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Our first home: Le Tahu (1994-6)

The dining table all decked out, the long living room decorated and waiting, grand-père taking photos by the fireplace: it’s Christmas! The fire and the candles cast a glow over all of us.

Le Tahu was the modest brick house that I had been living in since January 1994 in Hermeray, a village in the Forest of Rambouillet southwest of Paris.

Initially, Sunshine, Nick and Tom’s mom, had lived there too, but she had moved out in about April. Nick and Tom alternated for a few months between Le Tahu and her apartment just up the road in the town of Epernon.

Marie-Hélène, Daphné and Alban moved in in August while Nick and Tom were on vacation with their mom in California.

It was complicated all around. The Berhaut-Bruns had all just spent a week’s vacation in the South of France with Pierre, Daphné and Alban’s dad.

Le Tahu, looking toward the road.

Le Tahu, looking toward the road.

As soon as Sunshine found out that Marie-Hélène had moved in at Le Tahu, she moved out of her apartment in Epernon and back into Paris. Although understandable, that didn’t help us either, for different reasons.

Here are Alban, Nick and Daphné on a summers day on the driveway in Le Tahu a few weeks after they moved in together.

Whoosh, whoosh, zoom, whoosh! It was constant turmoil at the beginning in Le Tahu!

Ferrying the children to their respective other parents was quite a task. Daphné and Alban spent alternate weekends with Pierre most of the time, when his various obligations permitted. Plus his car seemed to break down a lot, and his showing up generally was in some doubt. In any event, arranging pick-ups and drop-offs with him was a constant worry and challenge for Marie-Hélène.

Entries in the family diaries at the time talk of missed appointments for Pierre to collect Daphné and Alban, and times when not only did he not bring them back as arranged or call, but also he was not contactable! Lots of anxiety.

Their bedroom too was perfect for the children. All four slept in two sets of bunk beds in this large upstairs room. One set is on the left, and the other behind the camera.

In addition to spending alternate weekends with Sunshine in Paris, Nick and Tom spent Monday and Tuesday nights with her every week because of the way that we were effectively sharing custody on a 50/50 basis.

Needless to say, that too was complicated. Once back in Paris, she settled down, but Paris was 70km from us in Hermeray, and Nick and Tom had to make the journey there and back twice every week.

Then there were vacations to arrange, and attempt to synchronize so that all our four children could spend at least some vacation time together. The list of obstacles to surmount and find a way around seemed never to diminish.

*       *       *

Grand-père helping in the kitchen during the Christmas holiday in 1994. Not a big kitchen, but big enough for us.

Notwithstanding all that, Le Tahu was a fine place to live for a family with young children. The road passed by in front of the house, and it was a simple rule to keep the children away from the traffic: “don’t go out of the gate!” And a simple parental move if that didn’t work: closing the gate!

This provoked few objections, because there was plenty of land on the property, not forgetting a swing set (see below) and immediately behind Le Tahu was a large green meadow. So if the outdoors was what the children wanted, it was there for the taking without even going on the road.

Here’s maman’s little corner of Le Tahu, at papa’s desk.

Of course, it wasn’t all perfectly organized. Children will be children, or should I say that boys will be boys? At one point during our time there, a woman pulled her car into the driveway to complain that someone had thrown pebbles through our gate and at her car as she drove by.

Oops! Who was that? Tom? Alban? Both? Fortunately, I don’t remember. I do remember that it never happened again, meaning that we got the message across.

A living window decorated for Christmas. We love decorations, and we love Christmas!!

That time at least, we got the message across!

When we moved in together in August 1994, there was not a lot left in the house. It was the shell of a home. Sunshine had moved out in April with the help of some friends while I was visiting grandma in Marlow, and had left the place very sparsely equipped. For example, the Ikea furniture in the children’s bedroom photo had been left with two shelves, one chest of drawers and one standard. Which meant that it could not even stand up! On my return from Marlow, I found it all laying on the floor. So off I went to Ikea for reinforcements. There was a lot of shopping like that, to fill gaps and holes.

Then we brought over Marie-Hélène’s furniture: she has and had some lovely pieces, family heirlooms. But this was a challenge for several reasons.

That’s Tom at the end of the table, next to David Rosenfeld, who remains a friend of Nick’s, with Alban next in line and Daphné past her friend. Was her name Marie? If not, my apologies!

During the initial period, Pierre was still living in their Paris apartment where the furniture was still located. He seemed to feel that if he couldn’t hang on to Marie-Hélène, at least he could hang on to their shared apartment, and what was in it. So we had to recover her things when we knew he was not there, already a challenge.

Then there was the logistic problem of moving her furniture. For example, the dining room table weighed a ton, literally. The two of us managed to bring it down five flights of stairs unaided from her Paris apartment to the street, and then somehow lifted into the van. We could barely move it across the room in later years! Guess you need the adrenaline.

Here’s the dining table ready for the Berhauts on Christmas Eve, 1994. The top is solid stone.

By four months later, by our first Christmas together, our first home together had been assembled. Grandma had given us furniture from her home in Marlow, and bought us appliances to supplement what I had retained after Sunshine left. We had recovered some of Marie-Hélène’s finer pieces.

We threw a party for the children to start off Christmas celebrations. Needless to say, it was much appreciated! Nick and Daphné have remained in contact to this day with the friends that they first made living at Le Tahu.

Same table, again decorated for a special occasion, this time papa’s birthday. It’s nice to be spoiled every once in a while!

Marie-Hélène’s family came out in force to wish us well that Christmas. That was very kind of them all: we needed the support. In addition to grand-père, her brother Denis brought his wife Chantal and their children, Cedric and Bertil. Plenty of children is the key requirement for Christmas! We spent Christmas Eve in semi-formal suits and cocktail dresses around a candlelit dining table. It was warm and cozy and charming.

Then we went to visit grandma for the New Year, and she put us up in a lovely hotel at Marble Arch in the West End of London. More support.

Watching TV in the salon after Charlie was born. Only Maman and Alban are looking at the camera. Cool.

1995 was easier. In part, the parents were adjusting to their new life together, and in part the children were settling down. Support continued from the Stocks and Berhauts.

And everything changed once Marie-Hélène discovered that she was expecting. When she told the children, after waiting a good three months to make sure, they were all “ravis, enchantés,” as she wrote in the family diary. That roughly translates to thrilled to bits, and they were. And they remained that way, and things just kept getting better.

Then in 1996 we moved to La Bellanderie. All’s well that ends well.

D’autres maisons : La Grée en Bretagne, at chez nous à Santa Cruz.

The remaining pictures give a few more views of Le Tahu and its happy residents.