Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on November 18th 2022. After four days at one house-sit we are this week travelling on to our next property, an hour away, in a tiny village called Lullin, still in the Alps, south of Thonon les Bains on Lac Leman.
We left St Gervais in torrential rain, the peaks lost in the clouds, the valley a lesser place without their brooding presence, a soulless motorway corridor of factories, offices and out-of-town retail parks that could have been anywhere. As we drove north towards Lac Leman the terrain changed subtly, the green-black of the evergreen conifers lightened by gold and bronze and the slopes carpeted with beech leaves, the contrasting colours made richer by the rain. The industrial and commercial landscape petered out, replaced by wooden chalets and fields and a welcome sense of space. We climbed the last few miles to our destination out of a valley wreathed in mist, grabbed a single bag from the van and ran for the front door, soaked in seconds.
Our English hosts, who had moved to this area six months ago, welcomed us with a cup of tea, and introduced us to the two kittens, four ducks, three chickens and three guinea fowl that would be our company for the next two and a half weeks.
They explained that goats from a neighbouring farm had been getting into the garden, but they had spoken to the farmer, Bruno, and asked him to fix the fencing so that it would not be a problem whilst they were away. They’d left us his telephone number just in case.
It is customary to share a meal on the eve of a house-sit, a good time to run through how everything works. Sometimes conversation is stilted but other times, as it did tonight, it can feel as if we have known these strangers all our lives. This is when house-sitting becomes more than just having a base from which to explore a region. It opens a window onto other people’s lives, allowing us to share in their past and to compare their experience of living in a foreign country with our own. There is always much to learn, to commiserate or laugh about, to be inspired by. Our hosts would be leaving at 3am the following morning and we would be leaving a few hours before they arrived back at the end of the house-sit so it was likely that, after tonight, we would never see them again. I relish these brief encounters where there is no time to take anything for granted, where each moment should be enjoyed to the full.
We woke the next morning to the clanging of goat bells. I pulled open the curtain and found myself face to face with a billy goat. We stared at each other for a second or two, me bleary-eyed with sleep, him munching on a twig he’d stripped from the Buddleia next to the door, and then I banged on the window. He thought about it for a second and then ambled off, quite unconcerned. He wasn’t alone. There were around fifteen, mainly females and they were destroying the garden with impressive efficiency. One had its head buried in the compost bin, another was nosing through fallen apples, another stripping the leaves from the raspberry canes. They had already consumed the broccoli and cabbage on a previous visit but a small group of them had jumped up into the vegetable beds and were finishing off what little remained. We threw on some clothes and chased them off but once we walked around the perimeter we could see that they’d be back in no time. The electric fencing was down in numerous places and had shorted out. Animals have an uncanny knack of sensing when this happens and always take advantage of it. I rang the owner and told them and then I rang the farmer.
He turned up two days later and by chance I spotted him walking up the track.
‘Bonjour monsieur,’ I said, waddling up behind him in a pair of borrowed man-sized wellie boots that were three sizes too big for me. ‘Vous êtes Bruno?’
‘Mais oui.’ He looked at me but didn’t smile.
I introduced myself and explained that the goats had broken in to the garden again.
‘Mais ce n’est pas grave.’ He shrugged. ‘C’est la campagne.’
I thought about saying that this was indeed the countryside but that didn’t mean it was okay for him to let his animals wander they wanted and then thought better of it. This wasn’t my fight, all we wanted was for it to be fixed. He then went on to say that if the people who lived here were going to get upset about things like this then they should have bought a house down in the town. I thanked him for fixing the fencing and left it at that. This was a familiar story, towns people and country people having conflicting perspectives on boundaries, a difference which only becomes more complex when you add in the element of newcomer versus someone born to the area. We had experienced this in Wales and there was no reason for it to be any different in another country. It was a human condition and we take our prejudices with us wherever we go.
As we walked back down the track Bruno stopped and gestured at the chickens.
‘These are fine birds. But beware of the fox. There are plenty of them here and they will come in the night.’ He said the next words slowly, as if to a child. ‘You must take care and shut the birds away at dusk or you will lose them.’
I could have told him that I’d kept chickens for years and knew perfectly well how to look after them but yet again I held my tongue, not sure whether I was doing it due to an ingrained, and at times annoying, habit of British politeness or because I didn’t know how a French person would have reacted in such a situation. On the one hand, the French are very polite and there are strict rules to adhere to, but on the other hand they can also be blunt to the point of rudeness. As always in these situations I erred on the side of caution and avoided a confrontation. This wasn’t my house and it would do no good to make things more difficult.
Apart from the goat drama this has been a quiet week for us. I am busy writing my next book, and am now about a third of the way through it. This is a tricky stage in the writing process, the thrill of beginning a new book has faded and the end is nowhere in sight. There are days when I have to force myself to turn on the computer but then, after half an hour of mumbling and grumbling, something switches on in my brain and the book starts to write itself. Michael is working on his drawing skills and cursing at the computer as he tries to learn how to design his website. The weather has turned wet and grey, which actually makes it easier to get our heads down and work. Here are a few pictures from our intermittent sunny days.
All work makes Jack a dull boy etc so we have programmed some time off and will take the bikes down to Lac Leman for a day in the near future. Hopefully I shall have some pictures of the lake for you in the next blog. For now, take care and see you next week.