Any old iron
As Ian Moore tries to clear the decks ready for his B&B and gîte conversion, his wife has other ideas
Ihadn’t exactly expected world domination by this point; our all-powerful, global chain of chambres d’hôtes will no doubt take time. But having made a bleak midwinter, fireside decision to start down the hospitality route, I hadn’t envisaged re-stocking the winter firewood before sod had even been broken, as it were. Don’t get me wrong, we moved to France pretty much for the pace of life, but this is now making tectonic plate movement look wilfully cavalier.
For a nation that prides itself on revolution, industrial action and generally sticking it to the ‘man’, France loves a rule. In particular, it likes to get permission, and planning permission especially. In order to convert the horse’s stable into a high-end chambre de charme, we need to kick the horse out and build the cantankerous old beast a new stable, which apparently now requires the dreaded planning permission too. Our shoulders slumped on the news, but the harassed mayoress, now with a Chief Inspector Dreyfus eye twitch following a general election and two rounds of legislative elections, was unbending. “The horse will need permission,” she said.
“I’m not sure we’ll get her up the stairs to your office for that,” I replied unhelpfully, and setting the twitch off to maximum flap.
It’s important not to lose sight of the goal when faced with obstacles, so while architects, politicians, builders and other tradespeople hammer these things out, we need to be ready for the moment the action actually starts. And I was determined to clear out a lot of old junk, and make space for the coming transformation. My first mistake was doing this at the start of the brocante season, my second was to strut around loudly hailing the oceans of space I had created. Throw into that mix my wife’s addiction to other people’s cast-offs and by the end of the summer, we had full barns again.
Once upon a time the French brocante was rightly hailed as the source of antique wonder, but eBay and mass plundering by Brits (usually with a TV crew in tow) have put paid to that. And now this once mighty institution is just a jumble sale of babies’ clothing, old McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, VHS cassettes and incomplete board games. Yet despite this dearth of quality, my wife still returns with a full car every time. And so, despite it being made very clear that the chambres d’hôtes would be my ‘department’ and mine only, I was unceremoniously dumped from the interior design committee while she went shabby chic crazy. I’m still not entirely sure of the design route she’s taken, only that the dominant colour is rust and that the mass of space I had created by removing a mountain of hastily bought ‘antiques’ has now been refilled with identical stuff.
I am convinced that we have reached the apotheosis of recycling here. We bought someone’s old tat, sorry heirloom, stored it for a while before I then dumped it at the local déchetterie. Someone else then rescued it, took it to a brocante and my wife re-bought it thinking she now has a matching pair. It’s the Circle of Life as Sir Elton once sang.
Of course, it might be very clever job creation. Sensing my frustration at the snail-like pace of administration, what she’s actually doing is keeping me gainfully employed, like throwing a ball for a dog so it doesn’t go digging in the flower beds. I had a timetable in mind, which was probably naïve but took into account the ‘nothing will happen, it’s summer’ period, the distraction of la rentrée and a harsh winter and I was still fairly confident of cutting the ribbon on the thing next spring.
“And we have to buy all the furniture yet!” I whined into my late-summer pastis.
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she said, “the brocantes will be up again by Easter.”