After seven hours in the car with two children and two cats I couldn't have been happier to turn into the driveway of our new home. Between rain showers and with the help of my mum and dad (who had very, very kindly driven all of our things over to France in a seven and a half tonne truck), we unloaded beds and kitchen essentials to get us through the first night as a family in our new home. Dinner was not a glamorous affair, since the shops are closed for most of Sunday in France we'd left a jar of pasta sauce and some garlic bread in the fridge - after a big plate of pasta and a bigger glass of rosé we headed to bed.
The house doesn't feel anywhere near as vast and unfathomable once there are plenty of people in it. Though none of us would (or will) venture across the top of the main staircase without turning on every single light. With their own beds made up and a few of their favourite things around them the boys were asleep in no time and thankfully haven't once mentioned feeling scared.
We woke to a garden shrouded in mist and an autumnal chill in the air. But with a fire going in the kitchen and box after box to still unload we soon warmed up. When we were negotiating the price of the house we agreed that the family would leave us some of the old furniture, tools and equipment. The upside of this is the beautiful armoires, bed heads and wash stands, the downside was the 20 or so old mattresses, dusty blankets and rotten bed bases.
Armed with cloths and rubber gloves, mum and I cleared out cupboards, washed floors and sifted through other people's belongings. Tim and Dad threw mattresses out of windows and carried bits of broken furniture down four flights of stairs to the bonfire. Clouds of black smoke poured off some of the mattresses as they shot up in flames and I was expecting a visit from the Fire Brigade at any minute.
With the cupboards cleaned out and the unwanted furniture out of the way we could start making the house at least liveable for the time being. We have a makeshift kitchen, kept warm by an inset stove which has some ancient heating system to take the chill off the rooms in our side of the house (which has no central heating). There is hot water courtesy of the only two boilers that haven't been condemned and a washing machine that washes well but doesn't quite spin enough - so even with my new washing line and plenty of sunshine things still take a good two days to dry.
We set up the guest rooms first so all of our many visiting friends and family over the next few weeks have somewhere comfortable and clean, if not that luxurious, to sleep. We didn't stop all week and by the time mum and dad left on Friday morning we were much more organised and hugely grateful for all the help.I finally got my clothes unpacked and put away a week after we arrived and I couldn't have been more thankful to not have to live out of a suitcase for another day.
After nearly 10 weeks of summer holiday both the boys and us were desperate to get back to school. We visited the school on Thursday evening and they (mercifully) started Friday morning. Rufus went off quite happily, quickly running around in the playground with the other children in his class. Laurie was more nervous, finding the curious attention of the French children a bit overwhelming. At drop off each morning there is usually a whisper of "Les Anglais" from both parents and children, but everyone seems very friendly and the teachers have been fantastic. Each day the boys come home with new words learned and stories of four course lunches served to them at the table by dinner ladies who help them tie tea towels around their necks before they eat.
With the boys out of the way, Tim and I spent a few days sorting boxes and hauling things we didn't need up to the attics - the effort of which will hopefully offset all the lovely fresh bread and the huge chunk of 24-month aged Comte I bought at the beautiful market in Le Mans on Sunday.
There has hardly been a moment to take in the enormity of it all. Only today have we had time to just think and wander around the grounds. I love walking up the drive and through the woods, and when I get a chance I like to steal a few moments in the sun listening to the sound of the leaves falling from the trees.
Just in case you think that this is all sounding a bit lovely and romantic I should probably mention the cluster flies. Huge swarms of lazy, slow moving flies that come into the house to hibernate on cool days and then try to get back out again when the sun shines. Leaving us with floors and window sills peppered with little black bodies. They leave pheromones behind so they can return year after year in the spring and autumn. Tim managed to find an English speaking pest control chap who explained that with some carefully timed bug bombs we can hopefully get rid of them - however thus far bug bombs have been sold out everywhere, which means, reassuringly that we're not the only ones being plagued.
There are plenty of plans to make and an endless list of jobs to do, but we're slowly ticking things off. Today we managed to spend two hours talking to a plumber/electrician about our plans for the house using our broken French and we think he got the gist of it. He was supposed to come yesterday at 9am but arrived today at 10.30am. French time apparently. C'est la vie.