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Rediscovering Upton childhood in France

PUBLISHED: 13:21 16 January 2011

Lois Tuffield, 62, and husband John, 66, swapped their detached home for a rambling 200-year-old farmhouse with barn and arable land in the hamlet of Les Penins.

Lois Tuffield, 62, and husband John, 66, swapped their detached home for a rambling 200-year-old farmhouse with barn and arable land in the hamlet of Les Penins.

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Throughout a teaching career that took her all over East Anglia, Lois Tuffield retained fond memories of her childhood growing up near Acle.

But it was only after taking early retirement that she rediscovered the community spirit of 1950s rural Norfolk – in the heart of Western France.

It was in 2004 that Lois, 62, and husband John, 66, swapped their detached home in Lincolnshire – the last stop on her teaching career – for a rambling 200-year-old farmhouse with barn and arable land in the hamlet of Les Penins, 40 miles east of Poitiers in The Vienne.

Since then, the Goat Lady, as she has become known to amused locals, has amassed a menagerie of six cats, three parrots, six chickens, a border terrier and six goats and tried to live the Good Life in the style of her favourite television series.

The joys and heartaches of caring for her animals – “I love goats, they are feisty little creatures and far more intelligent than sheep” – were captured in regular blogs written by Lois to entertain her family, including her 91-year-old mother Mary Futter, who still lives in Lois’s home village of Upton.

And the births, deaths and endless arrivals have now been turned into an aptly named book Not Another Bloody Goat – her husband’s exclamation when she returned from market in nearby Les Herolles with her 30 euros buy, “a little black and white goat with appealing eyes”.

Lois, who has two daughters, Anna, 25, and Helen, 26, said she had always been a complete Francophile – “I love the people, the food, the wine, the customs, the culture” – and enjoyed regular holidays in France. But the decision to finally move there came after her battle with thyroid cancer which weakened her vocal cords and forced her to retire from teaching. Lois, who in the 1980s had been deputy head of Smithdon High School in Hunstanton, said: “We had never been to the Vienne and moving there was a stab in the dark.

“But it reminded me of Norfolk during my childhood. Everyone knows everyone, there is no traffic and it very tranquil.

“I still visit my mother in Upton, but it is not the same. The village shop has closed, there is only one pub and there are thousands of new bungalows.”

Lois recalled that the house she was born in had no running water – just a well in the garden – and light was provided by candles and paraffin lamps.

She said: “Our French neighbours have welcomed us with open arms. We get invited to all sorts of social events and last year that even included an OAP do that made me feel very old.”

Lois, who is already planning a sequel to her book, has a warning to anyone else looking to rediscover Norfolk’s erstwhile charms in France.

She said: “You have to make the effort to learn French and become involved in local life. The place is crawling with ex-pats but most of them quickly disappear. They just think about cheap wine and a better climate, but in fact the winters are as cold as in England.”

Not Another Bloody Goat is published by Authorhouse and is available by mail order from www.authorhouse.co.uk priced £11.50.

Have you got a human interest story for the Evening News? Call reporter Ben Woods on 01603 772439 or email ben.woods@archant.co.uk

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