It’s amazing to think how a seemingly inconsequential choice can change the whole direction of one’s life, isn’t it? And yet, so often that is exactly what happens. And once that initial choice has been made, other decisions compound the effect until suddenly you find yourself looking at a whole new life. And all it took was a birthday choice!
Nearly five years ago, my husband, Graham, turned 50. He wanted to celebrate by going on a cookery course abroad. Italy and France were on the shortlist, and he decided that he didn’t want to cook pasta. That choice changed our lives!
The Gascony Cookery School is based in a small village on the edge of Tarn-et-Garonne and the Gers, down in the deep south-west of France. It is set on a rocky outcrop in rolling hills with farmland all around it hosting kilometre on kilometre of sunflower fields in the summer. Gramont boasts a chateau open to the public, a wonderful auberge (where cookery school students also get to work), and a honey museum. In one of those quirks of fate, Graham, who should have been one of six students, was the only student. (Something similar happened to me when I went to study jacquard at the Lisio Foundation in Florence – there should have been five or six of us, but there were only two!) Over long leisurely meals with our hosts, Dave and Vikki, it transpired that they wanted to produce a honey beer, but didn’t know how. Graham (my husband) has been brewing his own beer from the grain since I have known him (well over 30 years) and said he could help. The more we talked, the more we realised our particular (and peculiar) mix of skills would fit in this village. Graham with his brewing and music (he’s a good ‘cellist), and his wonderful ability to get on with everyone, and me with my weaving. There was even an empty property for us to look round that would allow us to do all our activities.
We came home from that holiday buzzing with excitement and potentialities. We went back to have another look in the summer. The property was daunting – a lot of building work would be needed to make it functional but we had got the bit between our teeth and approached the sellers.
Not a lot happens speedily in the countryside of France, as many Francophiles will tell you. That’s part of its appeal! Because there was so much structural work to undertake before even starting work on making the property functional, we put forward a price which was not accepted. We hoped that time would encourage the sellers to reconsider. We went back to Gramont several times. Then all went quiet from the sellers.
We went back this April, still set on the same property, but this time we decided to see what else was out there. What other properties in the area would allow us to do our thing or give us a comparison to be able to negotiate a better price? We viewed 15 properties in one week, and I have to say that the estate agents were all amazing! Then it happened. The very last house we looked at just took our breath away. As we drove up the drive, I said to Graham ‘This is it!’ We felt exactly what we had felt when we first set eyes on Willowgate 23 years ago. And as we walked round, it felt more and more like home without all the back-breaking work that would have been entailed in the property in Gramont and only 40 minutes away from Gramont.
We hummed and hawed for a short while after we got home but that was just nerves. We had really already made our decision, and in May our offer was accepted. Just two days later, another offer was put in but the sellers of La Tuilerie honoured their word to us. And now, finally, at the end of November 2015, we are the proud owners of a beautiful maison de maitre with attached barn for my weaving studio and teaching studio, a workshop for Graham’s micro-brewery, and a small shop to sell our wares! We will be able to put guests up and offer the kind of immersive experience that we enjoyed at the cookery school, where I can teach weaving and intersperse it with trips to local markets, restaurants, local beauty spots and places of interest so that students and guests can enjoy the tastes and sights of Gascony.
And all because of a birthday decision!!
It will take a while to renovate the buildings to allow us to run the weaving courses and the B&B, but this is the start of a new life. Graham is taking the plunge and leaving teaching which he has done for 30 years, to devote himself to looking after my guests and brewing his beer. Of course it will be a challenge – not least the language side of things – and we are not taking it lightly, but there are so many people who are looking out for us and encouraging and helping us, both in the UK and in France, that with a lot of hard work and patience I think we will settle in to a new way of life and really be part of the local community in Nérac and Condom.
I do hope we will have the opportunity to host some of you, my past students, dear weaving friends and fellow explorers on life’s rich path. I will post updates on FB and here and in my occasional newsletters, but in the meantime,
May All Your Dreams Come True!! (Because they sometimes do!! :^))