Join  Marian Thornley every week as she shares the ups, downs and sideways of her move to Céret in the Pyrénées-Orientales – and the good, the  bad and the hilarious times to follow!

just a rock hurtling through space

Ceret Diaries

In the spring of 2016 the EU referendum was announced. I had many sleepless nights wondering what would happen should Britain vote to leave the EU, although hubby seemed less bothered. “Never in a month of Sundays,” was his confident prediction. As the debate heated up, it became slowly more apparent that the unthinkable might actually happen and we might find ourselves turned overnight into illegal immigrants.

Ceret Diaries

 My nightmares started to feature Marine Le Pen. Watching a series on the BBC on Auschwitz didn’t help. I checked for any possible Irish forebears but drew a blank. Opening a business in Estonia didn’t look too promising either. With the tragic death of Jo Cox only a week before the date of the referendum, it seemed that the 2012 End of the World scenario might have been right after all.

I discussed my worries with the son, who always has a reasonable and mature outlook, unlike his parents. “Don’t worry, mum,” he said. “After all, what does it matter? We’re only a rock hurtling through space.”

This may be true but still, one has to consider one’s options. One idea would be to apply for French citizenship. There was one flaw in this plan, the requirement to speak French. After at least five French teachers, several hundreds of euros and 9 years later, I was still a long way from being fluent. For his part, hubby could still only say that he was on ‘pleine forme’ (and this was not even true any longer). 


We went down to the Saturday market and visited our usual stalls. The very friendly Belgian man who sold his own goat’s cheese was our first stop. We told him of our plan to become French citizens and that hubby would have to start studying French pretty darn quick. Disconcertingly he burst into laughter, and as we made our way to our bilingual fishmonger, his laughter could be heard ringing in our ears.

On June 23rd, the British public voted for Britain to leave the EU. That Saturday our cheese seller greeted us cheerily. “Bad morning,” he called out, a half-grin on his face. 

During the weeks that followed we felt shell-shocked, depressed and worried. Apart from our worries about the future of the United Kingdom, we saw our own income drop as the pound fell, and this brought on worries about future bookings for the gite. Being immediately 20 percent worse off, retrenchments were in order. I told the sheep, chickens, dog and cat that despite being Remainers they had to accept the opinion of the majority and they were on rations. A French friend surprised me by saying she was an admirer of Marine Le Pen and that she’d like to see the whole EU edifice come tumbling down. Despite the communist posters around town, it seemed that everyone, from my friend to Felix the taxi-driver, was a Le Pen supporter.


Well, life goes on, Brexit or no Brexit. We’d been as shocked as anyone else at the result of the referendum, and in the course of only a few weeks I’d signed more petitions that I’ve eaten hot dinners, surreptitiously hung EU flags at 6 in the morning on Bexhill seafront and attended rallies outside Parliament. After a while the chaos and worry all became too much and I decided to stop fretting about Britain’s future and instead to concentrate on our own.

We’d seen fluctuations in the exchange rate before and survived. Luckily, we have clients who return to enjoy the tranquility and peace of Mas Pallagourdi year after year. We have (on the whole) our health and we have our life in this most beautiful region of the world. 

Hubby and I have done a fair few things in our lives. Hubby has travelled around the world in the Royal Navy, served on submarines and worked on farms. When we’d been younger, in conjunction with my parents, we’d run a guest house in the Lake District (think Faulty Towers) and a shop in Somerset (think Open All Hours). Those experiences had taught us, above all else, how not to run a business.

Then, on our own account we’d started a successful business in Cumbria which continues to this day to employ over thirty people. 

Yet, none of those things compare with the ten years we’ve spent in France. Living at Mas Pallagourdi with our animals and in close contact with nature we feel really and truly alive. 

Our neighbours, whatever nationality they are, are friendly, helpful and civil. Some French neighbours knocked on the door a few weeks ago while I was away. “Humans,” they said, pointing to each other and grinning widely. A coffee at the Pablo is accompanied by a kind word and a shake of the hand. Queuing up at the supermarket usually involves a joke or two, and at Gamm Vert, usually a remark about the 100 bales of straw, oh la la!


Walking along the road with Gyp the other day, coming towards me with a walking stick and a smile was the owner of Little House Number 2.  This one is on the other side of the Balcon road to Little House Number 1 and is at the end of a track across the field, hidden by the forest. It is a tiny, tumbledown mas with no running water or electricity but a view to die for. Having spoken to the owner a couple of times, on the rare occasions he visited, I know him to be a friendly and charming man whose only desire is to live a simple life. As we chatted about the beauty of the scenery around us, he explained that he lives in Paris and used to be the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the French government.  

“What do you think about Brexit?” I asked him. He gripped his walking stick and shook his head sadly. “Bad for Britain, bad for Europe. But most of all,” he paused, either for dramatic effect or to frame his thoughts in a more diplomatic fashion, “bad for you.”  He looked at me from under bushy eyebrows and made that little movement with his hand that French people use to mean “BAD”. “Lots of paperwork,” he explained.

After I had left him behind and was walking home, Patrice stopped his car, jumped out, kissed me and enquired how Bill and I were. I walked on home, feeling content.

Whatever happens in the future, we will look back on these years and know — they were the best years of our lives.


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