Home thoughts

In his farewell col­umn, George East writes a love let­ter to France

French Property News - - Contents -

Don’t miss George’s fi­nal FPN col­umn

Coucou chérie

I know we see each other con­stantly, but at this spe­cial an­niver­sary, I wanted to try and put into words why I’ve been in love with you for the best part of a life­time, and I do mean the best part.

We met, if you re­call, when I was but a cal­low youth. I’d come to Paris on a school ex­change trip, and knew straight­away I’d got the best of the swap. From the mo­ment I ar­rived, I en­tered an­other world, and one I wanted to see a lot more of.

I’d left a re­pressed and re­stricted mono­chrome post-war coun­try, where short back and sides hair­cuts were de rigueur, and colour­ful clothes a cause of sus­pi­cion. There I was in blazer, grey flan­nels and Bryl­creem, while your ul­tra-cool youths wore sharp hair­cuts and eye-daz­zlingly colour­ful clob­ber with a smoul­der­ing Gi­tane or Gauloise hang­ing in­sou­ciantly from bot­tom lips as they whizzed around on mopeds. There and then I knew our affair would be a long and hope­fully en­dur­ing one.

The mo­ment I was old enough, I set about court­ing you. In Eng­land, I wore French clothes, smoked French cig­a­rettes, drank French drinks and, to the hor­ror of my con­tem­po­raries, ate gar­lic. I tried to learn your lan­guage so we could get to know each other bet­ter – and I’m still try­ing. I came a-court­ing in ev­ery free mo­ment; mo­tor­ing, sail­ing, cruis­ing and ped­alling. As a 21st birth­day present to my­self I spent a for­ever mem­o­rable year walk­ing and hitch-hik­ing 2,000 miles within your bor­ders, wal­low­ing in the de­light­ful di­ver­sity in land­scape, cul­ture and tongue.

Like all lovers, we some­times fell out. Usu­ally over tri­fles, and the good bits al­ways more than made up for the bad. What­ever hap­pens next, I just wanted you to know what a com­plete joy our affair has been, and that, if I could start over, I’d do it all again. Thanks for the mem­o­ries ma chérie, and see you in my dreams.

Ma préférence

Hav­ing de­clared my undy­ing love for our clos­est Con­ti­nen­tal neigh­bour, I thought I’d share some of the mo­ments and mile­stones on my jour­ney to be­com­ing a to­tal and help­less Fran­cophile. And, of course, a to­tal French prop­er­ty­phile.

Any list must in­clude my wife and I search­ing for our first French home. Great fun for us, but not for those pro­fes­sion­als we plagued. Es­tate agents and no­taires would dive for cover as we ap­proached.

Then came the in­ef­fa­ble joy of turn­ing a cor­ner and see­ing what would be­come our first home in France. Then, that magic mo­ment when we found our­selves sit­ting in the office of the no­taire and pray­ing that nothing would stop us get­ting our hands on the giant old key which would un­lock the door of the Lit­tle Jewel.

Fate (as it usu­ally does with us) in­ter­vened and we got an of­fer we could not refuse for our bi­jou cot­tage be­fore we’d re­ally got to know it.

Once again, we be­came the prop­erty agents’ neme­sis. Iron­i­cally, and af­ter search­ing the length and breadth of the re­gion, we found ex­actly what we sought just a mile down the road in the shape of a ru­ined mill cot­tage and farm­house on 10 acres of fields, ponds, woods and mud.

Je t’aime, moi non plus

There were the fun and games and ups and downs of restor­ing prop­erty in a for­eign and some­times strange land, and learn­ing how to per­suade a plumber with a love of home-brew ap­ple brandy that we’d rather have the toi­let in the bath­room than the kitchen.

Our small ad­ven­tures at the Mill of the Flea be­came so bizarre that I wrote a book about them, and, to our amaze­ment, Home & Dry in France be­came a mod­est bestseller.

Since then I’ve writ­ten dozens of books and mil­lions of words about the de­lights of liv­ing in and mov­ing around France. It’s all been great fun, but cre­ated an un­ex­pected prob­lem. Hav­ing lived in or trav­elled through ev­ery one of the French re­gions, we are still un­able to de­cide which one should be our fi­nal rest­ing place.

Ne me quitte pas Any list of our favourite French ex­pe­ri­ences and places must in­clude rural French bars. Our first lo­cal was a room in a cot­tage shared by two el­derly sis­ters, where they would dis­pense their own cider and tell of their ad­ven­tures in the War and mak­ing knick­ers from parachute silk.

Then there was the bar which only opened for the midi meal when the owner had slaugh­tered one of his sheep. And all those road­side ou­vrier bars putting on re­gional spe­cial­i­ties for work­ers which put posh restau­rants to shame for a tenth of the price.

Most trea­sured of all, those won­der­ful and sadly fast­dis­ap­pear­ing vil­lage stores with a curtain di­vid­ing gro­cery shop from bar and in­vari­ably run by a for­bid­ding Madame.

It seems im­pos­si­ble, but this year I’m cel­e­brat­ing six decades of my love affair with France, and that love has been re­turned a mil­lion times. Not by the odd An­glo­phobe or the mis­an­thropes who dwell in any coun­try, but by all the magic mo­ments and good peo­ple and their acts of friend­ship and kind­ness.

Je t’aimais, je t’aime, je t’aimerai So, what’s next?

For sure our search will con­tinue. I’m a travel writer and have trav­elled and writ­ten about other lands, but I al­ways re­turn to my first for­eign love.

Richard the Lion­heart left in­struc­tions that his re­mains be strewn around var­i­ous parts of his beloved France. I am Bri­tish and proud to be so, but my heart will al­ways be in France.

We will con­tinue our wan­der­ings and won­der­ing in France, and who knows where we may set­tle? Some­where, there’s a vil­lage where bi­cy­cles still out­num­ber cars and the barépicerie has been in the hands of the same re­doubtable lady for as long as any­one can re­mem­ber.

In­side, the yel­low­ing posters ad­ver­tise long-past events and the shad­ows of my long-passed friends from the Jolly Boys Club sit with a cig­a­rette and glass of wine for all eter­nity. When I find this per­fect place, I’ll let you know. Per­haps.

Till then, it’s been fun and see you all next time…

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.