Join  Marian Thornley every week as she shares the ups and downs of her move to, and life in, Céret


Marian? She knows eff all!

Over the course of the next few months I spent many hours training our new llama baby, who we christened Chakita, to walk on a lead, and after a while she would readily run to me when I appeared in the field, and allow me to harness her or brush her beautiful brown coat.

We now had Perou, Opal, Lupin, Ch’umpi and Chakita in our llama family and we were feeling reasonably confident that Opal was pregnant again.

An unexpected benefit of keeping llamas was that they were excellent guard animals. Being naturally inquisitive they would bound up to anyone who walked unwittingly into their field.

Llamas are quite large animals and having six beasts gallop towards you at top speed is very unnerving. It is essential to stand your ground. If you do, they will come to a stop inches from you, and sniff you, as if to say “Who are you? What are you doing here? Got any grub?”


One day an English family who were visiting friends of ours came up to look around. We were out at the time and so they wandered, with their young children, into our woodland.

When five llamas appeared out of nowhere galloping towards them, the adults took fright and ran away, leaving their 4-year-old to face the llamas by herself. Luckily she came to no harm but I imagine her red-faced daddy will never hear the end of that story.

But keeping five llamas on the sun-parched land was no easy task. We had learned from the death of Ulyss that we could not feed too much lucerne hay to the llamas, so our options were limited.

I was becoming tired of what felt like a full time job of crawling up and down steep, rocky hillsides, fencing bits of land we could use for the animals. In the burning summer heat, it was not easy work and the heat was making me even more bad-tempered than usual.


Work on the house proceeded over the summer at its usual snail-like pace. We had sorted the heating of the water by solar panels and now we turned our attention to the actual heating of the space – which was rather large.

We found a shop in Perpignan that looked professional (yes, yes, another mistake) and the pleasant owner and his wife had come to take a look and write down various squiggles in an important-looking notebook.

He gave us a quote for three woodburners. One for the old house, one for The Other End (a really futuristic thing that swivelled, no less) and a kind of rocket launcher for the Barn.

This contraption was meant to link up with the water tank to supply a number of radiators as well as simply to heat the Barn and Yoga Studio above. He assured us that this could be installed by his trusted chauffagiste. We paid up and went home happy.

The three woodburners arrived, complete with flip-flop-wearing shop owner and his drippy son. They deposited the rocket launcher in the barn and the swivel-thing on the lawn, looking up rather despairingly at the first floor window of the room where this was destined to go.

Bear in mind we had paid (stupidly you might say) 1000 euros for installation. My daft hubby felt sorry for them and told them it was alright, they could go home. With an audible sigh of relief the pair flip-flopped off.

Of course, this was high summer and there was plenty of time to get the rocket launcher and radiators installed before winter, wasn’t there?

We waited several weeks for Much Trusted Chauffagiste to appear. He was on his summer holidays and in late September he arrived. He wrote down the number of radiators and said he would need to be paid in cash per radiator. And then he disappeared.


By the time November came round we rang Much Trusted Chauffagiste to see how he was fixed. It seemed he was not answering his phone, perhaps our job was too complex or sinister in some, unfathomable way?

By this time, the huge water tank had been installed and linked up to the solar panels, and as the Robber and his mate had already laid the tiles on the Barn floor (and even grouted them), it fell to the unfortunate hubby to chisel out a channel from the rocket launcher to the tank, a distance of some ten metres.

Chauffagiste Number Two took one look at this channel, whistled through his teeth, muttered something about responsibilities, and departed, never to be seen again. Pretty much ditto, Chauffagiste Number Three. By now it was early December and absolutely freezing in the Barn and Yoga Studio. There was nothing for it but for hubby to tackle the job.

The first problem was that the rather meagre instructions were in Italian. Hubby put on his thermal underwear and fiddled in the Barn while I shouted out unhelpful translations from Google Translate from the comfort of the heated living room.

Amazingly, the thing went together and even more amazingly, it worked. The control panel does look like it should be at Houston, Texas rather than in our barn, and you do have to have a PhD to use it, but it works. Now, I thought to myself with relief, I could host yoga classes in the yoga studio during the winter months, rather than in the confines of the lounge.

For the roof to remain looking authentic it was necessary for us to locate some old tiles. After a lot of searching on the internet hubby found a supply in Perpignan.

It was fortunate that we took our French friend, Jo, with us, as we had to rendezvous with the man in a part of the town we had never visited before.

From here he led us through a maze of streets until we were well and truly lost. We followed him through an old gate into what looked like a junk yard filled with ancient, broken-down vehicles. At this point we were sure that some misunderstanding had occurred, we didn’t want old car parts we wanted old roof tiles.

The man said something incomprehensible. Our friend translated, he wanted us to help him push the old vehicles out of the way. Once these had been moved another door was revealed and inside an old garage were a few thousand old roof tiles. These were just the job, we loaded the van up and headed home.

Howard and Neil worked all through the summer on our roof in scorching temperatures. They did a great job and we agreed that they would continue with the work on The Other End. The room at the front had been a workshop and had an ugly beam across the ceiling, with double doors to a large cupboard. Doors from here led into the barn. We decided to turn this room into a bedroom, and the cupboard into an ensuite.

From here a corridor led to the front door and to a series of pokey rooms at the back of the building. In one of these was an old bath, a toilet and a medieval boiler on the wall. Hubby started to dismantle the boiler, sliding himself underneath to get at the joints. Luckily for him, he needed a different screwdriver, and as he withdrew his head, the whole thing crashed to the floor. Another life used up.

The thin partition walls between the pokey rooms were pulled down to make one large kitchen, and Howard called in his electrician friend, Walter, to collaborate on the work.

Remember Patrice, the previous owner of Mas Pallagourdi? Patrice’s hobbies had been womanising, beekeeping and inventing. We had found lots of beehive parts in the barn, a huge vat of honey, and he had told us that he was going to make his fortune by patenting some piece of beekeeping equipment.

To our knowledge, this never happened and the money he received from the sale of the house was quickly frittered away by the two 20-year-old girlfriends who we had seen doing the can-can in the garden (see Part 3). Patrice had also worked as an electrician. Unfortunately, however, electrics and inventiveness is not a good combination, as we found out when we had tried to figure out how the house had been wired.

A tall, sporty dutchman, Walter, was the third electrician to attempt to sort out our ‘interesting’ electrics.

The first, a depressive called Marcus, had almost had a break-down at the prospect of wiring the old part of the house and when he had finished we simply could not bear any more bad news, and told him that we wouldn’t be needing him any longer.

The second, a Frenchman, had whistled through his teeth when he saw the fuse boxes that Marcus had installed. He pulled out all the wires so we were back to square one – large balls of red, blue and green wires hanging from various ceilings, and then he too disappeared, never to return.

Thankfully, Walter was a much better electrician, nothing fazed him and, most importantly, he was cheerful. This time everything went smoothly.

One day I was grouting some tiles behind one of the partition walls, with Howard and Neil working on the other side. Walter arrived and asked Howard if he knew where hubby was as he had a question to ask. “He’s out,” I heard Howard reply.
“Where’s Marian?” Walter continued. “I’ll ask her.”
“Marian? She knows f….all,” replied Howard amiably. Well, they say, don’t they — out of the mouths of babes and builders.

Read ‘Letting Go of Love‘ Marian’s first  novel based on the lives of her grandparents during WW1.

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