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!

A new tractor for hubby

There’s no doubt about it. Hubby and I were idealist idiots when we bought Mas Pallagourdi. Romantic notions of a rural French idyll had blinkered our view of just how much work was involved in keeping the place from being submerged by the surrounding forest, which seemed at times more tropical than temperate. As well as plans to run the place on ecologically friendly lines, hubby also had rather unrealistic ideas, such as using only hand tools: saws for cutting the trees, and a scythe for mowing the field. 


As I’ve explained in a previous chapter, it was mid-summer when we moved in. The land was waist-high in grass and included various impenetrable forests of bramble and hawthorn. In fact, it was so overgrown we hadn’t been able to walk around to see what it was we were buying. 

Under a boiling sun and the amused gaze of our neighbours, who observed our every movement through binoculars, hubby scythed the whole orchard (all two acres of it), raked up the grass and created two very professional looking hayricks — professional for the eighteenth century, at least.

As you can imagine, this didn’t last very long and we were soon the proud owners of two chainsaws, two strimmers and a very cheap tractor that had been manufactured in China. In our accountant’s office, when required to list our valuables for Wealth Tax purposes, it seemed that other than our house and car, the only thing of note was said tractor. This caused Bruno to laugh so much he nearly wet himself. 


The brakes on the cheap tractor soon seized up and hubby was unable to fix the problem. Instead, he contented himself with driving around with a worried look on his face and using the front bucket thing to stop himself hurtling down steep slopes. Then the clutch went and he was only able to drive it in reverse. 

After some calculations and a few glasses of wine, we decided to blow our remaining savings on a replacement. After more searching online, hubby located a Brit called Jim who was interested in taking it, together with the trailer and a post-hole borer (the latter had proven absolutely useless, given that after the surface six inches you hit solid rock). 

It’s strange that whenever something stressful happens, I’m usually away from home, I must have a sixth sense for trouble. Without any warning, one day, during a thunderstorm and attendant torrential rain, Eric and Dave knocked at the door and told a surprised hubby that they were here to collect the tractor and take it back to the UK. 

“But I didn’t know you were coming, I’m not organised. The tractor is by the shed but the other bits are at the top of the field,” he protested.

“That’s effin’ Jim for yer! Never tells nobody nuffink,” Eric said. “Anyway, no bother, mate. I’ve an arthritic arm but Dave can help you.”


“Where’s your trailer?” hubby asked. 

“Bottom of the hill, mate. Couldn’t get it around those bends.”

“Well, the tractor can only go backwards and has no brakes,” hubby replied.

“No bother. Dave’ll reverse it down the hill. You can use your pickup to bring the trailer and the post-hole borer.”

So it was that the unflappable Dave, who must have had nerves of steel,reversed our brake-less tractor down all 2 km of a very steep hill which has at least a couple of hairpin bends, during a thunderstorm which had turned it into white water rapids. Hubby followed, feeling very relieved it wasn’t him driving the tractor backwards down the hill, and was only driving the pickup front-wise, towing a trailer on which was perched the post-hole borer. The main road at the bottom of the hill was held up while the front loader of the tractor was used to hoist the trailer and post-hole borer onto Eric and Dave’s trailer. Hubby sighed a sigh of relief as it disappeared into the distance.


The replacement was small and neat, and it stood gleaming on the driveway. Who should appear but our friend Arthur, whose eyes lit up. “Can I have a go?” he asked.  Arthur climbed on and started the engine. Hubby’s calm turned to horror as he realised, by the terrified look on Arthur’s face, that he didn’t know how to stop. Arthur and the new tractor were trundling slowly but surely towards the steps of the front patio built at great expense by Eric the Robber. Despite Howard’s claim you could land an effin’ plane on it, it was unlikely to survive being bulldozed by a tractor. Either way, it wasn’t looking good. 

Hubby ran after the tractor and dived forward to put his hand on the clutch and then found himself trapped between patio wall and tractor. Arthur finally realised where the clutch was and stamped his foot on hubby’s hand. Hubby yelled in pain but at least the combined effect of hand and foot brought the tractor to a standstill without crushing hubby or demolishing our patio.

Being an ex-London cabbie, Arthur was heartbroken when his driving licence was eventually taken away from him due to his illness (Parkinsons), but he soon discovered he was able to buy a tin-can affair that was capable of whizzing up the hill at speed. Fortunately he chose a brightly coloured one with an engine that sounded like a JCB and everyone on the hill soon learned to dive out of the way when they heard or saw, what quickly became known as the ‘bat-mobile’ in the distance. But we were most concerned when he came into our house on one occasion and admitted that he had fallen asleep while driving up the hill and had shunted a parked car into the hedge. 

Our hill has some hairpin bends on it, and I’m sure it was concerns about Arthur dropping off or simply forgetting to turn the steering wheel and launching into the wide blue yonder that prompted the local Association to put up crash barriers on the edge of the road.



  1. Thank you for the kind words Susie. I’m afraid I am starting to run out of stories so only a few more. There is a limit to the number of daft things you can get up to, even for us!

  2. I love your weekly updates Marian , you have a real talent ,hope you carry on , I’d miss you and your friends if you stopped . Thanks Susie

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