In 1997, while we continued to live and work in England, The Artist and I bought a second home, across the Channel, in Brittany.
Comprising of a traditional two-roomed cottage and a long, narrow stable, with hay lofts up above, it was set in sizeable gardens. Although little more than an unkempt ruin, this was the ideal rural bolt hole, to which we could escape from the stresses of city life.
A derelict barn, housing rusty tools and a horse drawn plough, stood opposite our kitchen window, on the end of a neighbouring plot. We thought it strange that the owners hadn’t kept it in better condition, or pulled it down to enlarge their entranceway – particularly as their house and grounds were otherwise immaculate. But we didn’t complain – it had a certain rustic charm, which inspired Martin to paint this watercolour:
VOS #5 A PLACE IN THE COUNTRY
Of course, it turned out that we owned ‘L’Hangar’, as it was known – and the triangle of land it stood on proved to be significant.
Apparently our neighbour had offered, many times, to buy it – it adjoined his garden after all and was separated from ours by a track. But the previous owner had refused to sell to him. She knew that he planned to widen the access to his property and improve the drainage. And, if he did that, the whole village would be subject to higher taxes.
About a year after we bought it, a local farmer called, asking if we would be willing to dismantle the ‘eyesore’, maybe grow vegetables on ‘le petit triangle’ instead. When we replied that we didn’t have the necessary demolition equipment; he said no problem – ‘tout le monde’ would help.
At seven o’clock the following morning we were roused by a determined working party – men armed with pick axes and shovels; women bearing pots of coffee, babies in pushchairs looking on. Although he worked alongside us, our disgruntled neighbour didn’t say one word!
By afternoon the ground was cleared, the rotting timbers burning on a bonfire, so high it almost set the surrounding trees alight. We dined outside, in front of it, to ensure it didn’t spread and – when we went to bed that evening – L’Hangar was no more.
We no longer own our Place in the Country. But we have this picture to remind us of the day the whole community pulled together, to assist ‘the crazy English people’ and to improve the village.
Somewhere in this painting, Martin has super-imposed his logo – can you spot it?
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