Elephants are Chewy…..

I can’t believe we’ve been here for just on a month.  It’s been an interesting four weeks to say the least.

Things here have been SO busy and a little …maybe unusual is a good word.  We had to stay in the main Chateau while the English Caretakers put together the last bits and pieces and left for new adventures.

Estate manager's Cottage

Finally we went into the cottage and it wasn’t nice at all. Basically it’s never been cared for, hasn’t been kept and it’s filled strange smells like neglected houses can have.  The floors are rotting, the toilet has black mould all up the walls, the shower is black and the tile grout is oozing something I can’t describe but I think might carry the entire bathroom out one day (which wouldn’t be a bad thing)  and the kitchen has unmentionable stains and rotten cupboards.

I wanted to cry.  From the outside, it is SO cute and has SO much potential – a two bedroomed thatched cottage straight out of an Asterix book…but inside is worse than terrible.

So I did a drawing of how it would look like if we changed a few things, knocked out a wall, added a door and window and made the bathroom into an entrance and moved the bathroom upstairs leaving just a guest loo downstairs.  The entire floor needs to be re-screeded and a new kitchen with stove etc needs to go in.  Then we went to the local hardware store and priced everything and got a quote from a builder to do most of the main work.

It all just means we’ll have to move again into the other little house that is rented out to holiday makers – the Farm House – while all the work is being done  I really feel like we’re not playing musical chairs..but musical houses!

Samuel is the general helper/gardener that comes three times a week.  He’s twenty-eight and has a little girl of three.  He speaks no English at all which means we have to REALLY get to grips with French before we accidently ask him to move the Chateau a little to the left. It’s funny how you can like someone instantly, get on with them and have a good laugh despite the language barrier.  That was how it was with the Dear One and Samuel.  The fact that they had to get 7000 liters of Calvados (apple brandy) out of plastic vats and into oak barrels could have added to the relaxed atmosphere and the sudden ability for the Dear One to not only understand French, but to speak it as well!  To start the suction from the vat to the barrel, they had to suck on the end of the pipe..the stuff is 70% proof….as you can imagine, one sip has quite an effect.

The two of them appear for lunch or tea and the three of us and Google translate enjoy an animated conversation.

Samuel is teaching us more French than we could hope for.  But it has its draw backs…it can make you deaf.  The Chateau seems to contain only two plants, roses and hydrangeas.  Roses are easy, same in French.  A hydrangea is another thing altogether, it’s an Euretoncia.

The Chateau is in the Eure department and Monet’s garden isn’t far from here.  Flowers grow prolifically and the Hortensia is a much loved plant in the area.  Apparently I wasn’t saying it quite correctly…the slightest inflection in the wrong place renders the word TOTALLY wrong and a Frenchman will look blank and refuse to even try and understand.

So the conversation went something like this… Monets Garden in the Summer

“Samuel…comment dit tu?” (How do you say it?)


“Eur – ton- cya?” (sounded pretty good to me!)

“Non!  Hor-TEN-SIA”

“Or- Ten-sia? ” (after all the French never pronounce the H)

NON!  Hor –    TEN –  SIA

Crumbs I thought, I better get it right this time otherwise he’s going to bellow me into the valley!

My next attempt got one hand up, held level and see-sawed up and down telling me it wasn’t bad…but definitely not great.  The expression on his face added to his low opinion.  I spent the next half an hour sweeping the steps and muttering Hortensia Hortensia Hortensia Hortensia.  When the two of them appeared round the corner again I was awarded with a thumbs up and a hefty pat on the back.  I had got it right.  Now I have to remember it.

But at last the Chateau and the Farmhouse are “my clean”.  It’s weird, other people can clean a house, but it never really feels right until you do it yourself.  One thing I have learnt…never look at a floor, or a wall, or grout…and spray a small circle of Easy-Off Bang on it, then scrub the area and wipe it.  NOT a good idea in an old 1641 Chateau.  NOT a good idea if, even though you’re not there to clean from top to toe, you so happen to like things clean.    Who needs a gym when the secret to a new trim fit you is a bottle or two of Easy-Off Bang, a nine bedroomed chateau and a large vaulted kitchen.  Et Voila! Tres Bonne!

The next few weeks will be spent renovating our little cottage which has a pear tree in the front and an apple tree in the back.  We have permission to pave an area, make a veranda and plant a herb garden and “old world” French portage.  It’s all very exciting really.

Samuel will be there as well so our French will get better….I have to laugh at him, he has a great sense of humour and the more he wants you to understand, the more he pats your shoulder.  I look out the window sometimes and catch him with the Dear One, wild gestures, endless pats and lots of loud laughing.

Samuel is one of those people who either “knows someone” or “has a relative”.  His cousin can help with discounts on equipment, his uncle can fix the tractor and he knows someone who can help with x, y and z.  I’m not surprised he has such a vast repertoire of contacts. The other day, we were all driving home from the Bricolage (builders’ warehouse type shop) when we rounded the corner and got stuck behind a small Digger.  The Dear One overtook and then turned his attention to Samuel who had started to wave his hands around and talk in ascending tones.  Aah yes, we needed a digger to dig a drainage trench and had got three quotes, all between EU400 and EU700.  Samuel was determined that we stop on the side of the road and wait for it to catch up.  Sure enough, as it chugged up behind us, he lept out flailing his arms like a wild man and the two had a long animated discussion while I watched with great interest and the Dear One nearly crawled under the car seat in embarrassment.  But it seems that is how it’s done, the Digger arrived the next day after he had finished his original job and within 15 minutes the trench was dug and the young driver had EU130 tucked into his pocket with the promise to return to dig up the hedge at a future date.  It was an outcome that Samuel talked about (and patted our shoulders a lot) for many days..plus, he had another “contact”.

I could rattle on but I think I’ve done that enough.  2014 promises to be an adventurous one, and I hope that it promises to be all that you hoped for as well.

Take care, keep safe and thanks again for walking the Footpath with me, it’s great having you there

A la prochaine


About M

I am at heart and artist...which spills over into other areas apart from the pastels, pencils, paintbrush and paper. I love cooking, I love gardening and I love nature. Leaving South Africa to come to France was difficult, but an adventurous challenge and together with my husband and two furry friends, I manage to do all that I love and more while I walk the 'Footpath to France'.
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5 Responses to Elephants are Chewy…..

  1. Marion Fuchs says:

    I promise to “walk the footpath to France” with you all the way, can’t wait for the next edition.
    Love M and G


  2. Penny MacKenzie says:

    With much love and blessings for 2014

    Penny + Gordon MacKenzie


  3. Mark Hartopp says:

    Hi Moraig

    Glad you guys are well. Quite the adventure it seems. All the best for 2014.


    Mark and Lorraine


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