Running a B&B in France turned me into Basil Fawlty

Show business wasn’t meant to be like this; it wasn’t what I had in mind at all. I had driven four hours in a daze from a mediocre stand-up gig in Leeds to our small Victorian semi-detached house in Crawley. It was now three in the morning. I had been lucky to find a parking space within walking distance of our house, but then I tripped over the dog as I walked through the front door, waking our young son and, in turn, my sleeping wife. I was unpopular and unhappy.

Luckily, we were going on holiday soon and it was our annual chance to spend some time in the rural, frozen Loire Valley where my half-French wife, Natalie, had family. That meant long, lazy afternoons and the food of God.

But I wanted more.

“Seriously, Natalie, come and have a look! Look what we can afford here.” As usual, I was drawn to the local estate agents’ windows, with their catnip-like offers of space and value. “We could buy a village!”

OK, that was a bit of an exaggeration, but at the time the pound was incredibly strong against the euro and I wanted to make a point. Natalie walked on. The plan had always been that one day, much later in life, we would retire here and just soak up the rural tranquillity of the area; I would write light, undemanding comedy novels and Natalie would look after her future horses. It was a pipe dream; an ambition, and one that seems far away in your early thirties. But, I thought, what if…?

Land of the Loire in France

Ian and Natalie always wanted to retire in the Loire Valley, but decided to go ahead with their plan – Philippe Sainte-Laudy Photography/Moment RF

I’m not a particularly persuasive person, but I am incredibly relentless and eventually, later that summer, I wore her out. When I flew to Birmingham for a weekend of gigs, Natalie looked for a place to live. I came back on Sunday, we signed for our dream house on Monday and we’ve been here ever since, 20 years later. “But how are you going to work?” my agent asked, mentally checking me off his schedule. “I fly back every weekend,” I replied cheerfully. “There’s a Ryanair service from my local airport.”

Looking back, the naive idea of ​​relying on budget airlines for your commute is like thinking spaghetti would make an effective walking stick. But life-changing decisions are made on such delicate whims, and we sold everything in the UK and made the move. If nothing else, it would give me a wealth of equipment and, more importantly, I would be able to park my car outside my own house.

The stark truth is that we were like children in a candy store. For the same price as our little cottage in the UK we could have land, outbuildings, an orchard, a pond, even a swimming pool… and with it a whole lot of backbreaking maintenance that everyone warned us about and which we ignored. “So what?” we said, “we’re young!”

We grew older very quickly.

Ian Moore's estate in the Loire ValleyIan Moore's estate in the Loire Valley

Dream home: The couple have now lived in their French country house for 20 years – Ian Moore

The key to having a lot of space is filling it. A couple with a young son and an aging Jack Russell became, in a few short years, a couple with three sons, a pack of dogs, a succession of cats, two horses, countless short-lived chickens, and the world’s most unfriendly collection of goats. My wife, who loved rescuing strays, became the local go-to for abandoned wildlife, an unfunded charity that cares for animals with behavioral problems. One goat arrived while I was away. Natalie had been flagged down by a man on the short drive into town.

“Do you want a baby goat?” he asked. There was apparently no preamble.

“Not really,” my wife replied. “We already have two, and they don’t get along with my husband.”

The man’s face fell. “Too bad. I’ll just have to eat this one.”

“Put him in the trunk,” Natalie said without hesitation.

I complained about it, railed against it, made rules that were routinely ignored because, despite the French law jokingly claiming that I was “head of household”, I was in fact just a constitutional monarch being wheeled out for ceremonial purposes. I was embarrassingly inept at the complicated French fan dance of meet and greet because, above all, and I swear to my dying day, they keep changing the rules! It’s never just a handshake or a kiss on each cheek; everyone and every area has subtle variations that are set as traps for the man who started calling the wonderfully giving and friendly locals “Monsieur So British”.

Ian on his estate in FranceIan on his estate in France

‘Coming home was like going on holiday’: Ian on his estate in France – Ian Moore

The life of a touring comedian – late nights in city centres, living on fast food and in a constant haze of fatigue – couldn’t have been more different from the life in the country, making chutney, herding goats back home and, to be honest, although I didn’t say this on stage (where good news is not laughed at), I thrived on it. It was everything I’d ever wanted. Coming home after being away every time was like going on holiday, and how many people coming back from work can say that?

Brexit changed things, inevitably. It added a mountain of stress and bureaucracy to a life already full of those things, when it became clear that our safety depended on me being in the French tax system. The decision to convert one of our barns into a guest room (a posh B&B), was not taken lightly and when I told friends I was going into the hospitality industry, they laughed. As the old joke goes, they don’t laugh anymore. There’s no way to disguise it: 20 years as a stand-up comedian is no training in being polite to people. Being woken up in the middle of the night because “there’s a spider in our room” is bad enough; complaints that there’s “too much grass in the garden” elicited a fairly boisterous, but entirely justified, riposte. The intrusive demands and inevitable, incessant and sometimes rude teasing from families all over the world turned me into an even angrier Basil Fawlty. To give you an idea of ​​my state of mind, my first crime novel, Death and croissantsrevolves around a B&B owner in the French countryside whose guests begin to die…

In addition to the many chickens, Ian has also had a pack of dogs, a number of cats, two horses and the world's most unfriendly collection of goats on his estate.In addition to the many chickens, Ian has also had a pack of dogs, a number of cats, two horses and the world's most unfriendly collection of goats on his estate.

In addition to the many chickens, Ian also houses a pack of dogs, a number of cats, two horses and the world’s most unfriendly collection of goats on his estate – Ian Moore

Mine guest room is closing for the last time at the end of this summer, for my sanity and for the well-being of the hospitality industry as a whole. It will become a full-time Writers’ Retreat for quiet types who can make their own breakfast and know when to stay out of my way. After that, our house will return to normal. Normal is a constant rollercoaster of ranching, overburdened bureaucracy, eye-wateringly expensive utilities; a remote, sometimes lonely existence with harsh winters that are lightened by wonderful locals, beautiful scenery, family, and a driveway I can park half a dozen cars in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Ian Moore is a stand-up comedian, husband, father of three boys, farmer and chutney maker in France, where he has a Writers’ Retreat. He is the bestselling author of the Follet Valley crime series that began with Death and Croissants, and the author of The Man Who Didn’t Burn, the first in the Juge Lombard series. His memoir, Vive le Chaos: My So-Called Tranquil Family Life in Rural France, is published by Summersdale, £9.99.

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