Category Archives: House Sitting

Fire In The Night In France

Les Pompiers arrived before midnight — 3 large firetrucks and 2 smaller vans — with approximately 18-24 firemen and 2 gendarmes. Such a frightening event on the night of Solstice and it could have had an even more devastating results. Thank heavens for their prompt response.

Firemen on the job in Moyon, France

We are in Normandy right now staying in one of the two stone gites (cottages) that the owner Polly has created out of old stone barns on the property. Polly and her two young daughters are across the Channel in England and we have been looking after her 2 dogs, 3 cats, and the cluster of buildings.

Shortly after 11:30 PM last night, we went upstairs to bed and Mark was already deeply asleep as I slid under the duvet. But something was wrong. I had gone to bed feeling quite uneasy after thinking I heard someone crunching around on the gravel outside. I realise now that what I had heard was the crackling as the fire took hold. And I can just about pinpoint when the fire really gained momentum because a few minutes after 11 PM, the wifi went off here in our gite. The power stayed on in the gites and the barn next door because we are on a separate power box, but the wifi was being broadcast from the big house.

I was just about to put my earplugs in and go to sleep when something made me hesitate. I held my breath and listened intently and within a minute I heard several loud booms. I shook Mark again and again quite briskly to rouse him from that deep slumber and told him that I thought someone was breaking into the gite next door. He listened as we both heard another loud boom and his feet hit the floor, he quickly slipped into his clothes, and I told him to be very, very careful. I put my robe and slippers on and was part of the way down the stairs when he came storming back through the door screaming, “The big house is on fire!”

I raced out after him into the pitch black night and as soon as I came around the corner of the large stone house, I could see an eerie orange glow lighting up the night. I stood there in the dark sobbing angrily because my British-based mobile phone wouldn’t go through to the fire department as Mark ran across the field to the farmer’s house on the next property, pounded on the door, and somehow communicated to the couple that the house was on fire and they needed to call the fire department. The wife understood what he was saying because, blessedly, she spoke a tiny bit of English.

As Mark was cutting back across the fields between the properties, he stumbled into an electrical fence and got a strong jolt. So he is dreadfully sore and aching today. And I abruptly stopped crying, ran back into the gite and upstairs, threw on some clothes, and began packing our rather large quantity of cameras, electronics and clothing in case the fire jumped the roof and our gite became engulfed in flames. Then we both went outside and stood with the neighbours, waiting for what seemed like a very long time before the first response crew arrived, and then watching the blue lights coming down the road, the courtyard fill with large red trucks, and men begin unfolding water hoses and spraying the house with soap saturated water.

Firemen tearing out the burning roof rafters


Firemen cutting out roof rafters with chainsaw whilst dousing roof with water

The wonderful farmer and his wife from next door bundled up in warm jackets and brought over coffee, plastic cups, and cubes of sugar to serve the firemen. We went into the gite, figured out how to use the drip coffeemaker since we normally use a stove-top Italian coffee maker for our own daily use, and we took a second pot of coffee and a bottle of milk outside for top-ups for les pompiers.

Neighbours with coffee for the firemen

It was almost 3 in the morning before the wonderfully efficient firemen finished their last walk through of the house, rolled up their hoses, and went home to their own warm beds. We are so grateful for their prompt response and their thoroughness in staying until every last place, both upstairs and downstairs and inside and outside, had been checked and rechecked. Mark asked if they were all volunteers and the farmer’s wife said yes — they were. How astonishing to see such a large turnout on that winter night from men who gave freely of their time and effort because they felt compelled to give back to their own community.

Exhausted firemen rolling up the hoses just before 3 AM

Here are shots of the damage that I took a couple of hours ago. We have heard from the firemen that the fire was within inches — INCHES — of entering the main house. It’s a huge place with lots of very flammable timber beams and it would have raced through there at lightening speed.

Burned out storeroom and collapsed roofline


The gutted storeroom & garage directly attached to the house

We are feeling quite shaky today, rather fragile to be truthful, but oh so grateful that we were here. The house would have burned to the ground if no one had called it in — and the farmer’s wife told me that they were watching television and had the volume on so high that they never even heard the sound of the crackling timber and the exploding bottles of champagne and chutney.

The fire chief told me that even a few more minutes would have meant that they couldn’t save the house since the storeroom and the garage were hard up against the main body of the house. And thank god/goddess/universe/whatever that the HUGE gas tank on the other side of the garage didn’t explode from the heat and flames! Mark said that when one of the firemen saw it, he looked quite startled and told Mark to move away quickly.

Just minutes before the firemen arrived last night, I briefly stepped inside the entry hall since I knew that the dogs were outside and Mark had safely locked them in the other gite. But as I peered into the smoke filled hallway to see if any of the cats were there, I looked to the left and the pet door was glowing with a bright orange light behind it from the roaring flames on the other side. It made me go weak at the knees momentarily and I hastily went back outside. The pet door melted and is completely missing and we are completely agog that the flames didn’t get sucked into the house.

Pet door where flames could have been sucked into the house -- but weren't!

These shots below show you just how large and lovely the main house is. And in the second photo you can see the yet-to-be-rendered side wall of our gite with that vulnerable timber in the upper section. All of that would have been awash in flames quite quickly if the main house had caught fire, so I was quite correct to begin packing in case we needed to make a speedy exit.

Polly's house -- still intact


Front view of Polly's house with vulnerable gite end visible

We laugh rather often about my ‘beagle senses’ of smell and hearing and I know that it is sometimes annoying when I hear things or smell things that no one else notices until I point them out. This was an instance where I was thrilled to have both heightened physical senses and a strong psychic sense that had been telling me for days that something was not quite right.

The house is intact even if it smells eerily of smoke and all 3 cats and 2 dogs are alive and well.

Blessings abound — and we are grateful!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Beachy In Brehal

Winter has descended on Normandy and all of the wool clothing has been unpacked. We’re back at the seaside for a week or more of out-of-season stay in a marvelous 6 bedroom beach house named MAISON MIELLES in the lovely small seaside town of Brehal. Make sure you click on the link for Maison Mielles and have a look. If you are ever thinking of having a holiday in Normandy near the beach, this place is simply splendid!

What I didn’t know prior to our arrival in Brehal was that we would be within visual range of Granville — a place that I mentioned wanting to return to in a previous post. As we walk the two dogs that we are dog-sitting along the curve of the bay, we can quite literally see Granville in the distance.

Spot the springer spaniel in his basket at the beach house in Brehal, Normandy, France


Dougal the cocker spaniel asleep in his basket at the beach house in Brehal, Normandy, France

It’s too cold and gray today for me to be walking through the stone streets and alleyways for those picturesque views, but as soon as we have a sunny day — we’re off! As it is, I’ll be getting my fair share of brisk exercise on the second long walk of the day with the dogs. Mark does the early morning hour-plus with the sweet wee beasties and I join him in the afternoon so that they’re tired and they sleep well at night. Think along the lines of getting a toddler good and tired and you’ll understand!

Mark is quite happy to have some peaceful time for his cross-stitch and I have a backlog of writing and photo editing to do this week. So keep watching for more posts and photos of places that we have visited in Normandy in the last month or so.

Mark working on cross stitch at the beach house in Brehal, Normandy, France

Bye for now!

Spot dreaming in his basket at the beach house in Brehal, Normandy, France

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Abundantly Awash In Normandy Apples

Apples — we have an abundance of organic apples here at the house in Normandy where we are house sitting and child sitting for friends while they are in England at a conference.

It’s been remarkable to see how the apple processing in our mini production line has sped up each day as we got into the groove of peeling (with Mark’s expert assistance!), coring, chopping, and stirring-stirring-stirring.

Peeling and chopping apples in Normandy, France

Yesterday we did all of the peeling by hand since I was having problems with the mechanical peeler. And Mark certainly did come in handy when he saw how slowly I was going!

Peeling apples for chutney and compote in Normandy, France

But the most successful (and speedy!) method has been to use the small red metal mechanical peeler as seen in the video below.

Memories of canning and bottling and bread baking when my children were small have come drifting to the surface and the juggling of hot sterilised jars is now back to being second nature.

But I’d honestly forgotten how much fruit it takes to simmer down into a comparably tiny amount of final product. So I moaned a bit when I saw how few jars were created after the first on-my-feet-all-day of kitchen work. An entire afternoon and evening and only SEVEN jars???

Finished jars of apple chutney and compote

But oh my — the fragrance of apple chutney and apple compote bubbling away for hours!

Off to a new part of Normandy in a few days. Keep coming back to read about new adventures in living on the road!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
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Expanding Our Options for Work and Travel

Staying out on the road, enjoying the travel between countries, meeting new people, seeing new places, and not spending too much money out of our own savings has always been the goal ever since our departure from Australia in December of 2010.

Back in June, our friend Becky down in the Midi-Pyrenees of France recommended that I look into a website called Mind My House as a potential way to travel and have lovely houses to live in for free whilst house sitting and pet sitting. But it has taken me all of these months to get around to doing that because of our intense work schedule and travel back and forth across the English Channel.

A Client's Keys

This afternoon I created a new profile for us and you can find that at Deborah and Mark’s Mind My House Profile.

There are so many people who have caught on to this idea and who are travelling inexpensively by doing house sitting, but I am hoping that what will differentiate us from the masses is that we are not simply looking for cheap accommodation in foreign countries. We are following a carefully chosen path and we provide professional services along with the more standard house sitting and pet sitting.

In future posts I will keep you up to date on how it all works out!

©Deborah Harmes and ©A Wanderful Life
Please respect the words and images on this page.
All rights reserved.