The room I live in was once an outbuilding, but is now my bedroom and en-suite. You can sit on the windowsill and look beyond the warped wooden shutters out over the vegetable garden. Usually you’ll find a kitten climbing a washing line pole, a chicken scratching at the dirt, or the dog wagging his tail. Small arched holes remain in the thick stone walls where birds entered, before they were sealed with clear plastic. They let the morning light in. I wake at dawn and step out of bed onto a floor of hard, cold tiles.
There’s something reassuring about the room. I’m surprisingly comfortable, despite the lack of curtains or decoration. It’s a plain room, but practical. It’s not overstated, which matters because the house to which this outbuilding/farmhouse belongs is a statement – the sort of elegant house that one might slow down as one passed to take a better look. Un Chateau.
It’s not the size of the house which makes me so much in awe of it. There are larger and more elaborate properties in the world, but this one is temporarily part of my life. Amazingly, right now, it’s where I call home.
There’s an unexpected joy to finding myself with such a privilege. It reminds me being invited for lunch in a converted monastery in Italy. A tipsy gentleman pointed out the original Napoleonic frescos with great pride as he poured me a drink. I ate the dinner, drank the prosecco, and temporarily touched that pride. Later, when I thought about it, I struggled to integrate the experience with the normal day to day of my life – which often, at that time, involved sleeping in a tent and driving down bumpy Italian lanes in an old green Rover. There was something beautiful about the experience, but at the same time, it was like peeping through the window into someone else’s life. I can’t help contrasting the rich food of the monastery dinner to the simple cuisine of its previous inhabitants.
Twice this weekend have I ‘dropped in’ on relations of my French family. The first was a castle. The sort with spiral staircases, turrets and holes in the walls through which an archer could shoot down the enemy. It had a trampoline upstairs in one of the barns and a big view from the terrace of the French countryside. The second was a chateau. A huge house. I strolled through the vegetable gardens, along the walkway where the grapes hung and counted the swimming pools. The children played with a go-kart, but in the yard which was so far away I could rarely hear them. I felt like Elizabeth Bennet, walking through the gates of Pemberley for the first time. Une bière?
Until, sitting beside the sink in the kitchen, I saw a plastic bottle of LIDL washing-up liquid. The twin of the one which sat by the sink in my hovel.