Stub­born as a mule

Living France - - Contents -

An in­ci­dent with a horse gives Ian Moore’s B&B the kick-start it needs

One of the beau­ties of this part of ru­ral France is its frankly old-fash­ioned in­sis­tence on the tra­di­tional four sea­sons. So many places th­ese days seem lazily to feel two is suf­fi­cient, or worse, just the one long grey one where, as my co­me­dian friend Paul Thorne says, Four Sea­sons is just an op­tion on a pizza menu.

That said, over the last few years, win­ter around here has been building up its part. Shov­ing au­tumn pre­ma­turely off the stage, eat­ing into spring’s opening num­ber and gen­er­ally dron­ing on in front of a rest­less au­di­ence. Floods es­pe­cially have be­come so se­vere in parts that evo­lu­tion may need to con­sider in­tro­duc­ing gills for the lo­cals, or at the very least webbed feet. At last though, spring is here and all seems well with the world again. Things are lit­er­ally look­ing up.

There was a time when I thought ren­o­va­tion work for the cham­bres d’hôtes would never start. That we’d be stuck for all eter­nity in some frus­trat­ing time loop of hope and ad­min­is­tra­tive in­tran­si­gence. The weather played its part of course, but then fate in­ter­vened to jump-start the thing. Fate, in the re­luc­tant shape of an an­gry horse.

I don’t usu­ally deal in na­tional stereo­types but if you were to look up the word ‘stub­born’ in a dic­tio­nary, then ‘French horse’ would pretty much nail it, I reckon. The char­ity we res­cued our horse from named her Ul­time, pre­sum­ably be­cause she has the last word on every­thing, but by and large, she’s good na­tured, a plea­sure to be around. Friendly even. Un­less, the win­ter has dragged on and she’s had enough of muddy pud­dles.

Why I thought I had any ap­ti­tude for start­ing the ren­o­va­tion work my­self, I re­ally don’t know. It’s not as if I have a glo­ri­ous his­tory of be­ing prac­ti­cal, but I was – like the horse her­self – champ­ing at the bit. So I de­cided to crack on and at­tach the gut­ter­ing to the new sta­ble my­self.

And it was, if I say so my­self, a work of art.

That is, if by art, you mean a cross be­tween the Pom­pi­dou Cen­tre and one of the more outré Turner Prize ef­forts. The roof, that I had fit­ted, didn’t over­hang enough to spill the wa­ter into the gut­ter. In fact, it was so short of the gut­ter the rain ran off be­tween the two. I had in effect cre­ated some kind of in­dus­trial wa­ter fea­ture, very pleas­ing if that’s your thing, use­less as a col­lec­tor of rain­wa­ter though.

The horse gave me a sour look. My wife gave me a sour look. And, Bruno, the roofer who was called to res­cue the job gave me a sour look too. It was raining when he ar­rived and you could tell he didn’t like it. He mea­sured up, made some un­con­vinc­ing noises to the effect of ‘well, it’s eas­ily done’ and gave rather a vague date for his re­turn. I don’t know what trig­gered Ul­time’s as­ton­ish­ing be­hav­iour, maybe she wanted a more def­i­nite ar­range­ment, but she went berserk. She started charg­ing around and buck­ing, kick­ing out at Bruno, nar­rowly miss­ing his head a cou­ple of times. Bruno, six foot two and over 20 stone ran like he’d prob­a­bly never run be­fore and made for the gate. I, taking a leaf from The Horse Whis­perer, tried to calm the beast by swear­ing loudly at her in a lan­guage she didn’t un­der­stand. It didn’t work, and I nar­rowly es­caped a maul­ing, div­ing through the or­chard fence like it was a rodeo.

“When we start the building work,” Bruno panted, “you’ll keep that thing away from us, yes?”

Per­haps cowed by the prospect of me not do­ing so, work fi­nally be­gan on the cham­bres d’hôtes a week later. So now spring is here, I am mak­ing chut­ney where I can do no dam­age, the ren­o­va­tions look spec­tac­u­lar and the horse is be­calmed. The jour­ney has fi­nally be­gun.

Ian Moore is a co­me­dian, writer, chut­ney-maker and mod who lives with his fam­ily in the Loire Val­ley. His lat­est book is C’est Mod­nifique!, (£8.99, Sum­mers­dale Publishers). ian­moore.info

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