Greener Grass
A tale of eating crepes, shifting rocks and moving countries
After spending a couple of months haring about Vancouver and Italy, we needed a familiar and quiet place to stop. Somewhere to unpack our bags for a while, and put our feet up. It sounds indulgent, considering other people's hardships, but there you go.

This was where our friends and their three-hundred-year-old farmhouse in the gorgeous Brittany countryside came in.

C and M are originally from the UK but, twelve years ago, bought a place, cleared the brambles from inside the windows then completely renovated it, all while maintaining their lives back home. Then they upped-sticks and moved over, leaving behind careers and everything else the UK had to offer and we get told is so essential for today's world. Everything that is, except a peaceful, gentle place to live and bring up their kids.
Moving countries is hard. We've done it twice ourselves, but ended up back in NZ. Our tails weren't exactly tucked between our legs when we got home, but we were pretty tired. We'd gotten jobs in both Canada and Norway and been through the tiresome bureaucracies of opening bank accounts, buying a car and finding a place to live. We made some new friends, who've become the best and strongest part of the whole experience. None of it was easy though, and it remains the hardest thing we've done together.

Very few people get that fact. It's just something that you have to do before you can have any understanding of it.

So here we were visiting C and M and their kids. They'd done the same thing as us, but have stuck at it. Both kids are now truly bi-lingual and have the most wonderful playground to grow up in. The whole family had to jump through countless bureaucratic hoops like well-trained (French) poodles, learn the language, make friends, and find a way to make a living.

Taking it one step further, C now uses French every day in her professional role, where clear communication is essential. How many people can say they've done that in only a few years?

Old Farmhouse, just down the road
Finding a new place to put down roots is bloody hard work
When we visited them last year, they told us about a wedding in the UK the following summer they wanted to go to, but needed someone to mind the place while they were gone. We looked at each other. Sounded pretty tempting.

Jump forward a year and here we were, farm-sitting in the perfect French countryside for three weeks. It wasn't so perfect for the pigs, because by then they were in the freezer and there were turkeys instead. They're not as smart as pigs, so I guess their future isn't so bright either.

Puttering Along
An absolutely rubbish way to spend a summer’s afternoon in France
We spent a great week with them all before the wedding, mooching around and getting used to things. I got to see some old steam-powered boats on the local canal and we all had some lovely meals together in the sun. I also moved some rocks, which whetted my appetite for helping out. Then, the two of us had a very quiet week feeding the chooks, walking the dogs and keeping busy.

We can't sit still for long, so we weeded the garden, fixed joinery and moved a whole pile of slate out from under a tangle of blackberry. The slate then got loaded into a wheelbarrow and taken down the lane ready for their new project, an old farm hovel they are doing up. I have no idea how much slate got moved, but there were about seven pallets of it, so that had to have been a couple of tonnes. I felt like one of those city slickers who got sent to a dude ranch. "Yeah-Up, the first day I moved me some rocks. The next day I fixed some turkeys. The day after that I moved some more rocks. Them flat rocks the locals put on roofs. Dang, I never seen so many rocks..."
The Patterdales
“Like true psychopaths, they were also the most affectionate, attentive and lovely wee things."
Every few days we'd ask ourselves if we should take a drive to see the sights. Mont St. Michel was only a couple of hours away, and the Normandy beaches an hour beyond that. The answer was always no. We were quite content to potter about.

In the morning we'd get up and let the chooks and turkeys out, feed them, and take the dogs down the lane for a pee. Then we'd have a cup of tea. A few more chores would get done, and then we'd take the dogs for a longer walk down by the canal. That only got exciting a few times when Flo and Lilly, who are Patterdale terriers and therefore slightly psychotic, would see a person or another dog and try to say hello in the most frightening way possible. Or, they'd smell something amazing and decide it was obviously on the menu, launching like Superman through the undergrowth at it. "Let go" wasn't a command they understood. Like true psychopaths, they were also the most affectionate, attentive and lovely wee things. Especially during our own dinner time, for some reason. Saved on vacuuming up afterwards.

Then there was Gavroche, whose gentle nature was perfectly offset by his truly awful farts, and his boundless enthusiasm for snacking on three-day-old dog bombs like crispy after-dinner mints.
We only went into Chateauneuf du Fou, our local village, a few times for food. Some friends M and S, who we met through M and C, invited us over for crepes one evening, which was lovely. They were from the UK as well and had been living in France for sixteen years. They'd also done the hard yards to make a good, simple life for themselves.

The area around M and S's house had a strange layout, in that there was an old shed that looked like it was on their land, but wasn't. Half of it actually belonged to a place over the lane and the other half belonged to a plot of land maybe ten metres by twenty, nestled within their own place but owned by nobody. An old guy had meant to sell it but never got around to it. Or maybe someone else wanted to sell it, but then found out they didn't own it either. Very confusing. In another fifteen years it might be eligible to be bought from the local council. From the little I heard about French bureaucracy it'd then take another fifteen years to get processed.

As for the meal, and what makes living in France all worth it, I never knew crepes could leave you quite so full. Savoury ones, and sweet ones, then ice cream, and chilled cider too. Oooh, my belly...

When everyone was back from the UK the following week, we all got together again and had a curry evening. It was a good feeling to be working in the kitchen, preparing food we would all share. For her signature dish, A gathered twelve eggs and made a pavlova. The cursed French cream put up a fight and refused to be whipped, but the whole thing was still delicious, layered high with strawberries and kiwifruit. It's been many years since I had to go and lay down because I'd eaten far too much. Oooohhhh, my belly...
I'm sure people will ask why the hell we didn't wring the juices from every moment in France, for three weeks, in the middle of summer. But living in the countryside and doing only what was necessary gave us the best experience we could have wished for. We're finding that our style of travelling is to spend more time in fewer places. That way we get to see the same fields in sunshine or under soft rain, with morning mist or in the warmth of sunset. Otherwise we're just charging through it and not seeing anything.
A long road
“I have the utmost respect for them, because we set foot on that road too,
but they continue to walk it."
Before we knew it, our time in Brittany was over and we were glad for a ride to the Roscoff ferry bound for Plymouth. Waiting for the sailing meant even more crepes, and the chance for a final chat and farewell.

Behind it all was the humbling knowledge that we enjoyed some pleasant strolls down quiet country lanes, because C and M had worked bloody hard. They know that living in the countryside of Brittany is so much more than they could ever have had in the UK.

So, the grass can sometimes really be greener. But, the journey they've taken to get to that place has been hard and very, very long. So few people are tough and brave enough, and I have the utmost respect for them, because we set foot on that road too, but they continue to walk it.

As for us, it was an easy step onto the ferry and a calm six-hour trip across the channel. We'll pick up a car and be on our way to Wales for a week, then out via Edinburgh.

Going Nowhere
Big tides in Roscoff
Good bones, just needs a new roof
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