Back in the nursery school, before being served our first reality checks, we kids agreed that the absolute worst thing about life was pooping in the cold. I think I don’t need to tell you - that’s the only way you’ll ever know here at the castle.

You will never really feel totally clean and totally warm, and I do sometimes worry about my true age finally showing - now that I don’t do facemasks every other day and sometimes even give up on my usual layers of serums and face creams, because let’s face it(ha!) - whatever you put on your face, in just a few minutes it’s covered over with a thin film made of soot, grime and what I suspect is dead insect wings and legs. It’s still only a miniscule trade-off, however, for the feeling of belonging, peace and freedom.

Emma & Ross are totally chilled about the work. In regards to this whole Workaway program, you’re expected to work 4-5hrs a day, two days a week off. Usually, accomodation and food is free. In some places you can even make some little pocket money, but don’t expect more than €100 a week and only if you’re really really lucky. In here, the work is not really a work and it cannot ever end. In here, you’re encouraged to blend into the life of this beautiful chateau and instead of working for Emma & Ross, creating all together something wonderful. There’s a little green book here with tasks, repairs, little things and complex things, upcycling, recycling, building and tearing down, all the stuff that will need to happen in the scope of the next few years should the castle remain standing & thriving. You’re welcome to flick through it and choose whatever you feel brave enough to take on, with the only condition - try and finish it during your stay, too. Or you know - come up with your own suggestions!

All this freedom to make this experience your own, all the freedom period, made me totally freak out. Hello, headtrips, long time no see… But I guess head-tripping is in a way a good sign post - it means that you care. I shared my worries about how helpful we could be here and that I feel totally non-deservant and quite frankly useless in terms of carpentry work and plastering and building stuff (also we’re not the first Workawayers here, and on top - there was another couple from Czech too - so I can’t escape comparing myself to people I’ve never met - a treat coming from the asshole brain & ego, that always precedes and follows every major expansion). And that’s where Emma stepped in again, in between running around the table with her kids & trying to catch the bassets who are literally like living hoovers when it comes to all kitchen surfaces, she grabbed my arms briefly, looked into my eyes and very lovingly said: ‘Chill.’

And like with a wave of a magic wand, it all clicked together. The invitation & permission to just be and do our best with what we’ve got and who we are, meant we slipped into the castle & family life like into long lost familiar slippers from the times before the world became all about solving the endless string of problems, obstacles, making & spending money and overall living very little.

We painted the upstairs bathroom in wonderfully camp vibrant colours. David is helping Emma with the evil French admin & bureaucracy, I organized a linen cupboard, we built a wall, we helped clipping the peacocks wings, we cleared a crazy amount of brambles outside the castle walls and sorted the old tiles & bricks hidden underneath, we connected a TV & Xbox and Sky box in one of the rooms & cleaned some old lanterns caked in the pigeon poop. We created some unforgettable moments both with the kiddos & with the grownups & cooked a fair share of dinners. The meat from the local butcher is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The first time I’ve cut into a pork joint, I had to call David over to show him the impossibly sexy delicious texture - but then again, my experience of meat in the last decade or so comes from the freezers at Sainsbury’s.

I think you can tell I fell deeply in love with life over here. I love our room (the 'Yellow Bedroom'), even though we find a tick in our bed every night - might have something to do with cats called Silver Feather & Princess Rosemary coming to chill in our sheets during the day. I love the bathroom attached to our room, not only because we’ve got to paint it ourselves, and regardless the fact water is always only lukewarm and even that tiny amount of heat gets immediately sucked up by the cast iron bathtubs. I love that we have access to our own private terrace, where we can look up at the stars during our midnight cheeky CBD smoke and listen to owls trying to outscream copulating foxes.

It feels like someone removed their foot from a garden hose and life flows again. There’s an initial burst of water, of a build-up pressure, a little freakout here, a little headtrip there, but eventually, the flow stabilizes and the garden blooms.

Hashtag major gratitude.