We were up at 5.30 and out of the house by 6am. The sat nav said we’d be there by 3pm, but the sat nav didn’t know it was Good Friday. It made a lot of assumptions that day, that bastard sat nav, the most erroneous of which was that it would take an hour, maybe an hour and a half, to get past Paris. Instead it took four, maybe five hours.
‘As long as we get there while it’s still light,’ said my sister. ‘Just so we can see to get the bugs out of the house.’ My sister has a thing about bugs. She’s afraid something hideous is going to crawl into her sleeping bag in the night. As if.
Even after the débâcle that was Paris, however, arriving in daylight was still possible. We were looking at 7.30, maybe, if everything else went smoothly.
Everything else did not go smoothly.
‘Hopefully we’ll make it by midnight.’ The first time someone said this, it was obviously a joke.
Gradually, as motorway after motorway filled up with the tailbacks from overheated vehicles and collisions, it became less funny. Then, with the end finally in sight, we had to double back on ourselves to make sure we didn’t run out of petrol. That was another half hour. Then, stupidly deciding to trust the sat nav with a short cut, we went off-motorway.
Never trust a sat nav with a personality disorder. Or topographical agnosia. Having decided it couldn’t find the village with which we’d reprogrammed it, the sat nav chose another slightly similar-sounding place in entirely the wrong direction.
That was another hour.
Then we hit a ‘ROUTE BARRÉE’ sign which we (stupidly) decided to ignore, almost ending the evening in a large ditch as a consequence. Then came an enormous diversion which the sat nav totally refused to acknowledge. ‘Go back to the ditch,’ the sat nav insisted. ‘This day must end in a ditch.’
Eventually we arrived at the house at around 12.30am and not only was it more overgrown than a medieval forest in a child’s wildest imaginings, but also, as soon as we got out of the car and began to try and locate where the drive used to be, it started to rain.
Then, when we finally fought our way through ten minutes of undergrowth and found the house, we discovered that at some stage over the last couple of years, it had been broken into and pretty much stripped bare.
Suddenly it was all rather depressing. Furthermore, there was no way we could get the fold-up beds up through the forest, so we’d either have to sleep in the car, which having just spent 18 hours in it, was not appealing, or drive around looking for a hotel.
In the end we drove to Limoges and found an Ibis hotel. It smelled of smoke. I was asleep by 3.
After a giant breakfast in the hotel, the first job was to buy tools to tackle the undergrowth. There had been a selection of tools, including an industrial strimmer, but along with the log burner, the oil stove, the gas fridge, the crockery, cutlery and various bits of furniture, they had all been taken. So we bought an axe, an adze and a machete and returned to the house, whereupon my brother-in-law and I set to work dismantling the forest. There are actually around two acres of land around the house so all we really hoped to achieve was to carve a 50-metre path from the dead letterbox to the front door. We managed this in a few hours.
My sister meanwhile cleared out the house itself – from the Miss Havisham cobwebs to the mountains of mouse dung – and got to work on making it habitable.
By the time we got the first fire going in the late afternoon, things were starting to take shape.
We opened a box of wine.
At the very latest, I’ll be returning during the first week in June. Maybe sooner. I’ll be staying there for four months. Maybe longer. My task while I’m out there will be to reclaim the land from La Dame Nature. The house itself is seemingly made of artex and asbestos and is, sadly, in its autumn years, so there’s little point pumping money into it. We’ll just need to make it secure, fix the plumbing so that at least there’s cold water and either get a generator or possibly a solar panel or two to provide some power.
I’ll also need a chainsaw.
Plus, there is a telephone line, so internet access may not be out of the question.
On Sunday night, we went to bed around 10pm, with another 5.30 start if we were going to make the 3.20 ferry crossing from Calais. I had just got to sleep for the second time (the first time my sister had woken me up to ask if I’d heard something fighting outside – probably foxes, maybe bears), when the sound of a sleeping bag being hastily unzipped and a woman screeching and swearing and stamping around almost brought the house down.
At first she thought it was a twig and was fearlessly kicking it around the bottom of her sleeping bag. Then she felt it crawling up her leg and flew into a panic.
It was a maybug. They look like this…
Sometimes life isn’t fair.