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Dream Wheeler

She had a dream ... and she made it happen

Author Deb Hunt first met Jane when she bought her London flat in 1993. Thus began a unique friendship as Deb watched Jane battle to fulfil her dream. At 63 Jane buys a near derelict cottage, speaking virtually no French with no friends or family in the country, the omens are not good. Will she cope?
An inspirational read not only for those looking to retire overseas but for anyone with a dream to change their life. In the following extract Deb pays Jane a visit not long after her initial move...

The trip to France had seemed like a great idea when we left London but the drive from St Malo had dispelled our enthusiasm. winds and heavy rain, now turned to sleet, kept us company all the way and road works had diverted us around Jane’s village. We had been forced to approach her house from an unknown direction, and now we felt hopelessly lost. ‘We have to turn right somewhere, hers is the house on the corner,’ I said, searching in the blackness for clues.

‘What number is it?’

‘It doesn’t have a number. She said we had to turn left at a recycling bin. Is that a recycling bin?’

I squinted at a dark shape in the distance and spotted Jane’s car with its distinctive top box, jutting out of a back garden.‘There!This is it!’

We parked, grabbed the bags and braved the sleet, picking our way across the mud towards the back door. Jane’s smiling face was visible through the glass, a welcoming beacon of light, and she pushed open the door as we approached.

‘Come in, come in! Bonjoor! Whisky anyone? Or would you prefer champagne?’

My image of ‘authentic’ French interiors was based on magazine features extolling the beauty of dove grey walls, zinc topped tables, oak panelling, puddled curtains, finials, swags, sparkling chandeliers and kitchens full of Le Creuset. I was shocked at how basic Jane’s house was. At first glance it had only the bare essentials she would need to survive.

The kitchen consisted of a small bar fridge, a sink, a kettle, a toaster and a microwave on top of the newly built half-height wall that separated the kitchen from the living/dining area.The low wall had open shelves on one side and drawers on the other. The only other furniture in the kitchen was a wooden shelving unit housing pots, pans and the ubiquitous Tupperware.

The chilly bathroom at the back of the house was no different. It had a sink, a loo and a wall-mounted showerhead above a tiled bench. A small electric heater in the tiled bathroom struggled to combat the cold that seeped through a metal- framed, single glazed window.

Jane’s love of colour gave the simple house its character. In the bathroom, aquatic green tiles shimmered below walls painted powder blue. The kitchen walls were rich terracotta, the bedroom was blancmange pink and the woodwork was typically French grey-green. Brightly coloured posters of fish, birds, insects, fruit and vegetables—saved from the Guardian newspaper years before— decorated the walls in the kitchen and in the bathroom.

In the dining area mismatched cushions covered the chairs and family photographs lined the shelves. Neat and tidy are two words that could never be used to describe Jane.Very little gets put away, largely because of the effort involved in getting it back out again. Anyway, that’s how Jane liked it.

The dining table was covered in a cheery plastic tablecloth and it was home to a growing collection of essentials; correspondence waiting to be dealt with, bottles of wine and water, photographs, boxes of pills, magazines, bowls of nuts and a basket of bread.

A compost bin tucked into the open gap under the sink overflowed with waste and there were piles of paper, cardboard and plastic stacked in the veranda. Jane argued that it wasn’t worth driving to the nearest recycling point unless there was enough to fill the boot of the car, so recycling gradually accumulated in available corners.

The main problem was the lack of heating. It was bitterly cold outside the kind of Dickensian cold that pinches your skin, compresses your skull and makes your bones ache— and not much warmer inside. The stone floors were covered in linoleum and, apart from Jane’s bedroom and the new bathroom, the whole of the ground floor was open plan. The wall between the veranda and the kitchen had been knocked through so nothing stopped the bitter cold from seeping through the metal back door and plunging through the plastic corrugated roof, as if it were nothing more substantial than a layer of cling film.

‘I might have to put doors between the kitchen and the veranda,’ said Jane, as if reading my thoughts. ‘It depends how cold it gets.’

I wondered how much colder it could get. One of the reasons Jane had wanted to move to France was to escape the brutal British winter. This part of France didn’t seem any warmer, and the only heating for the whole of the downstairs area was a portable gas stove.

We huddled around the stove and filled what was left of the evening with champagne, pate, cheese, whisky and talk of Jane’s new life in France. Alan kept us entertained with his accordion and at one o’clock in the morning, warmed by food and wine we went to bed. I curled up on a mattress on the floor of Jane’s bedroom and Alan slept on a camp bed in the dining room, beneath a noisy control box that rattled its way through the night to provide hot water for the next day.

That night Alan found out more about French plumbing than he ever wanted to know. In the middle of the night he discovered the bathroom flooded and the toilet full. Flushing wasn’t an option. The only thing he could find to try and shift the blockage was a misshapen courgette in the compost bin under the sink. After several attempts the impromptu plunger did the trick and Alan rinsed it off, returned it to the compost bin and went back to bed.

The next day a watery sun struggled to break through the low- lying cloud.The field at the back of Jane’s house was white with frost and the cold seemed to seep through the walls. It was hard to see the appeal of France on such a bleak day.

‘Let’s go out,’ Jane said, determined to make the most of our visit. We bundled into thick coats, boots, gloves and scarves and drove to the walled city of Guerande, where Handel’s Messiah was being performed in the medieval church of St Aubins. Jane parked her car in a side street and we waited while she unloaded her chair and shifted across.

‘Want a push?’ ‘Yes please.’ Our breath billowed in the

sub zero temperatures as we trundled across the cobbled street towards the church. If anything it seemed colder inside than it was outside. Jane parked her wheelchair at the end of a pew and I wondered if it was worth it. In spite of her coat, scarf and gloves she looked frozen.What were we doing, sitting in a freezing church when we could have been at home, listening to a recording of Handel’s Messiah? I leant across and suggested as much to Jane, who just smiled and tied her scarf around her head.

‘Don’t worry, it will be worth it,’ she said.

Alan nipped out to a café across the square and came back with three plastic cups of hot chocolate and we huddled together, sipping our steaming cups of chocolate, waiting for the performance to start.

As the opening bars of Handel’s Messiah filled the church, Jane’s face lit up. It was as if the music had found a way straight through to her soul. When the singers joined in the chorus she was transported to a place of beauty that seemed to shut out the cold and I realised then that Jane would have put up with any amount of discomfort to access that kind of beauty.

I helped prepare dinner when we got back while Alan wandered through the village, taking photographs before the light faded.

‘Jane, are you glad you’ve made the move?’


‘In spite of the cold, the damp, the flooding and all the work that needs to be done?’

Jane smiled and nodded. ‘This is exactly where I want to be. I spent 20 years living in that flat on Little Ealing Lane, and I never once slept through the night. I’ve got the ears of a bat. If it wasn’t buses or cars it was planes, or drunks on the way home from the pub, or the milkman at four o’clock in the morning.’

She laughed.‘For the first time in years I can sleep through the night. There’s no traffic to wake me up and no mortgage to pay. I know there’s a lot of work to be done, but I’ll get there.’

An extract from Dream Weaver by Deb Hunt. Dream Wheeler is available in paperback with a RRP of £8.99 through Also available in large print format with a RRP of £12.99 through Also through (free delivery) and as a kindle download.


©2008 Amra Media Solutions Ltd