Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, December 19, 2008

"Bon Courage!" by Richard Wiles - Book Review

One of the advantages of owning our own holiday home (apart from some great holidays in France ourselves of course) is that it gives friends and relatives an easy source of birthday and Christmas present ideas.

So no surprise at Christmas last when I received Bon Courage!, fresh off the Amazon delivery lorry.

The author Richard Wiles has written a number of DIY and home improvement books and magazine articles, including Ideal Home magazine. The book starts with him describing how after a collapsing marriage and then losing his job as Senior Editor of a lifestyle magazine he came to make a fresh start by falling in love with the idea of the ultimate DIY project, renovating a French farmhouse with his new partner, Al.

Actually the story of how Richard and Al came to buy a rural Limousin property doesn't actually start until Chapter 2, as the book opens with the perils of camping inside an old barn:
Not content with nibbling through the groundsheet of our tent and stealing our supplies of chocolate whilst we'd been shovelling manure from the adjoining barn, the mice were taking liberties now. As I played the meagre beam of the torch along the tent, I traced the shadowy beam over them lining up along the tent apex beneath the flysheet, eagerly awaiting their turn to launch themselves down the canvas sides as if our tent was some giant theme-park slide.

Richard's story unfolds that after buying an uninhabitable farmhouse and arriving there from the UK during torrential rain, they decided to pitch their tent inside the barn on the basis that it would be warmer and dryer than in the outside field. Unfortunately they'd not figured on the antics of the mice that treated their new guests as some kind of food supply-cum-adventure park!

Slowly the enormity of the challenge of converting their farmhouse dream dawns on Richard and Al as they struggle to clear mountains of accumulated farm debris (including piles of manure, chicken droppings and broken farm implements), integrate with their eccentric neighbours like the elderly Veronique who treats them to copious gateaux and coffee every time they pop round, and of course the many twists and turns of French bureaucracy.

Throughout the book I enjoyed the easy style that Richard writes in and the amusing anecdotes and side tales of his adventures like John the builder who comes over to help Richard, speaks not a word of French, but manages to get by with the French tradesmen with phrases like Bon jewer mate and Low, me old mate - much to Richard's frustration.

By the end of the book Richard and Al are contemplating relocating permanently to France and buying a herd of Llama's to start a trekking business ...

Hopefully I'll be receiving the second half of Richard's story this Christmas with Bon Chance, also from Mr Amazon!



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