Down and Dirty in the Dordogne
This is the story of how two middle-aged Brits gave up a nice life in Blighty after falling in love with a delightfully dilapidated old French property.
It’s no mean feat trying to restore a cavernous barn of a house (hovel) during the worst financial crisis of the modern age, especially when you’re faced with dodgy builders, red tape, rowdy locals, health problems, recalcitrant relatives, a house in England that simply won’t sell, and a multitude of escapologist cats – not to mention some resident skeletons.
Andrea Frazer gives the lowdown on the ups and downs that befall two fish out of water as the couple take the plunge and move across the Channel.
At our final appointment at the end of our arranged viewings and, incidentally, our tethers, we came across a house that I had determined we would look at when we had found it exploring the internet, before we left the shores of good old Blighty. Ian had shown no interest in it whatsoever, which only made me more adamant that we should look it over, so here we were, fifteen minutes past the time the agent was supposed to meet us, and utterly alone outside a house that looked as if it had not been cared for since the Second World War, if then.
Having spotted us hanging about suspiciously in the tiny hamlet of Saint-Sylvain, which only boasted a medieval church, a lake, and seven or eight houses, the owner (who actually didn’t live there any more, and had moved away about a year ago, but had just happened to pop over today) came out to see what we were up to. With her came one of the largest dogs I have ever seen.
This looked hopeful, and we waved the property details at her. She spoke no English. That was great, because we spoke virtually no French. So, there we were, with no estate agent to verify our credentials, a non-English speaking owner who seemed not to have been informed of our arrival, barely a word of French between us (and certainly not a whole sentence) and the Hound of the Baskervilles eyeing us up as if we might provide a dainty snack for him.
The first room we were shown was the dining room. On the outside walls of this room were signs for a now-defunct restaurant and, apparently, this had been a regular haunt of the Resistance during the war, one customer actually being shot by the Germans as he tried to flee the building. Nice friendly place this must have been, back then!
The house had three large downstairs rooms, the middle one containing a kitchen sink and a plastic shower cubicle. This, with a lavatory in a nasty little cubicle under the stairs, comprised the water supply for the whole house. With mime and the odd word here and there that conveyed her meaning, the owner explained that this was the room in which, when she had been preparing to replace the fibre-board floor, she had encountered two skeletons, and a coin dating from the early 1600s.