Tuesday, 15 April 2008

How it all began ...

So there we were, halfway up a Pyrénée, stretched out in tee shirts enjoying the view, the midday sun and a rest for our Norfolk-flatland legs. It was January. I'm not sure which one of us started it (probably me; it usually is), but by the time we'd got back to our rented house that evening we'd decided to move to France.

Moving to France had been On The List for me for - oh, thirty odd years, ever since I was a student obsessed with the language and the country. Plans came and went; I got a proper job, the inevitable mortgage, all the usual baggage. I moved round the UK like a veritable nomad; dropped out, and back in, and then out again of a conventional(ish) lifestyle. Barely a year went by without a visit or three to France, but that's as far as it got. For John it was different: although he'd done his fair share of travelling, the USSR and the Eastern bloc (remember them?) had been more his style, and France was more than a bit of a mystery to him until we got together.

At the time of that winter trip, we'd been running terroir, our tiny restaurant with rooms in Cley next the Sea on the north Norfolk coast, for eight years. terroir happened, somehow; an antidote to our years of working in intensive/intense people-based professions with all the demoralising politicking that seems inexorably to go with work like that. It's a long story. For ten months a year, we cooked, hosted, washed up, grew vegetables, cultivated local suppliers, joined and promoted the Slow Food movement before anyone much had heard of it, and learned as we went along. We worked towards being carbon neutral, ran a carbon offset scheme along with Climate Care, and did our level (if largely unsuccessful) best to get other small businesses to adopt greener practices. Meanwhile North Norfolk became fashionable, every other house became a second home, and although we barely advertised, we became increasingly well known and often had silly waiting lists.

We had enormous fun, and met some really great (plus a few not-so-great) people. We learned that there's nothing quite like the buzz of a really convivial evening when something just clicks and a whole roomful of dinner guests feel it. We also worked 14 hour days, six days a week, answered the phone from 7 in the morning to after midnight, shared our home on a daily basis with 12 or 13 people, and almost never got to see the sea. That kind of life has a definite expiry date; when you sense it coming, you do one of two things. You carry on doing what you're doing, but you pull your self back from it, you disconnect ... or you move on. We moved on.

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