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  • There is a story in my family that says some years ago, a Great Aunt came into some money, and so had our family tree traced. Apparently, my family (like oh so many others) came from France with William the Conqueror in 1066. I have no proof of this, but the beginnings of my surname does originate in France.

    My first visit to France was in 1973 on a week long school trip to Paris. I fell in love instantly. Somehow, I knew I would.

    It was many years before I visited France again, but there was always something drawing me back there, and as the years passed, the urge to go back grew stronger. My partner Julie (as she was then) and I made our first trips in the late '90's, visiting Paris, and Compi├Ęgne regularly for long weekends.

    In 2000, we decided to start having proper holidays, and by 2003, we were looking for a property out there. all my research indicated I had enough cash to purchase something 'liveable', yet everywhere we went, we were shown properties that in most instances were little more than barns. On one visit, we were shown a pile of rubble in a field.

    The dream of a life in rural France was slipping away.

    Then, in July 2003, the dream seemed so much closer. We were taken to a large property built 'en pierre', in stone. It had a small amount of land, but the house was huge. At least 5 big bedrooms, a huge lounge with a stone crest inlaid in the chimney breast and a chandelier. An exterior stone staircase led up to the double front doors, half glazed, and inside, a winding, wooden staircase led to the upper three floors. The kitchen was huge, a big farmhouse style kitchen. I could already imagine the house warming party with everyone oohing and ahhing over how lovely the house was. I had fallen ...

    Adjacent to the house was a barn large enough to swallow a dozen cars, and almost the same height as the house, and on the opposite side of the gravel drive was a 'Bread Oven'.

    I assumed the Bread Oven would be something like an outdoor, brick built BBQ. I could not have been any more wrong. It was a two storey building, large enough to convert into a decent sized Gite. Open plan lounge, kitchen, diner downstairs, large bedroom and bathroom upstairs.

    The Dream was alive again. Better still, there was no fixed asking price, the owners were 'Open to offers'.

    But, I had a niggling feeling. How did this correlate with the ruins we had been shown previously. Something didn't feel right. Closer inspection revealed the reasons for my anxiety.

    The property was rife with woodworm. It was in the stairs, the handrail, and the wooden floors. The worst of the floors had hurriedly been covered with a cheap laminate floor laid over the original oak floor. Even the remaining items of furniture had evidence of woodworm infestation. None of this was structural though, and could be treated with a little time and money.

    But the worst was yet to come.

    The house had a large cellar. It was slightly below ground level, and was accessed from the courtyard by stooping through a low doorway. Inside the cellar, you could see the huge oak beams that supported the house. Now, anyone who knows oak, knows why it is used for building. It's immense strength and durability. Over time, it becomes like iron.

    The first oak beam I looked at was huge. I have no idea how long it was, but it was long enough to support a good portion of the house. It was about 6 or 7 inches square. It was a very substantial piece of timber, but, there was a section about 12 inches long and the width of the beam, that was lighter in colour than the rest of the beam. I took out my pocket knife, extended the 3 inch blade and poked it at the beam either side of the discoloured area. The tip didn't penetrate the surface, Solid, iron hard oak. So, I tried the lighter area. The blade sank it's full 3 inches into the beam, with no resistance. More woodworm.

    My heart sank. I knew this wasn't a quick easy fix with a little spraying. This was serious, structural, the house rested on these beams. Now I knew why the owners were open to offers. Benjamin, I wish I had known you back then for you thoughts on this as a 'project'.

    As hard as I tried, and as much as I loved the house, I couldn't bring myself to put in an offer. Not even a ridiculously low one. I'm sure they would have taken it as I'm positive the owners knew the cost of sorting out these beams. The romance with the house was very short lived.

    The dream slipped away again. After that weekend of house hunting, I didn't have the heart to look for anything else. That same weekend, we were shown another house, but I didn't like the location, and since then, my dreams of moving to France have fallen by the wayside.

    The dream has not disappeared though, I still hope to move there one day, and there are still so many places I have yet to visit. Maybe it's the familiarity I have, or the reason my family allegedly came from near there, but Normandy is closest in my heart.

    I have dedicated this to Helen as you understand what I have been through, and you are living the dream.

    I also wanted to dedicate this to Emmett but if I can dedicate a story to more than one person, I haven't found that trick yet.

    Home doesn't have to be in one place, home is anywhere and everywhere. Home is where the heart is so they say. My home is currently in England, yet my heart is in France.
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