So here I am aged 33 (and a bit) trying to get to grips with technology so that the world can discover what hidden talents lie in the rolling hills of Gascony! I think I will enjoy this new way of keeping in touch with the outside although it will probably take some getting used to but a little help from my lovely wife to do the more technical things like uploading photos and telling me how to spell , Ill get there - one step at a time.
Here’s a quick run through of my life to introduce you to my world. This is probably boring for you but I feel if I am going to become a proper blogger I want people to know me, it’ll give you a sense of my background and why I am here doing what I am doing. You can always skip this bit and just look at my beautiful photos
I was born in Tunbridge Wells, Kent to a steam train driving father and a loving Mother and grew up with an older sister who now lives in Spain.
My childhood memories are happy ones with my family although my days at school were difficult and marred by unruly children and teachers who took great pleasure in punishments. I was, and still am, a practical learner and found days of sitting in front of a chalkboard a bore, my imagination was my escapism but also my downfall and I struggled with my work. It was a great release for me to finish and be able to go out in the big wide world and to start finding a job, little did I know then that would also be a struggle!
Always a ladies man!
I studied Fabricating and Welding at Canterbury college and did an apprenticeship in Tonbridge. Unfortunately, when I finished my apprenticeship, jobs in the area were thin on the ground and I didn't have the premises to start out on my own so I was forced to find something else. I was offered the opportunity to start a contract cleaning company with a friend which I did for a couple of years with him before starting my own business which I continued to do before my move to France.
A lot of people ask my why I made the move to France and tell us how brave we were to do it but really we felt we would have been braver staying in the UK! I was trying to buy a house at the time and in our area of Kent it wasn't possible to buy anything bigger than a rabbit hutch with a postage stamp garden. My wife had joined me in the business and we had taken on some big contracts so the money was good but the hours were long and unsociable and it was thankless work which left us little time for friends or family. Without a place we could go back to, enjoy and call our own we were wondering exactly what the point of it all was.
On our first holiday together to Corfu we met an English couple 'living the dream' and the seeds of thoughts were planted about doing something different with our lives. We knew Corfu wouldn't be the ideal place, it wasn't easily accessible and the language would have been a major obstacle but our thoughts then turned to France.
My wife had a great fondness for the country having spent many summer holidays there as a child and she had a basic grasp of the language having studied it at school and of course its proximity to family in UK made it an attractive proposition. The next hurdle, and it was a big one, was to find a region, a property and work. We spent hours, days, months researching and trawling the internet for forums, property websites, opportunities of working. We backpacked, we camped, we did dodgy hotels, squalid caravans and experienced trains that actually took you places on time and in comfort. From all of this it became clear that we wanted to be in South West France but to then narrow it down to an area where we could find work and a property was starting to seem impossible. This was around the time that it seemed that we were then taken by the hand and guided to where we are now. Everything started slotting into place and it seemed too good to be true.
My better half had been working for a couple in Southborough and had been talking to the wife, Mary, about our dreams of moving abroad and found it had also been their dream to do the same. As time went on they bought a house in Condom which we took a great interest in and enjoyed listening to the process of buying it and stories of renovation. As the renovation was being completed they invited us for a drink and, completely out of the blue for us, asked if we would like to live there over the winter period to dip our toes into French life and see if its really what we wanted to do. We left there that evening and it took us until the end of their drive to decide that is the break we needed and it was too good an opportunity to miss.
Our days in the UK were numbered, there were a thousand and one things to sort out but it was such en exciting thing to do at a time in our lives when we desperately needed the change in lifestyle and career. Our only great sadness was to leave my children and our family and friends behind.
So, all ends tied up in UK and after a delayed departure, due to very bad bout of sickness the day we were meant to leave, (nerves maybe?) we left fairly quietly so that if it came to it we wouldn't come back with our tails between our legs! Our worldly belongings were jam packed into our van along with a dog, who had never traveled well, barking and whining most of his way through France, and some minnows whom we couldn't bear to part with and whom slopped around all their way down to their new home!
The house we arrived at was just breathtaking. Having lived in a flat for about 5 years we were astounded at the space and beauty of Ian and Mary's home. We were welcomed with open arms and really felt like we had come home but the next few days and even weeks were a bit of a blur. I was overcome by exhaustion from working so hard before we left, being ill, the stress of moving abroad and the journey itself had taken its toll and I think we slept most of the first few weeks!
As we started to get our bearings we began to in love with the area and spent a long time exploring, meeting new people and discovering the local cuisine. We started getting work looking after holiday homes which hadn't been our intention but we slipped easily into something that we were comfortable doing and it gave us some stability. We realised rather quickly this was the life we wanted and began our house hunt. We felt that the house we had found had been sitting in the French sun quietly waiting for us to find our way to it. We had stumbled upon a notaire down a small side alley in Condom who was advertising a couple of properties in the window so we inquired and made an appointment to have a look at them. The properties we were shown seemed more like demolition jobs than renovation projects and our hearts sank a little. On the way back to the office my wife asked if she had anything else for sale and the notaire said there wasn't anything available. For some reason my wife wasn't satisfied with that answer and asked again to which the notaire shrugged and said there was a house on the way back but we wouldn't like it. We asked to see it anyway and found our dream home. We couldn't understand why she wasn't enthusiastic about it, it was big and proud, had a few outbuildings and a good amount of land. It was in need of modernisation and some TLC but our rose tinted glasses saw beyond that
Then started our long struggle to buy it and at times we thought it would slip through our fingers. The property had been on sale for four years and only a handful of people had seen it but for us it was love at first sight. We would drive there nearly everyday to just sit in the garden and look at the view.
7 months down the line it was ours. Our dream had been realised at last but when we should have been celebrating and settling down to enjoy our new home my Father was diagnosed with Leukemia the day we moved in. Our world was turned upside down, here we were in a house we had dreamed of and all we wanted to do was be back in the UK to be with my family and be by my fathers side as he battled through some very dark days. I returned for a couple of months and left my wife to carry on the work and miraciously, my Father, at the age of 76 went from being on deaths door, braving intense chemotherapy to making a full recovery. Life began again.
In 2006 I married my wife in our local church, it was a beautiful country wedding. Friends and family rallied round and helped us with the preparation and catering and we used our old tractor and trailer as a wedding car - trés chic! Our reception was held in our garden with a local accordian played to greet the guests as they returned to the house. We couldnt have wished for a more perfect day.
The Happy Couple
My beautiful daughters, the bridesmaids on the right and left
Our two beautiful boys were born in 2007 and 2009 in Auch and Agen hospital and the oldest now attends the local French school were he has settled in amazingly.
Our house is now a home and a place of work. One of the features of the house that we were drawn by was an old forge. When we first bought the house I started to imagine going back into metalworking, it was what I had originally trained for but since my apprenticeship I had rarely used the skills.
I cant say I have ever enjoyed my work until now. I love designing, creating and knowing that what I am producing will last generations. I feel that for all these years I have been storing skills and knowledge to be used now, to restore and repair old local ironwork and to put my own fingerprint on the region of Gascony. I can work from home and watch my boys grow up, a perfect combination
So this is where we are now, my business is nearly a year old and I am getting known in the area for what I do. Everyday brings new challenges which I am thriving on.
Here are few pictures of my completed work.
Swimming Pool Fencing
Well Cover and Canopy
Heart Shaped Hinge
My house as it looks now, with the house sign I made.
I hope this was a good introduction to me and my world and hopefully you will enjoy reading about my experiences here in France, running a business and a young family!
Please feel free to comment and to add any suggestions you may have about my ironwork