I’m driving north to meet Lilianne at her farmhouse. Along a peaceful river lined with poplars, I come to a white walled fortified building with a square tower. Lili buzzed open the tall blue gates and I drive into the courtyard. The house takes up one side, and and other buildings and barns the rest. There is also a green and white striped tent which has twisted and torn in a weekend storm. Stacks of pots and galvanised basins are full of rain water, rush seated chairs are damp. “Mon Tivoli s’est écrasé!” she exclaimed. I pick about under the heavy rain weighted covering and find some rusty kitchen storage tins all pale blue and pinks, great for planting the odd geranium, and an alarm clock on little feet with an enormous clanger on top, its face yellowed, its plating worn down to dark gun metal
Inside one of the buildings are two rooms full of warm coloured fruit wood armoires and 18th century tables, and laden with shelves of linens, glasses and delicate little finds – a child’s tiny cooking set, a small pale green folding stool, an exquisitely embroidered Christening robe. The rooms have limestone fireplaces with surrounds that stand over two metres high but Lili goes to get a little electric fire as it is glacial inside. I looked into the barns as far as I could, but even setting foot inside one was an impossibility with furniture piled right up against the metal shutters. The other barn had a vast plastic tarpaulin covering the opening. In the gloom I peered at damp, cold paintings, fabrics, boxes just too packed to see what was inside. Astrid the cat was chided for toppling something over in a dark corner. I spotted a pale grey round wooden table beneath a few boxes. The colour was lovely. The only way to get it out through the narrow walkway was to carry it high over my head – with the fine frassy dust of wood-worm activity falling gently over me. Three hours later I have rifled and admired and purchased to my heart’s content, and had a chat and a coffee with Lili. She tells me she’s always had a thing for antique linen sheets – “I’ve got even more boxes in the grenier.” – and that both she and her mother swear by using an old smoothing iron on them. Just put them on the hotplate – gas or electric – and voila!