Summer is here. AS WELL AS PEACHES, FIGS AND LONG EVENINGS BY THE POOL DRINKING ROSE WINE, IT HERALDS THE ARRIVAL OF TWO THINGS: mosquitoes and guests. Both have been hibernating all winter ready to pounce on you as soon as a sun lounger appears or the pool is opened.
I put guests into three categories. There are the good, the bad and the downright terrible. Good guests show up in their own form of transport, thereby saving you a three-hour drive to and from the airport. They are laden with gifts like POTS OF MARMITE , toys for the children and Bendick’s Bittermints. These guests are so entranced with the thought of being in France they find chores like slicing melons positively orgasmic. They spend the whole time telling you how lucky you are and what a lovely place you live in, while at the same time helping around the house and playing with the children.
After dinner (which they have cooked) they get raucously drunk and entertain you with stories about friends back home. Then they strip off all their clothes and jump in the pool (once they’ve done the washing up, obviously). This goes on for two days after which they clutter off in a haze of petrol and alcohol fumes leaving you feeling hung-over but jolly happy.
Bad guests arrive at the airport with no gifts but then immediately take you out for dinner. They are less than helpful around the house, inexplicably expecting you to clean up after your own children, animals and husband. These guests expect to be entertained, so you have to drop any desire you have to make a living and instead cart them off to castles and markets while regaling them with amusing anecdotes.
They seem to think they’re doing you a favour by deigning to visit you and cheer up your little humdrum life in the middle of the French countryside. ‘I mean what can you possibly have to do that could be more interesting than making sure that we have a nice holiday?’ is their attitude. IF YOU SHOULD TRY TO DO ANY WORK OR LEAVE THEM UNATTENDED FOR MORE THAN THREE MINUTES, THEY POP UP NEXT TO YOU, DEMANDING SOMETHING OR OTHER, BE IT INTERNET ACCESS OR A TOWEL FOR THE POOL.
A friend of mine who has a house in Provence tells me about some guests of this type she had to stay last week. “They had a great time,” she tells me. “Even breaking a bed in the process, which we had to pay to have mended.” Rather then be embarrassed by this the guests seemed to view it as their biggest achievement since A’ Levels.
Downright terrible guests arrive by car. But the car is not laden with gifts, it is laden with children. All five of them leap out shouting “where’s the pool” and “I’m hungry”, practically mowing you over as they race to be the first to try to drown one of their siblings. They move like a pack of crazed hyenas, scouring the house and garden for things to jump on and destroy after their eleven-hour car drive. Their parents smile apologetically as if to say ‘we’ll, you’ve got kids too and if you ever wanted to come and stay with us in Shepherd’s Bush, we’d be nice to you.’ As if.
These guests bring no gifts; they had no room in the car once they’d packed little Johnny’s portable canoe and Sally’s blow-the-house-up-in-one-go chemistry set. They stay for at least a week, arguing that’s it’s not worth coming for less. By the time they pack up and go you have almost decided to move in with any mosquitoes that are still hibernating in the well. They leave, promising TO SEND presents that never show up.
SOME GUESTS ARE BEYOND CATEGORISATION. The daughter of A friend of ours who liveS in a nearby village FOR EXAMPLE. She phoned her mother a few weeks ago from London and told her she would be coming to stay, along with four or five friends.
“How lovely,” said her mother.
“Would you and Dad mind moving out while we’re there?” asked the daughter.
I am depressed to report that as you read this my friends are slumming it in a B&B in Spain, while their daughter and her friends enjoy their beautiful home and pool.
One could argue that with some guests you’d be better off moving out. Luckily we haven’t had any real horrors yet. But as we wave people off down the drive, however much we like them, my husband and I always feel a great sense of relief. There is nothing quite as lovely as having your house back to yourself again. IF ONLY WE COULD PERSUADE THE ODD GUEST TO LEAVE WITH ONE OR MORE OF THE CHILDREN. Shakespeare summed it up well: “Unbidden guests are often welcomest when they are gone.”
Fighting the cowboys
I have had an increasing number of emails about cowboy builders operating in France, many of them Brits. Help is at hand from an organisation that has been set up to regulate the international property industry. Only companies who agree on a code of conduct will be allowed to join so consumers should be confident about using them. For more information go to www.aipp.org.uk or call 0044 (0) 207409 7061.
Calling all gardeners in France
A nationwide campaign has been launched in France to study the distribution of butterflies. In 14 years their numbers have fallen by half and some of the 257 varieties in France are in danger of disappearing. Gardeners are urged to do two things; first, stop using pesticides which kill butterflies; and second go on to www.neoconservation.org and register so that you can list species you spot. If you don’t have internet access then write to Pierre Carret, Noé Conservation CP31 57 rue Cuvier 75231 Paris Cedex 5 or call 0033 (0) 140793783.
Helena Frith Powell’s More France Please, We’re British is published by Gibson Square Books and available from Books First at £9.99 plus p&p on 0870 165 8585.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group. She writes a beauty blog www.beautyorbeast.uk.
Her third novel, The Arnolfini Marriage, based on a romance that evolves around a van Eyck masterpiece came out in 2016. As well as contributing regularly for newspapers and magazines, writing short stories and studying for a Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, Helena is also working on a thriller called Welcome to Smullö that will be published in spring 2020.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and came out in paperback in April 2018.
Helena was educated at Durham University and lived in the Languedoc region of France for eight years, where the family still have a home. She lives between there and London with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019