“We agreed on À la Belle Étoile, which reflects the magnificence of the Loire Valley sky and the fact that, so far, it had no roof”
There’s no such thing as inactivity when you’re starting a new venture. Just because those who dish out planning permission were still missing in action, with search parties venturing out into the cold tundra of bureaucracy hoping for a sign of existence, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done. For starters, we hadn’t yet come up with a name for our chambres d’hôtes-gîtes.
I suggested Shangri-la – mythical place names feeling rather in keeping, seeing as the thing was still just a vague dream even this many months into the project. Natalie suggested La Carapace de Tortue, The Tortoise Shell – a comforting, homely image and a biting satire on the current rate of forward progress. We agreed though on À la Belle Étoile, ‘Under the Stars’, which reflects the magnificence of the Loire Valley sky and the fact that, so far, it had no roof. Marketing would be next, and local word of mouth is vital.
“Still waiting for the permis de construire?” Gustave the builder asked for the umpteenth time, chuckling, his patience infinitely greater than mine.
I worry about Gustave, a lovelier man you couldn’t wish to meet, but injury prone. Having listed before his various successive work-related ailments, he arrived this time with a heavy limp, his crutches thrown aside as his rehabilitation from a previous wound continued.
This rehabilitation however was to wear a built-up shoe that would gradually be shaved over the coming weeks until it was on a par with the other foot. This was early days though, and he listed as though on a rough sea crossing.
“Built-up shoe, eh?” I said, “How did you get planning permission?”
Gustave gave a gentle, almost pretend, laugh. Maybe something got lost in translation but frankly I thought it deserved more. A few minutes later though, he was rolling around and barely able to contain himself. He’d arrived to mark out where the new stable (pending authorisation) would go, and to make life easier we’d fenced off the horse and goats, so that the builders wouldn’t have to battle inquisitive livestock.
The horse was behaving herself, but the goats were treating the whole exercise like it was a playground; jumping through the electric fence as though at a circus. The wretched animals couldn’t have looked more relaxed about their ‘incarceration’ had they been lolling about on their backs and running the electrified tape suggestively through their hoof toes.
I was livid; Gustave thought it hilarious. And what was even more hilarious apparently was the thunderous look on my face and my attempts to herd the beasts into their pen.
“Ha ha!” Gustave laughed, “it’s like the lawn mower!”
I stopped goat rustling briefly, my dignity crushed. The Lawn Mower Incident. So, word had got out.
I wasn’t fussed about mowing the lawn so when the thing wouldn’t start, I was quite pleased until Natalie then insisted I take it to the mechanic and get it fixed. I’m no good in these situations. The week before, I’d called out an electrician for an emergency power failure, only to find the power failure was entirely mine and I’d pressed the wrong switch. It was the same with the mower. I got it to the mechanic’s, lifted the heavy thing out of the car, reconstructed the handle, explained the problem and, of course, he started it first time. “Good,” I said, as if it was all a test. He was looking at me oddly while I quietly dismantled the handle, lifted the thing back into the car, waved goodbye and then drove off up the slight incline, thus sending the unsecured lawn mower careering through the car boot window with a massive crash. The mechanic removed his baseball cap, scratched his head and looked about for any hidden cameras.
So, word is spreading about me and our new venture… there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?