This is my 750th post here on Blog in France. I thought it should be a bit special, so here is the prologue to the sequel to Heads Above Water: Staying Afloat in France, my account of our early years in France. It’s been doing rather nicely for me as an ebook and quite a lot of people have asked about the follow-up.

Total Immersion is therefore in progress. And here’s how it starts…


denis trek photo

We’d been waiting two hours, and our clients still hadn’t turned up. Our debut llama trek wasn’t going too well.

We were at Bois du Lassoux, a pleasant wood criss-crossed by public footpaths. We’d been here before with the llamas for a trial run off-season. We’d tried out quite a few routes. Every Sunday for a couple of months we loaded Oscar and Denis, and sometimes grumpy Bernard too, into the ancient wooden horsebox that I’d transformed into a llama transporter with a lick of paint and Caitlin’s fabulous llama logo. We’d head to a beauty spot somewhere or other that had footpaths and set off. Sometimes the routes worked. Sometimes they didn’t. Sadly the wonderful walk at Malval wasn’t doable. It finished with a bridge. Llamas don’t do bridges, end of story. That meant the only way we could cross the steep, narrow stream valley was by plunging down the precipitous bank on one side and then scramble up the equally precipitous bank on the other. This the llamas didn’t mind at all, but we did, and we were sure that future clients, particularly the less agile, definitely would. So Malval with its goat inhabited castle ruins, its ancient riverside mill, its old iron crosses and its stunning scenery was struck off the list. That still left us with several venues, of which Lassoux was our favourite.

The boys, the llamas, weren’t particularly upset to be kept waiting. Llamas are patience personified. They grazed and pooped happily and allowed us to take them for short strolls while we waited and waited. A few passers-by came over to see them at closer quarters and, as all llama encounterers do, tried to stroke them even though we told them, as we always do, that llamas don’t like to be petted. Denis especially disliked it, but wincingly bore it with typical camelid stoicism.

We’d brought a picnic for our visitors to celebrate the inauguration of Les Fragnes Llamas. I’d made llama shaped biscuits which Caiti had iced, and we had crisps and sweets and a flask of coffee. Shame to waste it. So we tethered the boys to trees and sat down to enjoy the feast. I was upset. This trek was meant to mark the start of our commercial lives in France. The gîtes wouldn’t be ready for another twelve months, so our only earnings this year would have to come from the llamas. We could manage without income – we had budgetted extremely carefully before taking the plunge and moving to France, and knew that we had enough savings to see us through for a few years – so long as we lived frugally. However, we needed to bolster ourselves with proof that the expat Dagg family, consisting of three English nationals and two English/Irish dual nationals, could make it in France. I’d been incredibly depressed for a while as a result of all the unpleasant shenanigans that had gone on while I’d been trying to register the business – some French bureaucrats can be breathtakingly nasty – and I desperately needed something to go right. I needed a sign that we’d be OK. Chris and I needed absolution for dragging our kids on this crazy escapade abroad. But for now I’d have to make do with comfort eating.

Just as were were finishing, a UK car pulled into the car park. Our trekkers, the Smarts, had arrived. Despite getting lost and taking a detour pretty much across the whole of Limousin, they’d been determined to make their llama trek. And here they were. We shared the last crumbs and coffee dregs with this large, pleasant family and then the llamas did their stuff. They totally charmed the Smarts. They fluttered their long, long eyelashes. They studied these new humans, twitching their ears in curiosity. They walked beautifully, never once pulling or being stubborn. There was great excitement when Oscar spotted a snake in the undergrowth. He stopped and stared fixedly at it. This is what llamas do when they see something that needs thinking about. They do it a lot. So we all looked too, and there was the biggest vipère we’d ever seen. It was a metre and a half long, which is an impressive amount of serpent. It threw us a dismissive glance and then slithered off harmlessly. In some belief systems, seeing a snake is good luck. In others it’s bad, so if this was an omen for our commercial future it was an annoyingly non-committal one.

The Smarts loved the llamas. They loved France. They loved us. We loved them. We arranged for them to come to the farm to see the rest of the animals. We parted the best of friends.

It was a good, good day. So maybe, whether despite of, because of or for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with that snake, things were going to work out after all …