Home thoughts from abroad

Re­flec­tions of a prop­erty hunter

French Property News - - Contents -

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, most peo­ple like the idea of liv­ing the Good Life, but are not so keen when it comes to ac­tu­ally liv­ing it. I should make it clear that by the Good Life, I don’t mean lark­ing around in a foun­tain in Rome with Anita Ek­berg (à la La Dolce Vita). Or swan­ning around in the azure wa­ters off Nice drink­ing bub­bly on the deck of a lux­ury yacht which would make Sir Phillip Green’s lat­est look like a ped­alo.

What I am on about is out­door DIY, or the gen­eral de­lights (or not) of grow­ing your own fruit, veg­eta­bles and live­stock. I know of what I speak, as I sus­pect I am the orig­i­na­tor of more failed self­suf­fi­ciency (or per­haps that should be self-sur­vival) schemes than most. But more of that later.

Of course, the level and scale of ac­tiv­ity ranges from keep­ing a few hens and a mod­est veg gar­den to full-blown at­tempts to live off what you make or grow. I know peo­ple in France who do live for al­most free, but weav­ing our own clothes and keep­ing an­i­mals to kill and eat has never been our scene. In all our years in France, we were some­where around nudg­ing two on a scale of one to 10 as far as liv­ing off the land goes. Mind you, it didn’t start out that way.

Our first home in France didn’t even have a gar­den. Well, it did, but in the way things can be in ru­ral ar­eas, it be­longed to the lady next door and, though she never used it and had a few acres else­where, she re­fused to even con­tem­plate sell­ing it.

Frus­trated at not hav­ing even a cor­ner of a for­eign field to call our own, we went from land­less to own­ing 10 acres of fields, or­chards and wood­lands with a river run­ning through them.

A cun­ning scheme If you’re go­ing to try your hand at the Good Life, I can think of worst places to try it out than in ru­ral France. Although the great ma­jor­ity live in towns, the French seem to have the coun­try­side and the ways of na­ture in their blood. They un­der­stand how it all works, and we have found they are al­ways

happy to in­struct for­eign­ers how to get the most eggs from their hen house (and how to boil them).

Our land came with a ru­ined farm­house and mill cot­tage; plan ‘A’ was to re­store both and then think how we could live off our land and wits. Ac­cord­ingly, we two town­ies bought all the books and a pair of gum­boots each, then moved over the Chan­nel and set to.

My wife took to an­i­mal hus­bandry like a duck to wa­ter, of which we had a dozen. We also in­vested in a host of chick­ens and geese, and dug and seeded a lake with ed­i­ble fish and cray­fish.

While my wife was dig­ging and pre­par­ing a huge veg gar­den and work­ing on the ap­ple and cherry or­chards, I started to put my cun­ning schemes into ac­tion. The first was to bot­tle, mar­ket and flog the wa­ter from our river. This was a non-starter due to pol­lu­tion from the lo­cal cat­tle us­ing it as a con­ve­nient con­ve­nience.

Next was my scheme for a snail farm, but it fal­tered be­cause I bought the wrong sort of snails. Then I set up a cray­fish breed­ing project, which failed when the res­i­dent gi­ant muskrat ate them all. The same ap­plied to my plans for a fish farm, as the lo­cal an­glers con­sid­ered my ef­forts as part of na­ture’s bounty.

Fi­nally, in­spi­ra­tion came when a gar­lic bulb be­came wedged un­der the front seat of our Volvo. Af­ter a week in the height of sum­mer, the odour con­quered all other smells, and I tried to mar­ket the idea of the world’s first nat­u­ral and or­ganic car de­odoriser. For some rea­son, I could not find a backer.

A glut of cour­gettes To be fair, we had a great time learn­ing from our mis­takes if not prof­it­ing from them, and I can think of few greater plea­sures than open­ing the door to the hen­house and count­ing the morn­ing clutch. As well as pro­vid­ing eggs, chick­ens make great com­pan­ions. Goats can be messy, but they are af­fec­tion­ate, as are geese. We would not dream of eat­ing mem­bers of our ex­tended fam­ily, but they more than re­paid the ef­fort of keep­ing them.

An­other plea­sure and real re­turn on ef­fort was watch­ing a patch of bare earth turn into a ver­dant jun­gle of food­stuff. The only draw­back is that fruit and many veg­eta­bles have the in­con­ve­nient habit of ma­tur­ing at the same time.

That was fine with ap­ples and other fruit as sur­pluses could be turned into wine and even il­licit hooch, but the yearly veg­etable glut could cause prob­lems. Try­ing to force your cour­gettes and tomato sur­plus on neigh­bours who are try­ing to get rid of theirs can lead to em­bar­rass­ment and even a fall­ing-out.

I wouldn’t rec­om­mend any level of Good Life liv­ing to any­one whose home in France is not a per­ma­nent one, although it can be done. At one time we had a huge net­work of ex­pat, lo­cal and hol­i­day home owner friends who would tend our gar­dens and menagerie while we were away. In re­turn, we would bring back jars of prized mar­malade and bot­tles of Scotch for our French care­tak­ers, and frozen In­dian meals and hard cheese for our ex­pat friends.

To sum­mate, we are all dif­fer­ent. Some look at a patch of land and see a per­fect lawn and a few taste­ful or­na­ments dot­ted around. Oth­ers see a con­ve­nient place to con­crete over for a car park. Some, like us, see rows of sweet­corn and beans and con­tented chick­ens cluck­ing around un­der­foot.

You will know which way your heart turns, and my ad­vice would be to suck it and see. Why not rent a ru­ral dwelling with some land and an ami­able owner and try it on for size?

See you next time, when we will be look­ing at the pros and cons of a home in the Loire Val­ley.

We would not dream of eat­ing mem­bers of our ex­tended fam­ily – they more than re­pay the ef­fort and ex­pense of keep­ing them

For more in­for­ma­tion on Ge­orge’s trav­els and his books on liv­ing the Good Life in France visit ge­orge-east.net

Ex­tended fam­ily: Goats can be messy but they are af­fec­tion­ate crea­tures

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