Time is short was the mantra of the day â and every day. Of course, we werenât ready and Brigitte was horrified to find us in our renovating clothes; they arrived during the sacred French lunch hour! That was the first time, and there were many more in the next few weeks, when we could get ready, pull on decent clothes and transform ourselves in literally two minutes. In fact, we got it down to an art form, usually with a shower as well, but always in record time. I even managed to throw on some make-up to try and look more presentable to the world, bearing in mind it was a âFrenchâ world.
We had carefully planned where we should have lunch with Brigitte and Erick as we were very conscious that Brigitte used to be a chef and had her own restaurant. The village restaurant was only a minuteâs walk away â one of the reasons we chose our house, in fact â but the food was not quite the Michelin fare we were hoping to treat our friends to. We had planned to go to Martel, a mere seven minutesâ drive away, but Brigitte was alarmed at the thought. After all, it was now almost one and nearly an hour into the precious lunch period. So, the village restaurant it was.
It turned out to be a brilliant decision for a number of reasons. There were a few workers inside eating, but the four of us were the only ones sitting outside. The food was fine, but what we realised afterwards was that, by going there with French friends, our standing in the village probably increased enormously. George Arnal, the owner, enquired through Brigitte and Erick whether we needed a gardener. Well, we were desperate to have the grass cut and, voilÃ , he was able to give us Christianâs details. However, the coup de grÃ¢ce was â and this was only revealed by chance as we are leaving â that the unusually high volume of traffic was because of roadworks on the main road to Paris; all the traffic was being diverted! I could have wept for joy. How momentous life decisions can hinge on the slightest chance. If it had not come up as we were about to say au revoir , our ultimate decision, and the following years and chapters in our lives, might have all been vastly different. There was no other way we could have known or found out about the roadworks.
There was another vital piece of information, too. Every day except for Mondays, a bread van arrives at the restaurant at 7.30 am. This was the other main thing we needed, as each trip to the shops meant time away from work on the house. However, even though we consumed vast quantities of pain , including just plain bread for dinner some nights â no fromage , no pÃ¢tÃ© , just plain bread (well, there was some wine at least), as we are simply working so hard â I never did get to the bread van. I was up early every day to work, and yet the only time I ever thought of racing down the road in my renovating clothes was, of course, on Mondays. Next year.
The fact that our petite maison was right on the road turned out to be one of its best features, as the road carried new friends to us. For the three weeks we were there, as we didnât have a table or chairs, we ate all our meals on the front steps. In fact, even when we did get furniture, we had become so accustomed to eating our meals and having a glass of wine on our petite steps that we continued to sit there anyway. It meant that we saw everyone driving past and I waved to absolutely everyone, conscious that it was a small village and I wanted very much to be a part of it. George, the restaurant owner, started to slow down on our corner and looked out for me, as I would usually be having breakfast at that point. He would wave and call out, â Ãa va? â It was one of the few expressions I knew I could reply to. I later found out that he had recently lost his wife and went every morning to visit her grave as well as check on his land. What is special was that I also found out he is not