“Brocants & Vinyl...”
- Who: Sue & Richard
- Where: 'Village of Brocanteurs' Lectoure
What Was Your Life Before Gascony? Richard worked as a nuclear engineer and I ran my own recruitment agency in the UK. We both had busy lives, with little time for anything other than work. Richard took early retirement, and I had reached a stage in my career where the stress was becoming insurmountable. We wanted a release from the rat-race that our lives in the UK had become. Initially we'd thought of moving to the South Coast in Dorset, somewhere near Lyme-Regis, but the prices were unaffordable. So, we opted for France.
Sue & dog! Source: Brocants & Vinyl...
Why Gascony? We didn't begin our French lives in Gascony. The first property we purchased was an appartment in Cannes for the holidays. Cannes is beautiful, but impersonal. We both had the urge to continue our adventures in a smaller, thriving community. We yearned for the countryside, and a dog!
We'd first discovered Gascony some years earlier, in 1997 – travelling across France after our wedding. It was a bit of a joke saying we'd spent our honeymoon in Condom! We were impressed with the area and it left an imprint on our minds. It was a hot September and we loved the wonderful ambiance and views; not least the lovely Tuscan-style countryside between Lectoure, Condom and Saint Clar.
Once the appartment in Cannes sold, we came back to the idea of moving to Gascony. It struck us that the countryside was reminiscent of that which we loved so much in Dorset – but the prices of houses incomparably lower!
How has Gascony changed over the years? It's developed, slowly and at its own pace, although it has become far more cosmopolitan, with flourishing tea-rooms, shops and restaurants, and more things to do. It has, however, retained its charm and leisurely pace of life.
Your house then? Your house now? The property was in a very basic state. It was owned by a Spanish woman who generously offered to bake us a tortilla over the open fire in the kitchen. As she placed her pan to her side, and turned to reach for her ingredients, her dog licked the pan without the woman seeing. She then proceeded to cook our meal over the open flames.
The house was draughty, the windows were rotten. The property was a typical four-roomed 'maison de maitre', with a long central corridor and two rooms to each side. The back portion of the house was a barn, and below the house, on a lower level, were the animals. The roof was what we called 'a twenty-bucket roof', as that is how many buckets were strategically placed to catch the rainwater.
On first sight, as we proceeded down the long drive, we thought the house was too small. As the owner showed us round, we found ourselves like Alice in Wonderland, opening door after door, and going from room to room. The whole of the top floor was derelict but spacious; the owner living in a small segment of the house. Every room required renovation, but it was the views that sold us the property. As we stood out and looked across the valley, Richard and I turned to each other at the same time, and said: 'We’ll buy it.' We didn't know the price, or bother to negotiate.
Were you daunted by the work? No. Richard is an engineer, and we always knew that we could do the work ourselves and to a high standard.
Vinyl inside the Chateau of the Comtes d'Armagnac. Source: Brocants & Vinyl...
Where is the property? In the small village of Marsac, just North of Saint Clar. Saint Clar is a market-town and well-known as the biggest producer of garlic in the region. There is a market on a Thursday, a selection of shops, cafés, boulangeries, chemists, two medical practices, a Credit Agricole bank and a school. It's a popular little village which has grown even since we first arrived.
Describe your first night at the house? We spent the first night sleeping in the small salon at the front of the property. We shivered and shook the whole night. It was freezing cold with rattling windows. A beech martin kept hammering away upstairs, accompanied by a hooting owl in the open barn. The next day we bought an electric blanket! – and soon after our French bull-dog, Tubby. Or as we liked to say to with our new French accents: “Tu- bee or Not Tu- bee… that is the question?” Our new French family was complete!
You haven't chosen to enter into what might be described as a 'typical' retirement? When we moved to France, Richard had a 'raison d’être'. His goal was to renovate the maison de maitre. I found myself at a loose end. I'd gone from life as managing director, with staff to keep me busy and a purpose in life, to having long days in the sunshine eating wonderful food! I decided that without a project, I might vegetate, as I’m not a traditional jam-making, Victoria-Sponge beating kind of woman. I needed something to feel passionate about. I didn't know that a whole new career was about to begin! I started to run 'vide greniers' – the French version of antique and bric-a-brac stalls. It was a good way of learning French, and discovering the area. With Richard's lifelong passion for music, we soon decided to concentrate on vinyl records; discovering the world of French rock and traditional French music as we did.
What does a typical weekend involve for you now? Drinks by the pool? We have a pool, but rarely time to relax by it. Entirely by choice! We love our new lives. We get up at quarter past four every Saturday morning, come rain or shine, and drive over an hour to Toulouse, and the vibrant market of St Sernin; a cluster of market stalls around the beautiful Roman Basilica of the church, which is the largest in Europe. We have our own stand, and are now well-known by other market traders and locals alike. People come to see us regularly and we have met vinyl enthusiasts from all over the world.
This must be great for your French! Of course. Though music is an international language, and we somehow manage to have a conversation with people from countries as far flung as Cuba and Korea.
St Sernin | Sue and market traders. Source: Brocants & Vinyl...
Did you imagine your French life would evolve this way? When you compare where we started out, to where we are now, it's unbelievable. There's no other word. Every day we work harder than we ever have before, but not through necessity, but through passion and enjoyment. It's the best job we’ve ever had. It's life enriching, and there's never a dull moment. I could write a book about some of the local characters who come to see us each week. Before we married, Richard had a neat little cottage in Knutsford, and I had a lovely Georgian house in Altrincham – also in Cheshire. We both had minimalist homes without a speck of dust or a blade of grass out of place. Today our wide Gascon corridor is filled with the wares for our next market day. These include, but are not limited to: A wooden butler’s stand, a bust of Lenin, a stuffed fox, a Caymen crocodile and enough furniture to fill our two English homes three times over.
You took the plunge and registered as a French business, opening your own boutique? Yes, we can be found in Lectoure, in the old hospital and the Village of Brocanteurs – which is an amazing place to visit. A whole ancient world of antiques, set inside the Chateau of the Comtes d'Armagnac. Here, a handful of antique sellers and local dealers occupy the space with their wares. The village attracts customers from all over Lectoure, and we have a room under the lovely old stone arches. You can find us there every weekend in the winter, and every day throughout July and August. We also hold a regular spot on the rue Nationale during the summer time, when the popular night markets are held on Monday evenings.
Do come and say hello!