French Farmhouse checking.

The ladder to the loft.

IMG_0421 French farm house checking

The ladder to the loft.


I can still see the ladders leading to the lofts of old farm-houses in the South of France. Anyone who has ever been to France might know and acknowledge the lure of old farmhouses. They were being advertised over the world and in the eighties and nineties, it wasn’t unusual to meet people that in conversation around the fondue set, would casually drop, ‘we have bought an old French farmhouse, and we are going there each year now for our holiday’. ‘We are getting a bit tired of holidays at Coffs’s Harbour and its Big Banana!

Old farmhouses with lofts are littered over the whole of the French country like confetti at nuptials. Mouth-watering ancient villages usually have a crop of those old places on cobble stoned lane ways where horses and cladded hooves have carved through the centuries little gutters which during gentle rains directs its water to a bubbling stream. The picture perfect would be the local church.

Of course, those old farmhouses were often riddled with woodworm hence the first task was to inspect the lofts and attics. In modern Australia most houses have internal man-holes to clamber through into the roof space. French farm- houses had access through a little door outside at the very top just below the pitch of the roof.

After several visits to France and numerous clambering on top of ladders inspecting lofts we were so badly infected with French farm-houses we could only think of buying one. Talk about getting a bean in the bonnet!

You know when life has reached a stage when a total change might just give a much needed and restorative impetus to keep plodding and have a go at a fresh start, try something a bit different. There is a term for it that lingers forever once you have absorbed the meaning. Is it called ‘mid-life crisis? The year of the sixty fifth birthday would soon be nigh and with that ‘The Senior Card’ with getting old, so often the banana skin on the doorsteps of the retired.

Of course, change involves risks but so does not doing anything. The risk of middle age ennui and bitter regrets of things we wanted to do but never did, nor tried. What can be more exciting than trying to live in another country? We could not think of a more glorious way of warding off retirement than making this change and move to France and learn the Franco lingo as an extra bonus.

We had already tasted the magic of rural France, the poetry of the potted geraniums on ancient window sills, the endless lanes of plane trees winding around the grape vines of the coming vintage, and the village squares all alive with men playing boule with women around the water-wells gossiping about the newly born or the recently departed.

France is contagious like that, and as mentioned previously, we knew a few couples already who had taken this brave step, and had escaped the dreariness of routine with those predictable daily habits. Marital whiplash with boring squabbles are often relieved by making changes well before the onset of mindless routine with silent evenings before the TV with morbid partner and Dr Phil.


(A work in progress.)


After we decided to go to France, my wife suggested to stay calm and not rush hastily into something we might regret. She reminded me that I often questioned the wisdom of my parents migrating to Australia from The Netherlands back in 1956. “Do you really want to give up on all your friends and acquaintances made through the years? We are living in quite a lively inner city suburb, within walking distance of so many amenities, shops, libraries, a stately Court-House and with a handy police station for extra measure”. We were living in cosmopolitan Balmain at the time of the birth of footpath dining and cafes.

All that was true. I tended to go on a bit about our first few years after arrival In Australia during the mid-fifties. We, after a short stint in the Nissan-hut Migrant camp, which was a horror on its own after the joy of a five week cruise on the boat between Holland and Sydney ended up living in an outer suburb of Sydney.,

We had moved to Balmain when the apartment in Pott’s Point became too small with the birth of our two daughters, Susanna in 1968 and Natasha in 1970.

We already tried moving back to Europe during a stint as an artist between 1973-1976, but after a while the lure of my large family of brothers and sister with their spouses and children, the Australian bush, and above all, to have the freedom of having rusted corrugated iron roofs and weedy footpaths, the chaotic or total lack of town planning attracted me back a again. Those Fatal Shores by Robert Hughes, spring to mind.

To be followed!



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26 Responses to “French Farmhouse checking.”

  1. leggypeggy Says:

    Interesting to know more of your ‘history’.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. shoreacres Says:

    You certainly evoked the ‘feel’ of France. Show me a window with a wrought-iron balcony and geraniums, and it’s France I’m thinking about, even if the scene is set in New Orleans. Of course, the influence is strong there, so it makes sense.

    On the other hand, your mention of paspalum made me think of Texas. We have at least a couple of native paspalums here; they’re good forage, and very attractive. I enjoy living among them myself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Glad that it brought on France, and I can understand the connection with New Orleans.

      Oddly enough geraniums don’t seem to be able to take off in Australia. Some people give up on maintaining small gardens. It might all be too hard. The result is a barren landscape but with luck some weeds might spring up, defiantly.

      Not for us though. Helvi persisted and I am enjoying her work and artistry immensely.
      Each window is a pleasure to look through, all green and lush.

      Liked by 2 people

      • shoreacres Says:

        That’s one of the things I’m enjoying about my new apartment. It’s turned out to be more private than I’d imagined, and with hedging along my patio and trees in the yard, it’s quite nice. Once spring truly has arrived, I’ll look for a way to add some native plants for the insects. I think there will be enough morning sun for perhaps a couple of planters attached to the patio railing. Right now? It’s windy and very cold — there even was snow only a couple of hundred miles away.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Curt Mekemson Says:

    Change can be good, Gerard. Especially if you have a good reason for it. I have never regretted my decisions to take off for extensive travel (six months to a year) every few years. It was a great way to recharge batteries and gain a new perspective. Fortunately, with Peggy, I have someone who enjoys the escapes as much as I do. I am also a firm believer in challenging ourselves, whether it is taking off on a 750 mile backpack trek or cooking up a new dish. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  4. freefall852 Says:

    Gerard…you appear to have repeated yourself in the last sections…some editing required..

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thanks, Jo. A bit embarrassing, especially as I have also sent this piece off to my lecturer for critique on the course I am doing through the U3A (university for the third Age) on ‘Critical writing.’


  5. Jane Says:

    I really understand the ‘pull’ of France having first visited in 1971 and never having really got it out of my system since, even after a few subsequent visits. I feel almost like that about Italy also – another country which has plentiful geraniums (pelargoniums, really). They are great in the summer in Mudgee, but the frost turns them into mush in winter unless you have a very sheltered spot. I could treat them as an annual and start again every spring!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, Jane. I don’t know how the French seem to specialise in Geraniums or Pelargoniums, They have frost there too. Yes, our second choice could easily have been Italy too. Both wonderful countries and so lively.
      The good rain we are getting now is wonderful and another 100 ml on the way. Let’s hope it goes further south and west.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. doesitevenmatter3 Says:

    A marvelous write, Gerard! Good imagery. Stirs up good emotions for the reader. Good sharing of your memories. Interesting view into your life. 🙂
    I’m looking forward to more!
    HUGS!!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Thank you Carolyn. Right now it is pouring with sheets of rain. There is dancing on the streets and farmers paddocks. It was so needed but we now need the rain to go inland where the drought is still biting severely.

      I’ll try to keep on with my memories and writing but need to get a cataract removed around April or May.

      Fortunately my lack of hearing isn’t interfering with writing word down. I am getting yet again a new set of hearing aids that cost a fortune. The Government subsidised aids are just not helping me much.

      Liked by 2 people

      • doesitevenmatter3 Says:

        You’re welcome, Gerard! 🙂

        Hope the rain goes to all of the places that need it most. (We are supposed to have rain and snow on Monday and Tuesday.)

        Best wishes that your cataract surgery goes well. Keep us updated when it gets closer to April and May. Everyone I’ve known who has had that surgery, it went well, and they were so glad they had it.

        Best wishes, too, on getting hearing aids that will work well for you.
        PS…Cooper is at my feet snoring away in slumber…I should get to sleep soon myself.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. petspeopleandlife Says:

    You must wonder what life would have been like if you and Hevi had moved to France. It has so many diverse locales and of course the French have always seemed so laid back. Actually I know that only from what I have read and seen in books and magazines.

    But I find your recollect of all your past experiences fascinating and very interesting. Keep up the writing, Gerard.

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, we used to wonder what if we made that move. Helvi thought that perhaps the drama of loosing two adult children might not have happened, if we had stayed in Holland.

      It is difficult to imagine having gone and live in France with our adult children in Australia would have been a good move. One just never know those things.

      But, hindsight is not conducive to much clear probabilities, certainties or rationality but it did cross both our minds often.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. freefall852 Says:

    Hello Gerard…Back in 2018 I posted a story up on The AIMN blog. One of the comments I got was from Helvi, a delightful reflection on the flowers in the story..I cannot help but would like to share that comment with you and your readers if you don’t mind…You may recall the moment she mentions…

    ” helvityni November 29, 2018 at 7:56 am

    I learnt from my mum to always have flowers in the house; in summer (Finland) it was flowers cut from the garden or wild ones picked from the fields, in wintertime windowsills were full of flowering potted plants, mainly Geraniums….

    When new to Oz, and driving around the country, I saw the haze purple flowers on both sides of the road; we stopped and I picked an armful to take home…

    Back home my Aussie neighbour took one look at my flowers and dryly stated: They are weeds….

    So what, they are pretty, they gave me joy, they did not cost me anything, and they look no different from Statice; a cut flower used in dry flower arrangements…”

    This was the story…:

    Liked by 2 people

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      Yes, it was Paterson’s curse which I believe is related to Statice but much loathed by farmers because they take over and when the only feed around, can cause problems to life stock when eating it.
      Good story, Jo.

      Helvi loved flowers and I keep up the weekly supply inside the house now. She had a wonderful family and upbringing. Nine children and a farm with all united and growing up to appreciate beauty and respect for nature and each other.

      She often said she wants to go to bed each night with a clear conscience and she did.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. freefall852 Says:

    ” She often said she wants to go to bed each night with a clear conscience and she did.”…..Now that’s where I envy women..or most women anyway…where they seem to go through life with an air and a mind uncluttered with thoughts of lust or conquer and so can achieve that “sleep of the innocent”..whereas we blokes, driven by all sorts of salacious/ambitious demons CANNOT seem to go to bed WITHOUT guilty thoughts and ergo the “unclean conscience”!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • gerard oosterman Says:

      I am not sure if thoughts of lust can be equated to then not be able to sleep with a good conscience. Women too can lust, long and desire for the pure pleasure of it.

      Liked by 2 people

      • freefall852 Says:

        ” Women too can lust, long and desire for the pure pleasure of it.”….Yes, but their lust has a sort of loving voluptuousness about it..really sexy…but with blokes it can sometimes descend to the equivalent of one of those pinched face “Old man Steptoe” looks about it!…base and greedy…


  10. Barbara Says:

    Hi Gerard I have enjoyed your stories on this blog and the return comments from your friends most of which seem to live Overseas. In all the years I have known you and Helve I have always thought the two of you had the most interesting lives (albeit your very sad times too) and have admired you both. The fact that you chose to stay in Australia amongst all those choices is interesting especially that you were both from different countries. A conversation for another time. Keep up the good writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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