The first exclusive extract from Sam Brick's new book - only on SFN!


Finally, the car scrunches along the gravelled drive. After fourteen hours on the road, the last of which was on teeny-tiny lanes approximately 2 kilometres away from our
destination, the view is worth the wait. Dense hedging gives way to reveal one dreamy, turreted,
chalk-coloured chateau. The elegant country house looks straight out of a fairy tale, its round towers shooting up to protect it.
Two months ago, when I’d said ‘yes’ to the question that would change my life forever, booking a night’s stay in a Loire Valley, dog-friendly hotel seemed like a fitting first night in France.
Having eventually parked the car, I fall out of the driver door, trying not to dislodge any of the countless essential belongings shoehorned around me when I said goodbye to my old life and the United Kingdom. A jelly baby wrapping flutters to the floor, a can of sugar-free Red Bull swiftly following.
‘Look at that!’ Mother cries, as she exits her side of the car, a sweater and a bottle of water rolling out behind her. ‘It’s beautiful, isn’t it?’
My first night in France, my new home turf, and I’m spending it with Mother.

September 2007

Mother, fifty-six, red-haired and with a Rubenesque figure, rubs pointedly at the back of her legs. For the last few hours she’s been muttering about deep vein thrombosis. Honestly! Anyone would think she’d been soldered to the seat.
‘Yes,’ I reply, equally enthused, ‘it is!’
I furtively look behind me at the car. One filthy maroon Kia Sportage packed to the gills. Suitcases, clothes, countless carrier bags. Not to mention a 15-kilogram sack of organic dog food, several baskets of canine paraphernalia and two hairy salivating hounds leaping and barking hysterically in the cramped rear of the car.
‘C’mon, boys! Out you get,’ I shrill, gingerly opening the back door. One crack of the outside world and they recognise the promise of freedom, each throwing 6 stone of weight against the door, causing it to fly open, wind me in the stomach and send me hurtling into a rather posh BMW (which now has a slight dent, courtesy of my bottom).
I grab the dog leads while Mother continues to admire the chateau. ‘It’s so beautiful,’ she gushes, brushing down her black linen trousers, having forgotten about the threat of DVT and that we’ve spent the last hour bickering about driving directions, maps and the glaringly obvious factor that we passed the turning for the chateau, ohhhhh, at least five times.
Yes, the view of the chateau is deliciously perfect.
Unfortunately, at this precise moment of contemplation, Barney and Ambrose choose to squat down in front of the chateau to do their business. ‘Oh God, carrier bags!’ I wail, running back to the car to grab the poop-scoop equipment in order to attend to the smelly mess.

I ferret out plastic sacks and kitchen roll to clean up after my two Old English sheepdogs. In case you don’t know the type, those are the ones in the Dulux paint adverts. Ginormous, high maintenance, and totally adorable.
As I scoop up, one tall, slim, elegant woman unfolds herself from a roughly hewn wooden side door. The Comtesse. Size 8, forty-five going on twenty-five, no doubt has a tribe of children and thinks a beauty regime is something to spoil the horses with.
French women. ‘Allô! You must be Sam? Oui?’ I drop the bags heavily laden with foul-smelling stuff, wipe
my hands on my grubby Gap T-shirt and stick out my hand. ‘Yes! Divine house! So lovely to meet you!’ I jabber. A
shuffling next to me prompts me to introduce Mother. ‘And this! This is my mum!’ Mother says hello in the high- pitched voice that she reserves for people she doesn’t know,
but wants to impress. Meanwhile, we’re both given a gimlet-eyed inspection by the
Comtesse; I’m not sure whether we pass or fail. She’s eyeing up our creased clothes, shiny faces and hair
falling out of clasps: we probably fail. ‘Come with me and I show you to your room.’ I attempt to snap on both dogs’ leads but they are already off
ga-thumping after the refined blonde lady. Mother and I look at each other.
‘Bloody sort them out!’ she hisses. ‘Why don’t you try?’ I hiss back. ‘Oh la la! Adorable!’ Shrieks come from the kitchen. I grimace, wondering if Barney is standing on his hind legs edging along the counters, swiping at anything within paw’s reach.
Mother and I slowly enter through the vast white double doors where, at a large wooden oak staircase, the Comtesse is waiting, drumming her fingers on the exquisitely carved balustrade.
‘Come! Come!’ She clicks her fingers and we both scuttle after her along endless passages. All the while, I can hear the distant thump and thwack of my dogs’ paws as they acquaint themselves with every aspect of the chateau.
‘It’s OK, we ’ave many dogs come to stay ’ere,’ the Comtesse reassures me, on seeing my pained expression.
At the very end of a gloomy corridor is a fairly ordinary- looking door. Is this it? I wonder to myself, having paid more euros than I care to think for the room, when a bed and breakfast would have done the job at half the price. Yet when the door opens, both Mother and I stare, slack-jawed, at the sheer opulence in front of us.
The suite is bigger than my first flat in London. A wet room (a ‘shower in the tower’, went the blurb), a separate bathroom with a sunken bath in the middle, not to mention the centrepiece; a four-poster bed with more swagging than at Versailles. Desks, televisions, sofas – even Mother and I could rub along harmoniously in such vast accommodations.
It’s only then that I spy in the corner the daybed (translation: a mattress on an iron rack) with horsehair-style blankets.
Mother and I each eye both beds. I hesitate. Disaster! For Mother instantly collapses on what must surely have
once been one of Marie Antoinette’s places of repose. ‘I’m so going to enjoy sleeping here tonight!’
Defeated, I trundle over to the cot bed and half-heartedly throw my handbag on it.
Finally the dogs burst into the room, sniffing, on the hunt for something to scoff no doubt.
‘Well, I leave you, you want to eat wiz us?’ ‘Yes please!’ we both cry in unison. ‘Bon,’ is the response. ‘Drinks on the terrace when you want.’

You can read the next installment here......

Well you never know cate....Catharine may indeed have a calamity jane and I shop in a similar chain...yours is French..mine UK...have bought 90% of my clothes from Oxfam, Cancer Research etc for the last 40 years...started doing it as a student and it became addictive...if you ever get to London...try a few of the central London charity shops...a couple have bouncers on the door...and my dear...well....designer paradise....reckon you could get an Annie Oakley with diamantes and a YSL label for a steal....

That is so funny. We have the one - kept on a shoestring and funded by my buying my entire wardrobe at Emmaus. Have always fancied being a glamorous breeder type though - just think of the big hats you get to wear!

I have always yearned for pigtails....

Catharine, I had this mental image of yourself and James as farmers....raising horses...I had a vision of James with his 10 gallon hat and spurs.....and you were all Calamity Jane...with your hair in pigtails, well...amused me for a while anyway!

Spelling: the letter Z I love and wouldnt want to lose....what I would love to lose is seeing lose spelt loose and losing spelt loosing....keep coming across this recently, seems a very common mistake.

Glad you are out of hospital Samantha and on the mend.

Anybody for a society for the abolition of the letter Z?

Errr Hello…. Sorry I’ve not replied/been involved in this thread this week (I’ve unexpectedly been in hospital until today). Thanks for the feedback (good and – ouch - bad). It took me an age to get my memoirs off the ground and I’m very happy to help any fellow SFN-ers. There’s a market for our experiences of life in France... Samx

My pet hate too. The zedification of the English language. Right with you on that one Catharine.

@ Jane - yes predictive - I also hate the way devices all seem to revert / default to USA spellings. really annoys me and I spend my life removing z's.

@ Janet - you should change your settings so that you don't get the notification emails - makes life a lot easier unless it is a thread you especially want to be kept up to speed on.

@ Cate - horse owners and farmers - ha ha ha !! We have one elderly horse who was meant to be in foal but has had a phantom pregnancy - currently waiting to see if we can get her up the duff again - and a load of mangy tomato plants.

J and I worked together as photo journalists until it got to the stage where it was no longer economically viable (various reasons but most esp. all those morons who hand over free copy to French lifestyle mags as they think it will promote their gite business etc. etc.) He now does the odd shoot and I concentrate on copy writing / editing and being a 'formatrice' - which works well as I would go insane if tied to my desk 24/7. So now you know and you can replace your mental image of me herding cows with something more appropriate!

That happens all the time to me and the number of times I've sent weird messages on darrens smartphone is a joke. My old nokia has none of these issues and built like a brick, its not smart but it works! I will probably have to get used to the predictive text soon but for now my excuse for keeping the old nokia is it bounces, withstands being covered in yoghurt and it holds a charge for weeks on end.

I used my kindle fire to facebook last night....didnt realise it had predictive text and didnt check what was written before posting at least 3 comments...couldnt believe what ended up on the sure friends assumed I was 3 sheets to the wind!

Probably a typo just like me !

Catherine, I wonder why as a techer and writer you chose the American spelling of instalment?

I’ve just read the dinner party rules, and I take your point, Catharine; apologies if I was impolite.
Signed - A suburban ménagère :wink:

I think you'll find the use of the word 'for' makes it ok....

Signed - A Writer and English teacher. And General Dogsbody who is getting a bit tired now! :)

It is not clear from this extract why the two ladies wouldn't share the bed, but it reminds me of a night in a hotel with my mother, when we had to share room and bed. We settled down for the night and I poured out my glass of water. As we settled down, Mum leans over me and plops her teeth into said glass. I said a few rude words which no child should say to her mother. :-)

Hmm. My nickname at uni was Barks. As in barking mad. You may have a point.....

hint....if you are running a social network...give up all hope of retaining fact...are you sure you were sane to begin with? whose idea was it to run a social network????

Agree Carol. (With your post of 30 mins ago) Mind you, don't disagree with your post of ten mins ago either!

(She says diplomatically - not wanting to antagonise any potential readers of my future bestseller - "How to run a social network and remain sane".....)

Next installment Friday Cate - hope it will be exclusive enough for you :)