I blame this episode in my life entirely on a proposed redundancy back in 2004 and a cheap Ryanair flight at £1 a ticket, which coupled with a work colleague’s offer of his cottage near Pau, in the French Pyrenees, set us on a crazy quest for ‘La vie profonde’.
Having arrived at night, we awoke to that crisp cool mist of an early spring day, which clears to reveal an iridescent blue sky and the warmth of early summer. We set of towards the mountains, which lay an hour distant and lost ourselves in the small lanes of the foothills of the Pyrenees. And there we stumbled on it – a Bearnaise farmhouse, with mellow stone walls and faded blue shutters facing south across the valley with an outstanding panoramic view of the snow capped mountains. A potager lay ready for planting, and two rows of gnarled vines stood sprouting their early leaves, faithfully protected by a rose bush to forewarn of the threat of disease. Walnut and fruit trees showed the promise of a rich autumn , Arum lilies grew wild in the shady corners whilst a Magnolia shaded the paved courtyard.
We were under it’s spell, and whilst we investigated its potential, our children ran wild in the garden and the baby sat in the sunshine patting his hand against the stone flags, himself being inspected by the owners cat. Whilst my husband haggled a price, I loaded the children into the car, and a few days later found ourselves back in the UK.
Our English house went on the market, the Compromis de Vente was signed, the deposit paid and then we waited for our French dream to begin. The first seven years of child-raising 4 children had been challenging, and the daily commute to work tough. We were dreaming of escape, of children growing with skiing and surfing at their fingertips and being masters of our own destiny. But it wasn’t to be!
Swiftly, we began to understand that the English housing market had suffered a serious decline, and that our house would not sell in time to meet the deadline set for the Acte de Vente. The vendor would not grant us a stay of excecution. We either met the deadline or lost our deposit. We had to think fast and on our feet. The French agent had failed to send the 7-day cooling –off clause when he sent the original documents. To demand it now, as our legal right, meant that we recouped our deposit – but lost the house. And so, as reality set in , the course of our lives took another swift change in direction, and the house sold to another buyer a week later.