Marigold Says...

Random thoughts on travelling and life in general.

Just to prove we have owned some nice houses. A fair few of the (many) others started off as complete ruins.

Marigold Says...

Not much from me this time. I'm claiming to be too busy and G can do all the work for once. Actually, that's the system we usually follow anyway. 

Just read a piece about a lad who faked reviews of a shed in his garden, which was billed as a restaurant. It was on trip advisor and rose up and up, until it was near the top of restaurants, and had never served a meal. He could have come undone when he kept getting people asking for a booking. He took the bookings, did the shed out and bought ready made food from Iceland and served it. One of the diners asked for a word with him. Fearing the worst he went over and the diner wanted to know when they could come again. He was an American diner.

I easily fall for trip advisors comments. If there are ten good comments and one bad one we don’t go. As we rarely eat out, it is mainly hotels we book. It only has to say one superfluous negative comment and I don’t want to go, so now G books them as he is far more rational than me. We have in the past had bad service, food and expensive add ons, but put it down to a bad night and we moan about it yes, but would never go public, unless we found a human finger in our food. Even then might think it was a Heston Blumenthalls recipe, the theme being hospital surprise.

We were once cajoled into going for a tasting menu, hugely expensive. Supposedly it was theatre of the senses. Well it didn’t work and I was fed up with all the palaver. I think it needs a more appreciative audience than me and G. We tend to take the pee out of it all.

I can remember the menu, most of it anyway. We had mashed potato pomade served on crackers made of bat spittle, with butter from camels found in the hills surrounding Mogadishu. It was served on a very rare orchid that only flowers 1 day of the year which you could supposedly eat, and a sauce made of three times cooked turnip laced with Guinness. The flavour combination set your senses on fire and as a thoughtful gift on leaving they served a Rennies covered in chocolate made by a 90 year old Chocolatier whose secret recipe is 500 years old.

G Says...

'Wherever I lay my hat, that's my home...'
 Home is wherever…

We were supposed to be in France now. Midway to the Deep South – Vaucluse, Var, Provence, The Cotes D’Azur – where the weather’s great, the scenery is as spectacular as the food and wine and the Beautiful People of Europe aspire to live. We’ve got euros, proof of Covid vaccinations, we’ve even got new passports, good for another ten years. But… We made an uncharacteristic mistake, caused by the chaotic pandemic related events of recent times. We made plans.

Shock, horror. I knew it was a mistake, a harbinger of impending doom, but I did it anyway. Booked a handful of hotels, thereby deciding a route, planning an itinerary. We’re not planners, it goes against our natures. All our best and most memorable jaunts, travelling the globe, have been unplanned. Yes, it’s chaotic, in many peoples’ opinion it’s a ridiculous system, but we regard the condition of ‘ridiculous’ as having great merit.

So, why aren’t we quaffing glasses of Monbazillac and gorging on tarte tatin, fresh strawberries and pate de foie gras studded with truffles? It’s all my fault for making plans. How was I to know the NHS would suddenly decide to investigate whether my useless left foot is worth repairing – please, please, diagnose my problem as a syndrome, Marigold has always craved a syndrome in the family - or that Marigold would have the chance to get a problem she’s had for fifty odd years sorted out? I just realised that last ‘problem’ reference could be construed as being me, her devoted spouse, but it isn’t me. No, really, it isn’t.

Anyway, scrap all those stupid plans, trip deferred, probably to September now, but I shan’t be booking any more hotels. Learnt my lesson. Life used to be so simple.

I recently found the scribbled remains of an article I wrote for one of the glossy magazines, many years ago when my written output was considered saleable. Actually, the article was never submitted. It wasn’t very good, in my view, and looking at it again with the benefit of hindsight I can’t believe I would ever have submitted it. As a successful novelist, knowing only too well the relentless slog of writing a full length book, I gladly seized on any offers to write articles for magazines. Not quite in the Ernie Wise ‘a play wot I wrote this afternoon’ category, but far, far easier and less stressful than being a novelist.

Here’s that article, mostly unchanged so still not very good. I’m certainly not offering it up as an encomium of previous masterworks, but it will possibly suffice in lieu of an account of our abandoned travels. This was written in the camper van era, a period of minimal creature comforts, relentless chaos and every day a fresh adventure. Here goes:

“Travelling around Europe, as we do, there’s bound to be times when we enter familiar territory. Standing outside a house you’ve previously lived in has a certain poignancy about it and we’ve stood outside a few of them on our latest wandering through Europe. Admittedly we took a massive detour to take a quick look at our old house in the Loire Valley. That one was the first house we bought in France, the catalyst for leaving England and by some distance the most daunting project we’d ever undertaken.

A “Maison de Maitre’ about a mile from any other houses with extensive outbuildings and a vast barn even larger than the house. We’d left England within a week of leaving our jobs. Putting it another way, we’d left within a week of even thinking of leaving our jobs. No plans, see?

We didn’t speak French. I went to quite a good school. A school so good modern languages were regarded as a passing fad. I can converse with an ancient Roman, but that was about it. The reasons behind me leaving my job meant we didn’t have time to sell our old house. We just left it empty, pending a decision on what to do with it. A scary time in many ways and sensible actions weren’t on the menu.

So, we’re in France, don’t know a soul, there are no neighbours and we’d just bought a rundown and abandoned monster of a house. No money left over, just enough to get by if we didn’t bother to eat anything for a year or two and we needed to know how to do up houses. Urgently. Other than basic DIY, I couldn’t claim to have mastered many building skills, but needs must. We learnt fast, almost entirely by trial and error, and within a month I was tackling major construction jobs. Both of us were. I lost count of the times I heard, ‘I’m not a packhorse, you know,’ but we eventually finished it.

It took a year of unrelenting toil, while living on fresh air, but we did it. We stayed there five years, renting out the main house to Brits in the summer and living in a caravan, bought for the princely sum of £50, in the barn to bring in an income. Honing our building skills in the process. Learning, the hard way.

Those oak panels in the sitting room, well, they turned out to be pressed asbestos, not oak at all. They had to go. Their removal (I occasionally wore a face-mask, but Health and Safety were still just ‘words’ back then) revealed the timber battens supporting the panels had virtually crumbled into dust from dry rot. Cue much hacking into walls, cement rendering, plastering and painting. It turned out the dry rot was everywhere.

If anything hadn’t been affected by dry rot it was only because it had already been eaten away by termite infestation. We realised the termite problem was significant when one of the huge beams supporting the roof of one of the outbuildings collapsed, snapped in the centre. That beam was formed from a whole tree trunk, but when it fell the interior looked like Swiss cheese.

Nothing compares to adversity as a means of learning fresh skills. Construction jobs all done in the house we nevertheless realised the work there would never end. Our vast tracts of land, once so enticing, demanded much attention. Bare chested Adonis wielding a scythe? No, not Poldark, I was doing that thirty years ago. Apart from the Adonis bit, obviously.

Ditch digging? I did a lot of that as well. One very hot day I was hacking away, trying to persuade standing water to run off the land, when one of our visitors turned up, slurping away at a bottle of cold beer. Deciding the sweating, bedraggled homeowner had no need of refreshment he settled for watching me at my toil. After a few minutes, the man, who was Dutch, with a detachment for which the Dutch are renowned, said, ‘in my country I would pay a Turk to do this’ and walked away to get another beer out of the fridge.

New shutters, new chimney, every room gutted and two extra bedrooms and bathrooms added. Still a bit to do yet at this stage. Only took a year. Seemed longer at the time.

A few of the outbuildings, being guarded by the two goats we fostered. Thelma and Louise, yes it was a long time ago, arrived as tiny kids and munched away at our extra quick growing grass until they left to have their own kids. By which time they were enormous

Two young farmers trimming the vines. Well, one of us was young. James, my splendid godson, had obviously mislaid the dress code manual I left out for him as his cap appears to be incorrectly positioned.

Moving on...

Maybe it was time to move on. The Loire Valley is stunningly scenic in parts, but also contains huge areas of agricultural land where there’s not much to see apart from maize. It’s also inclined to be quite ‘damp’ and, let’s be fair, pretty cold in the winter months. We fancied looking southwards for our next move. Our renovation profits wouldn’t stretch to Provence, but we liked the Southwest quadrant, Languedoc- Roussillon, very much and houses there were half the price of the Riviera.

We wanted a quiet life. No noisy neighbours. What we ended up buying took this idea far beyond the original concept.” Edit: I’ve written previously in this blog about the ‘hermits year’. No possibility of direct contact with friends or family for an entire year. We ceased to exist. This was the year we lived rough, really, really rough, in the Corbieres Hills. Back to the unused and unwanted article now for a short sample of life at La Bergerie.

“I climbed out of the car and gazed around. It was hot and the earth beneath my feet was baking. I walked just a few paces past the dried up husk of a tree and an incredible vista was revealed. Below my vantage point the land fell away and I could see all the way to the distant Mediterranean over a deeply wooded valley. No roofs, no television aerials, no satellite dishes. Nothing to see but nature in the raw. Marigold joined me. Neither of us spoke, but her hands gripped my arm tightly.

After no more than ten minutes I finally dragged my gaze away from the ‘view.’ This wasn’t a view. I’ve seen ‘views’ before. This was so much more than just a view. The word for whatever it was hasn’t been invented yet, but I refuse to downplay it by calling it a ‘view.’ Behind us a rough track meandered up the steep slope of the hill. Huge stones dotted the hillside and one of the larger stones caught my attention. ‘Back in a minute,’ I said and set off up the track. Five steps off the road my initial suspicion was confirmed. ‘It’s here,’ I shouted. ‘The house. It’s up here.’

Marigold joined me and we walked up to a low, single-storey house with tiny windows and a vast terrace. Invisible from the road as it was built of the same red stone as the surrounding hillside, it was a Bergerie: originally built to provide shelter for a shepherd and his flock of goats. Standing on that terrace seemed the most peaceful place on earth. The pulsating heat emphasised the stillness. It wasn’t silent – not with the shrill chirruping of unseen cicadas and exotically scented wild thyme crunching underfoot – but it had utter serenity.

I dragged a large flat stone to one side and found the promised key. Massive and ancient, it was a perfect match for the solid door, bleached of any discernible colour. It creaked open and we stepped inside. The back wall was solid stone as the house was built directly into the hillside; a craggy surface of reddish hues and irregular facets it was magnificently simple. The building couldn’t have been more basic. One large room with two tiny windows behind slatted shutters. A true blank canvas. Large enough to create a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom, given a little ingenuity and a capacity for hard work. Assets we possessed in abundance.

We walked round, went outside again, looked down the valley. Neither of us had spoken. We’re both talkers as a rule, but this situation didn’t require speech. The position was magnificent; the potential immense, but there were obvious problems. A minimum of fifteen miles in any direction from the nearest neighbour for a start. No electricity. No mains water. No sewage facilities. We would have to learn how to live in a mediaeval fashion. For rebuilding, we’d surely need electricity. A generator would power a cement mixer, drills, whatever else I would need and, long-term, I’d look into wind power or even solar power, all common enough nowadays but a complicated research project back in those pre-Internet times.

Water was less of a problem. The owner had told me of a well further along the track which he claimed had been excavated in Roman times but remained viable after two thousand years. I found the well and it was exactly as described. Five hundred yards along the track, in a cave, it was a runoff from the towering hills above the house and the main basin had been carved from the rock by hand. It was brimming with cool, fresh water from a natural spring and extending a water supply to the house would be comparatively easy.

We moved in almost immediately. Apart from tools, books and a few clothes, we brought nothing with us. Work was back-breakingly hard, from dawn until it was too dark to continue. We cooked on an open fire, read by candlelight and slept on a mattress on the earth floor. It was the happiest time of my life and we’d never felt so close. Wherever we worked, mixing cement by hand, sitting on the roof laying tiles, we were communing with nature. Eagles soared overhead, snakes slithered across the terrace, lizards scurried up the walls and every other day a family of wild boar came to visit as if checking on our progress.

Not every day. Every other day.

We didn’t bother about checking the time. We got up when it was light. Ate when we were hungry. Slogged down the mountain to a supermarket once a month. Showered every night by candlelight under the leaky bucket contraption I’d made for the purpose using water from black plastic sacks laid on the terrace every morning to heat up in the sun and thus provide basic creature comforts.

Eventually, we had a house capable of occupation by normal people. A kitchen in the style rustique led into a sitting room with a new window facing straight down the valley to the sea. Beyond were a cosy bedroom and a bathroom with a water supply on tap set out as a wet room, many years before the term became fashionable. A laboriously constructed fosse septique below the terrace contained waste water. A gas boiler, using bottled gas, allowed for the luxury of hot water, even on dull days.

La Bergerie was the forerunner of ‘shabby chic.’ Living here had been fantastic and we’d, deliberately, not shared it with anyone else. No friends or family had ever visited or even knew about it. This was our special place and would remain so. We’ve owned many houses, lived in several different countries, but La Bergerie was special.

We always knew our stay would be brief. To stay longer would risk familiarity. The day would inevitably dawn that we’d walk onto the terrace and not even bother to look down the valley to the sea. We’d take it for granted. Neither of us wanted to risk that. Years later, we often speak of that year of unrelenting labour in the most perfect spot either of us may ever see. We loved every moment and writing this piece now has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and given me goose bumps.

Goose bumps, a strange, if decidedly appropriate description of a familiar effect. The correct, scientific word for that shivery feeling manifesting itself as dimpled skin allied with our body hair standing on end is horripilation. I’ve no idea why I remember ‘stuff’ like that, but I do. Is it a curse or a blessing?

Memories that provoke these feelings are common enough. Like Edith Piaf, Je ne regrette rien. Nothing at all. We’ve travelled far and wide since our year in the Corbieres Hills. Seen so much. Met so many wonderful people. Yet we’ll never forget that year when it was just the two of us. Well, just us and the wild boar. Every other day.

Now, here we are again. In Durban Corbieres, the nearest town, getting ready to make the hour’s run up into the hills. Into uncharted territory. We took the only option, the road that seemingly leads to nowhere and followed it for fifteen miles. No houses, no cars, no sign anyone had lived up here since the Stone Age.

We didn’t find La Bergerie either. We left the car and walked into dense undergrowth, followed several trails that looked promising, but in the end, admitted defeat. It seems the house has once again been reclaimed by the wilderness and access is no more. We weren’t sure whether we felt sad or happy. We’ll always have our memories.

Sadly, I can only find one photo of La Bergerie and what became the actual house is hidden away behind the trees in the background

Bathroom in the Style Rustique.

South of France now, almost into Spain and that's where we head for next. More ruins, more rubble, more living on a building site...

"If we had been keeping strictly to chronological order we would now be heading off to Morocco as that had been our destination after we left La Bergerie. Reclaiming a ruined riad just outside The Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech's main square and the most important part of the medina, was yet more hard work, but also brought a love of North Africa, its architecture, its mountains and deserts that will never leave us. Morocco was to be our destination again on this trip but, en route, we passed through Finestret, a small village at the foot of Mount Canigou, almost as far as you can go in France without being in Spain. Slight detours are easy enough when meandering our way down to the sun en route to North Africa without an agenda or a timescale.

We had lived in Finestret for almost five years, putting down roots once again after a lengthy spell of travelling. Finestret is not on many maps, there are no shops and apart from a man selling bread from a van honking his horn every morning it’s a very tranquil place. Oh, apart from the church bells which ring out the hours twice so the workers in the surrounding peach fields don’t miss out on the sacred lunch break at twelve noon.

Our arrival in Finestret was supposed to have been a watershed moment. Apart from a bit of ‘doing up’ this one wasn’t much of a renovation project. Unless you count removing every single roof tile and replacing a leaking roof. I gained access, it was a very ‘tall’ house, through a velux window in a bedroom ceiling, tied myself to the chimney with an old rope as a sop to safety procedures and threw the old tiles down into the courtyard. Pretty basic stuff. Marigold hardly complained at all when passing the new tiles up through the ceiling opening, a few at a time. As I recall there were only 2,000 of them.

We decided we were now retired from renovation work. Finally we could concentrate on enjoying life while we learnt the advance requirements of becoming old people. Of course, we still travelled, still yearned for the open road at times, but it was the lure of winter sunshine that provoked our next move, from the South of France, following the sun to Andalusia.

We bought a tiny house in Competa, a pretty mountain village, while we looked for our next project. Yes, we had got the renovation bug back. What we found was very special; an old finca, in the campo, but within a couple of miles from the village. The approach was a dusty, rutted old dirt track with a sheer drop on one side. Now, half a dozen years since we left, the track is smooth tarmac and at least a dozen villas have been built. The road surface may be smoother but it’s still barely wide enough for one car and the vertiginous drop to the valley floor far below is no less daunting.

We parked up outside a deserted Finca Venus which appears to have been empty for several months. Either that or the present owners aren’t especially keen on sweeping leaves from the terrace. We stood enjoying the solitude, feeling the sun’s warmth on our backs and watching a herd of goats spread out in seemingly random patterns across the far hillside, their guardian seated on a large rock with an assortment of scruffy dogs around him. I conjectured on the blissful nature of that man’s life with just his goats and his dogs for company as he wandered at will through the countryside.

Sunlight striking the overhanging canopy of leaves produced a kaleidoscope of fractured rays. Stray shafts of light splintered through the shadows forming a golden pool of light on the old dusty stones. The effect was intoxicating; a riotous assembly of vibrant colours and dappled shade and the blue Mediterranean sparkling like a jewel in the distance. We shared a glance, moments such as this were the rational behind our original decision to move here many years ago.

Far below, down among the grapevines, was a gorgeous, old ruin of a house with a boundary wall extending to the point at which the land fell away completely to a sheer drop. We walked down, crushing aromatic herbs at every footfall. The once sharp edges of the stones had been softened by the erosion of time and the attachment of a furry cloak of lichen that extended over most of the visible area of the wall. A full-length loggia, old scaffold poles painted a vivid green forming a frame for rough planks provided welcome shade to the front of the house. A magnificent flowering jasmine entwined around one of the columns spreading its sweet-smelling curtain of white flowers across the open beams above. The roughly tiled floor was deeply carpeted in white where the blooms had dropped down.

This lovely old house on the slope of the hill had long since been abandoned, but when we were still young and foolish – Marigold disputes we ever left this point - this was exactly the type of project we'd have taken on. It was a ruin, so it would be cheap. A year of backbreaking toil and about the same amount of money as the original purchase cost would have produced a liveable house in a perfect location.

We weren't tempted though. Neither of us fancy the aforementioned backbreaking toil any more, the prospect of selling on the completed house, hopefully for profit, is far more fraught than it used to be and, above all else, we've been there, done that. Many times.

We sat in the shade and the absolute silence, looking back up the slope to our former finca. Seen from this angle, the steep slopes of the raisin beds resembled giant open matchboxes spread out to catch the rays of the sun. Thirteen in all, a couple already filled with drying bunches of grapes; the others revealing bare scraped earth beneath. Each was about twelve paces long and roughly half that in width, separated from its neighbour by low whitewashed walls. Stacked at the lower edge were neat piles of rough planks, ready to protect the precious fruit in the event of bad weather. Stacks of opaque plastic sheets were the final defensive system if a sudden thunderstorm should arise. Rain and dust were the enemy, but plans had been made to protect the harvest from most climatic dangers.

We puffed our way back up the steep hillside, one of us complaining at every step, the other skipping lightly along, revelling in the opportunity for exercise.

NB. That last sentence contains one accurate description and one that is totally false.

Finca Venus wasn’t the most laborious of our ventures – adding a swimming pool was far beyond my capabilities, so we became project managers at times while ‘proper’ tradesmen did the tricky bits – but it remains our favourite house project.

Our first viewing wouldn’t have been many peoples’ idea of perfection. The old finca had stood there for over three hundred years and only ever previously catered for mules. Basically, one big room with a metal door and one tiny metal window and a separate section where the roof had long since collapsed. That was it. What made it special was where it was. Three thousand feet up in the Sierras Nevada; ringed by jagged peaks and overlooking the Mediterranean with a view across to North Africa it was one of the best views I’d ever seen.

‘Perfect,’ Marigold said as we walked past the end of the house. We didn’t go inside – there wasn’t a key anyway – but we both knew this was the one.

We added extra rooms and terraces, a swimming pool, and divided the existing interior to form a kitchen, small sitting room, a tiny bathroom and two bedrooms. A lot of work, but well worth it. We rented it out for ridiculously large sums while we worked on our next ruine and lived in it, very happily, the rest of the year. I shall never again be able to recreate that sense of utter peace that welcomed me every morning as I stumbled onto the terrace in my underpants and sandals to gaze out across a shimmering sea to the mysterious African continent so near, yet so far away.

Last night, I stood on the terrace I’d built –the new owners only come here in the summer – and wondered how a view could still be so perfect. It’s busier now, there are cars on the track once used almost exclusively by goats, and the proliferation of new villas on the hillside, while not exactly suburbia, is a sad reflection of unpredictable change and a stern reminder nothing that was once perfect can endure for ever.

We drove on, twenty miles around the mountain, and parked up on a piece of land we still own. It’s not much. It’s a section of barren scrubland, useful as a place to park a camper van for a few days while enjoying the views of Lake Vinuella, but it’s ours. Trust me, it’s not much of a boast and only remains in our possession because we forgot all about it when we sold our final finca.

The finca in question, the last house we restored and sold in Spain is still there. The new owners had added a glazed conservatory. It looked ridiculous and must have been unbearably hot in the summer. That house renovation was ‘the mistake,’ the one we wished we hadn’t started. Leaving aside any views on retiring from the ‘doing up houses’ that little finca nearly broke us in two.

It was, once again, an uninhabited – make that uninhabitable – ruin when we bought it. No water, no electricity and access by a rough track. Okay, we can do that, we thought. Where’s the problem? The answer lay in basic physiology. The virtual collapse of my knees, just for starters, together with an increasingly mutinous work colleague whose ‘pack horse’ complaints were now being broadcast with much greater regularity. ‘You’re too old and cruddy to do this any more,’ Marigold informed me. It may have been on the day I left her perched on the roof, levering up tiles, while I ‘popped’ out to buy sand and cement. Well, how could I predict Marigold would be stung by a scorpion the minute our truck disappeared over the horizon?

We should have anticipated there’d be the odd live specimen hanging around as the roof tiles were thickly coated in chitin. Marigold wishes it to be known that she was very brave and didn’t actually die, but it was very unpleasant.

There were better days, lots of them, and much laughter. Much of the feel good factor came about when we met two of the best people we’ve ever met. Jim and Linda saved us and most certainly saved the finca ‘project.’ I explained we couldn’t afford to pay proper builders so they would have to do.

(They’re used to remarks like that, don’t worry.)

The four of us, plus Rhett the canine foreman, found a blend of work, laughter and nonsense that made us wonder why every workplace couldn’t function like this. Great times. Washing off the dust and filth of a working day in a bath reclaimed from a skip or hiking over the hill with a spade in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other, these most basic aspects of ‘making do’ became so familiar it actually felt strange to get back to the world of flushing toilets and hot water on tap.

We never (quite) finished the house, but sold it as a work in progress. It was more than slightly disappointing to see how the new owners have turned what was the epitome of stylish simplicity into ‘just another house.’

Of course we didn’t approach. We never knock on the door of a former house and introduce ourselves. Yes, we lived there once but those days have gone. Gone for ever. We’ve moved on. Bygones. It’s my favourite word. Move on to the next adventure.

Tonight we’re parked on a glorious stretch of white sand. The sea is rolling in, waves tipped with foam, for this is the Atlantic and we’re in one of our favourite places: Tarifa. It’s laidback, Bohemian, packed with fresh-faced young surfers with bleached hair and can-do attitudes. Could I borrow a board tomorrow. Go surfing? Just like riding a bike. You never forget how to do it, do you?

Well, maybe not. Once, I had perfect knees; not the wretched appendages held together with string and rubber bands I have now! Time for common sense. Next, we’re heading back to Morocco. The ancient cities, Fez and Marrakesh, ageless and magnificent; still largely unchanged over a thousand years. The Rif Mountains where young boys flash passing cars with broken shards of mirror and call out ‘Keef, keef.’ Kif, the local term for hashish, is both cheap and plentiful. I’m never a customer, having seen the ravages of drugs at first hand over too many years to even smoke a little dope.

One of the highlights of our trip will be returning to the High Atlas and the fascinating Berber villages. After that, it’s the Sahara; that vast and timeless region where modern life scarcely ever intrudes. We have a vague idea about reaching the fabled city of Timbuktu, but that’s as far as our plans go. Planning removes spontaneity and without scope for acting on impulse nobody never achieved anything of note.

We’ve owned many houses in our time. Bought, sold, moved on. Including five total ruins, mere uninhabitable shells, unfit for purpose. We moved in, spent a few months living in squalor, surrounded by dust and rubble, bashing away, one room at a time. Some are far more memorable than others, but all have their tales to tell.

Do we miss any of them? Not for a moment. Is it a viable way of earning a living? For twenty odd years, until the pensions arrived, our only income was the profit we made on selling property. If you’re living, working alongside, the person you want to be with 24 hours a day, every day and that proximity remains special, then of course it’s good. It’s brilliant, actually.

Add the opportunity to live in a foreign country, soaking up the delightful ‘difference’ factors and it’s life at its most desirable. Just assuming you can cope with dirt, dust, mess, the absence of creature comforts or even a modicum of modern life as we know it. There are compensations aplenty for those willing to experience a good slice of mediaeval living.

Do we have any regrets? No, not one, without question. Would we take on a total rebuild project now, a fair few years down the line? Hmm, let me think about that,

Wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home. I heard the song on the radio the other day. That’s about right. For the last week we’ve woken to the sound of the waves on the shore. Last night it was the mountains, tipped with crimson as the sun rose. Soon it will be the utter tranquillity of a desert landscape. Each day is memorable. I’m determined to wring every drop of joy from life. After all, we pass this way but once.”

Yes, it's true, I have always assumed Marigold can cope with a bit of mess in her life. This was one of our first 'doer-upper' houses on the Wirral, long before we're disappeared to go travelling. Yes, of course that's a kitchen. Well, it will be one day soon.

Peach fields and Mount Canigou, quite a welcome to Finestret

Not much work to be done here. Or so we thought. Turns out the roof leaked like a sieve. Only 2,000 tiles needed to be replaced or relaid.

Into Spain, Finca Venus at the early stages. Just one room, one door, one window and a mule house with a caved in roof

Starting work on extending the basic shell. Still no sign if a swimming pool but there's no way we're taking that job on.

This was 21 years ago. I still own, and occasionally wear those green shorts. For some reason Marigold won't allow them to be viewed in public

Extra room below what will be a new terrace is well on the way

Another green shorts day

A swimming pool. How posh is that?

Finished

A bedroom. Moroccan inspiration well to the fore

Another bedroom

Round the back

The last renovation. First slight snag - the terrace and part of the house is falling down the hillside. First job, build a retaining wall.

The building site. Note the bath, intended for soaking terracotta floor tiles before laying

That bath had other uses too

Marigold tip toeing through the puddles

Yes, it still looks rubbish, but there's a kitchen and bathroom on the way

As you can see...

Well on the way now

This is the main access road. Well, the only road. It's not exactly busy

Almost finished now

Almost a kitchen