few more years at lycée. Our baby boy is now over 6ft – has a beautiful girlfriend – (they are both in the sports class at school) and is currently thinking of studying law.








Night before the wedding…

Massive changes of family dynamics – especially after the full house of summer; friends and family gathered from all over the world  for Harry and Armel’s wedding, and rarely a meal with under 10 around the table.


Moa, Harry and Arty at Harry’s bachelor party

The Farm…

So we first saw the farm on 27th May this year (2016). We went straight to the bank (4th June) to just find out where we stood mortgage-wise.  It looked more promising than we could have hoped for – in principal they offered us a mortgage at a tiny 1.5% for the purchase plus a 0% loan to help with the renovation! We couldn’t believe it! When we think back to the years we were on an ‘interest only’ mortgage in the UK, this all looked extremely promising!


Just needs a little TLC…


Look at those beams!




The farm was on the market for 95,000€, we put in our offer of 80,000€, preparing to negotiate to a mid-way point… and our offer was accepted!


Just after signing the compromis…


We finally signed the ‘Compromis’ (the promise to buy – so much better legally than the fragile ‘offer’ in the UK which can be withdrawn at the last minute) at the Notaire’s in Tence on July 29th (my Dad’s birthday, which felt like a good omen!), after a failed attempt on 15th July, where we discovered there was an ancient right of access right across the property which we wanted to have rescinded – and luckily for us this was accomplished with little fuss and no cost to anyone.



With the Compromis signed, we started the official mortgage application – it’s been a long haul of jumping through hoops – not at all as gloriously straightforward as the first meeting at the bank suggested – it’s November as I write now, and whilst we have had an Attestation of the loan which we’ve been able to give to the Notaire, we still don’t have the offer on the table yet – the goalposts seem to change constantly.

Our French is improving as we slowly discover more and more of the complexities of the property laws (especially ex-agricultural properties!)


summer sun


and autumn hues


We fell in love with the house at the end of spring, we have seen it through the summer and recently in it’s glorious autumn colours – maybe it’ll be ours before the first snow of winter?

Fingers and toes crossed!



 The Renovation

We had to have a bunch of quotes (devis) to give to the bank for our mortgage application, so even before we’d had time to think about what we really wanted to do with the project, Joe had to draw up some plans – since the first ideas all those months ago, we have made many discoveries and honed and talked late into the night about our dream house – and how we really want to live in it.

A few pieces of synchronicity have brought us simultaneously to an interest in Permaculture – and the latest shifts in how we proceed have been really coloured by this idea of sustainability and self-sufficiency.  Our great friend Hills from California is coming to France to study permaculture next year, and has offered to come and help us with the renovation, as part of a personal quest to see if she wants to move permanently to Europe. She had already booked her Permaculture course before the idea hit our sphere of thinking – she has experience and passion, and we are so thrilled to be embarking on this adventure with her.

So this is where we’re at in November 2016 – Here are some pictures of the house – I plan to blog our journey, as much for us to have a record as for anyone else who might be interested!

Thank you for reading this far!

Please subscribe if you’d like to follow our adventure with us!

2016 – brave new year!

I love the beginning of the year. Full of optimism and new energy, I charge through January trying to make things happen! This year my main focus so far has been my Mum’s writing. I wrote this article recently for a warm and wonderful Facebook group of English speaking Mums who live in France. As it is a closed group I wasn’t able to share the article, and so here it is on my blog.  This is not the first time I’ve written about Mum, and I’m sure it won’t be the last – but it is a fairly detailed tale of her blossoming new writing career, and how it all began… Hope you enjoy it!

My Mum, Pat Garwood

My Mum is currently writing her third novel, and is a bit of an inspiration!

Pat Garwood

Pat Garwood


She started her career as a child actress – she was one of the schoolchildren in the classic Ealing Comedy – The Lavender Hill Mob, and worked in the West End Theatre and on TV and radio throughout her school years.

Patricia Garwood The Lavender Hill Mob (1951)

June Edwards bought one” Lavender Hill Mob 1951

She met my Dad, Jeremy Paul, when she was just 18 and playing Wendy in Peter Pan at the Scala Theatre in the West End. It was a fairy tale case of love at first sight! He was in his first year at Oxford University, but having sold his first play while still a student, he left Oxford, they got married and I came along when she was just 21.

Mum and Dad's Wedding


They were happily married for more than 50 years and I was lucky enough to grow up with my three younger sisters in the most loving, interesting, warm and supportive family. As a playwright, Dad worked from home, so he was always present throughout my childhood with his wisdom and boundless generosity.



My mum started writing in her forties and the first book she wrote, Walnuts, was inspired by our family life and the ups and downs of her friends and neighbours. However, she was juggling family life with her professional life and coupled with the vast expense (in those pre-digital days) of copying and sending out manuscripts to agents and editors, it proved too daunting to seek out a publisher, so she ended up putting it in the loft.

About twelve years later she had a vivid and extraordinary dream… about a Victorian family, living on a remote Cornish island. The dream became the prologue to Keyne Island, and the desire to write this tale of intrigue, love, money and deceit was so overwhelming that it demanded to be written! As with her first book though, once completed, Keyne Island didn’t find a publisher – and also made it’s way to the loft!

Mum continued working as an actress, taking chunks of time out to look after us four girls, and choosing carefully the kind of work she did. As we were growing up she did mainly TV work, including a few years playing Beryl in the popular sit-com No Place Like Home. However, as we all left home one by one, she felt free to take on more theatre and touring work.


No Place Like Home

Dad first got ill in 1989, just before Joe and I got married. He had cancer of the stomach, but after massive and brilliant surgery, (no need even for chemo) he recovered, always a slimmer version of himself, but as creative and inspiring as ever.

Mum and Dad in Swanage

Waving Goodbye…

The cancer snuck back in 2011, and he died aged only 71, within a few months of re-diagnosis. Mum was amazing – such an incredible example to everyone around her. She decided fairly quickly after his death to move to a smaller house. As she sorted through the years worth of stored possessions, trying to get all her affairs in order, she came across a pdf version she’d had made of Keyne Island along with the boxed up paper manuscripts of both books. She suddenly thought how nice it would be for each of us girls to have a copy for posterity, and attached it to an email, not even expecting us to read it any time soon.

I had the idea to make a one-off hardback copy for her as a present, to mark the amazing achievement of having written it, and have the satisfaction of seeing her work in print. I did a bit of research and discovered the brilliant lulu.com and started the self-publishing adventure. The original intention was never to think beyond a few copies for the close family, but as I re-read the novel I was completely bowled over by its originality and bold themes – although set in repressive Victorian England, the book explores homosexuality and cross-dressing, and felt so fresh and unusual. It seemed to me that this was a story well worth sharing, if only I knew how!

Keyne Island

Keyne Island

Needless to say, Mum was very chuffed with the book when it arrived, and between us we decided to put it into the public domain – we printed a paperback edition and made an e-book available too. All versions are now available on Amazon or Lulu.

Inspired and emboldened by the responses from friends and family, Mum decided to revisit Walnuts, the first book she had written. She wondered if it would have any relevance thirty years on? She decided it definitely did; technology may have changed the way we communicate and connect – but love and family, infidelity… and death …remain pretty unchanged!

What followed was a really satisfying collaboration where Mum would rework each chapter and send it to my sisters and me to read – we would check its relevancy within the technological world we live in today and also that it chimed with our own children’s experiences – and she would adjust accordingly. We were careful not to interfere with creative suggestions – our role was very clearly just about spot-checking for any inconsistencies. She, of course, was totally re-working every chapter as she went through, and there were some small but significant changes to plot and characters.



It was such a satisfying process! Harry designed a classy Pat Garwood website, I started a Facebook page and Twitter profile, Joe designed the book covers and I launched myself into promotion and sales – an area I had never explored before. It has been a journey all of us have been involved in, and one of my biggest pleasures in this whole process has been seeing Mum find who she is as a widow – when so much of her life was spent in a partnership and looking after us.

It’s so easy for us to lose our creative selves as we give all our energy and attention to our families. I’m hoping my Mum’s tale might just show that age and lack of funds should never limit us and stop us reaching for the stars! Self-publishing makes so much possible that simply wasn’t before. If you feel you might have a story to tell, it’s time to set aside some time and tell it. I get a huge satisfaction from blogging the shifts and changes of my life since we moved to France almost 8 years ago. I really feel it helps me make sense of my life to chronicle it!  And what I’ve learned over the last few months is that there is so much wonderful support for indie-authors online. So, as the great prophet Nike said: ‘Just do it’!

Her new novel is a fascinating look at assisted suicide. Set in the near future, in a Britain where euthanasia is a legal choice for the terminally ill and the over seventies,  Best Way Out tells the story of a group of strangers who have chosen, for various reasons, to end their lives on their own terms at the private clinic, Leeway Lodge. Each chapter follows a character as they arrive at the clinic for their final evening, and then we go back to a formative moment or event in their past. It is a riveting read as the story switches from the present, where their inevitable final moment is fast approaching, to the glimpses into their youth, full of passion, intrigue, love, sadness and joy. It is a subject that Mum feels passionate about, and to follow these beautifully found characters as they play out their final hours, but where their death is entirely their choice is so refreshing.

If you want to find out when Best Way Out makes it to print (and ebook of course), sign up for the very occasional newsletter on Pat Garwood.com (you even get a free download of Keyne Island as a thank you for your support!)

Anyway, here’s a little taster from the opening of Walnuts, I hope you enjoy it:


Eileen Taylor was thirty-nine years old. She had a husband, two children, a new house and a headache. She made herself a cup of coffee and thought about the evening.

She and Keith had been asked over the road to have a few drinks with Michael and Penny, who lived opposite them. ‘Come about eight-thirty’ Penny had said. If there was one thing that threw Eileen into a state of instant depression it was the thought of a few drinks with Penny and Michael, or indeed anyone. She had a strong anti-social streak and whenever she and Keith were asked out, or whenever they found themselves having someone to dinner, she always wished that something would happen to prevent it. Given that, she also knew that once any of these occasions were actually happening, she quite often really enjoyed them. So she sat with her coffee, trying to reason with herself – she didn’t want to be a drag for Keith and she needed to think positively about Penny and Michael. …

to find out more, go to : Pat Garwood.com

From me and Mum – thanks for reading!11061173_1044370695577468_5244621072326011391_n-1

The Christmas Videos…and a happy new year!

IMG_9897It was a truly wonderful Christmas here this year – very relaxed, simple and calm – full of laughter and quietly precious family moments…. and an awful lot of (though I say it myself) fabulous food!  As is now an annual tradition,  Beth made a family video as our Christmas card, and  I just wanted to put a link to all the magnificent Christmas videos she has put together over the last 6 years.

It makes me smile from ear to ear to see the way she pieces together our year, and makes such a wonderful record for posterity – amazing to watch my children growing up so fast! So here is this years’s 2015 Christmas video, followed by the ones before… hope you enjoy them!

And here’s to a peaceful, successful 2016 full of love and laughter!

Then there was 2014:




and the first one in 2010: