Mick’s Blog

Well, here we are in 2022 and it’s looking like we are getting back to some kind of normality at last.


I’d like to start this blog by thanking all our guests for visiting Belonga Mick in 2021, You could not imagine how nervous we were when we decided to list Belonga Mick on booking platforms, as you all discovered once you’d arrived our French was very limited, but thanks to all your patience we got through and everyone had a great experience, at least it looks that way given all the fantastic feedback we received on the platforms and also on our Facebook page.

On the back of the success MJ’s Bar and Grill also went from strength to strength, with guests staying and locals starting to visit we soon built a reputation amongst our French neighbours, again this has turned into a  great bonus as most clients are French I have no option but to learn, again not as quickly as I’d like but with the assistance of my phone app (most everyone in the surrounding area now using it) we got by. I used to play a little game with myself each night and see how long I could last without resorting to the phone, some nights I’d make it to the last drinks, but then be expected to sit and socialise, I’m sorry to say at that point my phone would come out lol.


I would love to say my French is now perfect, unfortunately it is far from it, but I believe as a result of the patience of our visitors and guests at MJ’s it is a lot better than it was when we started, 2022 I hope the improvement continues through this coming year when we will be welcoming returning guests and making new friends. I have set myself a target to be able to bin the phone by the end of 2023, with your ongoing help and understanding I’m sure we can make that possible.


So, looking back, 2021 had a good start with an early spring, I was over the heart issues of 2020, at the end of the day it was only a small heart attack resulting in one more stent, so I was feeling fit enough to get back on with some of the more physical jobs around Belonga Mick. One of the first major jobs we had to do was remove a roof from a semi derelict barn with a crack in one wall, it was big enough to put your head in. This would have been around the end of March. Most of what we do we do as a team, a team of two, just me and Julie, so we started, up on the roof and removing tiles, this took us two or three days, on the last day I was standing on the wall that had the crack in and Julie swore she could see it moving, I said I doubt it. We went to bed that night with plans the following day to remove the remainder of the roof timbers with help from friends, on the promise we gave them a pizza, not a bad wage. When we got up the following day I went for my usual pre breakfast stroll, on walking out of the front door I knew something wasn’t right but just couldn’t put my finger on it, it seemed brighter than usual………yes you’ve guessed, the barn wall had collapsed in the night leaving the roof timbers precariously balanced on the remaining 2 walls, I went to inspect. The wall had fallen as one and managed to land on my polytunnel, I’d only finished erecting this new one in January having lost last years to the wind. This new polytunnel was never going to get blown away, I had built raised beds inside and secured the actual frame to the beds, it wasn’t moving and indeed it didn’t, even with the weight of a barn wall it held its position ….. and got crushed, I was devastated, but we move on. Later that day friends arrived to help remove the large timbers, not much drama there. We are now left with a large gable end of the barn I wanted to lower; I didn’t want to totally demolish the barn just lower the roof, so the next day I put up the ladder against the gable using the upper level floor of the barn, I went up the ladder to insure it was positioned correctly and I could reach each side to allow me to throw the stones to the outside of the barn, this looked possible so I descended the ladder and as I stepped back off the bottom step of said ladder, I stepped back onto the upper barn floor, the plank I stepped on gave way and I fell through the floor, hitting my neck on one of the beams as I went, flailing and grabbing fresh air in an attempt to not hit the stone barn floor below. Fortunately, we had emptied the barn of farm implements, at least I thought we had, I had left a tiller behind, the thing you drag behind a tractor to break up the soil with 8-inch spikes on, as I rolled over to get up, I saw I missed this by inches, the fall could have been fatal. One thing I reflected on as I walked back to the house for a cup of tea, we don’t bounce so good as we get older. I continued to do bits and bobs that afternoon getting the area ready for dropping the wall the next day, but noticed as the day went on, I got stiffer and stiffer. That evening after my shower MJ offered to rub heat cream into my neck and shoulders, as she started doing this she commented that I hadn’t washed my neck very well then quickly noticed it was not coming clean with the cream either, it was bruising across the top of my shoulder and left side of my neck She suggested I go to the hospital as it didn’t look good, I said if it wasn’t any better in the morning I might. The next morning, I was feeling a little better so decided to work it off, sure I hadn’t broken anything I climbed the ladder and commenced removing the gable. Got through the day with the help of one or two pain killers. The weeks passed and work continued, my shoulder was getting stiffer each week, I had a dilemma. We were getting married in June and I was worried that, if it was serious, I might need an operation, I didn’t have time for that so soldiered on and work around the place continued. We had decided to convert the end barn that houses the old oak fired French oven into a commercial kitchen to service the bar and restaurant, the barn was actually too large just for a kitchen so I decided to partition it and use just over half the space, the other room, that will connect to the restaurant we could use for storage. This work got more difficult as the weeks passed, but I was determined to get it finished, however I was finding it more difficult every day to get my arm to go above shoulder height.

We also replaced an old tin roof on the garage with more suitable engineered tiles we had found in a barn, only a few days’ work but well worth it as now the garage fits in with the surrounding buildings. There were many other little jobs going on, we’d started work on extending the parking area at the front of the property, after getting permission from the town hall, always as well to ask as someone was bound to report us if we didn’t. This entailed taking a section from the vegetable garden but not too much as we’d miss it. I still haven’t finished this, we have a fence to put up and a wall to build but it will get done. I was finding myself doing the jobs that didn’t require the use of my left arm to any great degree, it was getting impossible to lift, even riding the motorbike was becoming difficult, but once I’d swung my arm up, I was managing that. Plans for the wedding in full swing and final touches to the bar moving on. The wedding had been put off from 2020 due to covid, this year nothing was getting in the way, one of the reasons I would not be going near the Doctor regarding my arm, I didn’t want to be told to rest or even worse I needed surgery. One job we did have to do was erect a gazebo outside the bar for the wedding, I had previously purchased two 4 x 4 umbrella type event gazebos, they didn’t hold up to the winds we occasionally get and we lost them, so now I had opted for a more semi-permanent Barnam, these things can stand winds above anything we get here and a fall of snow up to one inch, between us we managed to get the roof structure together, but getting it off the ground was proving impossible, my shoulder was not capable of lifting anything, another shout out for assistance, two days later and with one week to go we managed to get the thing up, to be fair, it would have been a five man job anyway even with a good shoulder, just rolling the roof tarpaulin out took 4 men, they managed to put it on upside down but that was soon rectified, beers all round with thanks. Once done I proceeded in securing it to the ground by anchoring it under 2 x 2 timbers I then screwed these to the posts I had concreted into the ground around the terrace, we did say we would take it down in winter, we didn’t and a testament to its strength the thing is still standing and as solid as the day it went up, it’s not going anywhere. We were now, nearly all set for the wedding, just the bread oven room to sort as we were going to use the oven to cook pizza for the guests. It was a long way off being finished as a commercial kitchen, though I had purchased all the equipment I could not line the walls with plastic and stainless steel sheets, so work had stopped, one piece of equipment we did have was a salad bar so we moved that into the kitchen along with some stainless steel tables so we had something to make the pizza on and serve, it would do. MJ’s was now becoming busy at weekends, some local lads had discovered us and the fact we had Paix Dieu on tap, they had also taken a liking to our fish and chips, each Friday night they would arrive just after 21h00 and stay till late, Saturdays and Sunday were a quieter affair with one or two locals quietly enjoying our a la carte menu, a steady start and where we wanted to be, we were learning at a manageable pace.


So, the weekend of the wedding arrived…………………….We’d themed it “Grease” as in the film, just for fun, I was wearing a black suite with pink shirt and white socks and Julie would be in a 50’s dress with a change into a cat suite later. Julie had spent months looking on line for a good place to buy a dress and 4 weeks before the wedding our good friend Dominique said his sister made dresses and we could ask her. Turns out she was a seamstress and had worked on the outfits for the grease stage show when it toured France, Lucky, you bet ya, she made a beautiful dress as only a skilled seamstress could, Julie looked an absolute smasher on the day. That day arrived, I rode to church on the Valkyrie, another friend offered to drive Julie in his e-type jaguar. Now here’s a thing, some would say typical. We were getting married on a Sunday, not unheard of in France but certainly not usual, but then to add to the “I don’t believe it” it was also the day of the local elections, the mayor was taking time out to marry us. Guests arrived at the town hall not knowing if they would be allowed in as restrictions due to covid were still in place and numbers were, should have been limited, we had about 40 people. A quick word with the mayor and he said no problem they can all come in, next I asked was it really necessary to wear masks? no not a problem was the response. then, “can we film?” for you it is not a problem, some may know the significance of that request, if you do not then you will have to wait for the next blog, maybe in a few weeks when all will become clear.  Result we had as close to normal wedding as was possible and……………………..to the astonishment of some of the guests the Mayor actually conducted the wedding in English. he opened with “welcome to France, welcome to Bethines and welcome to Les Breuillons” what a relief, we’d spent the last few weeks rehearsing when to respond, we only needed to say one thing, “oui” but it was knowing when, we needn’t have bothered, though we both did say “Oui” and not yes.
The weather held out and with Julie now on the back of the bike we lead a convoy, horns blaring back to Belonga Mick where we had a hog on the roast ready for the feast and party. We had arranged a 4 piece “rock revival” from Poitiers to entertain and had set up a marquee just in case of showers, it was a little windy and looked questionable so we set it up in an area protected by some buildings, we also had a bucking bronco and a fairground hammer strength test for entertainment. We were hoping to have the wedding party on the back field, I had purchased everything we might need, portable cooler for beer, extra pumps, gazebos, folding tables for food, we were short of nothing, but then the weather wasn’t looking promising so a change of plan, but we still have all the equipment so it will be available for future events.


So, to plan B, we got on with serving up the food and drinks, all set up around the bar area, while guests entertained themselves and had a blast. Julie and I were also doing the catering, at the end of the day once married we might as well, we’d done the hard part, Julie as always did a great job with all the side dishes, me? I just had to put the pig on the spit and watch it turn, lol. Speeches given, it was time for the band to play, just at that point the heavens opened and rains fell, wind blew and well to say chaos would have been an understatement, I spent the next hour with the band trying to keep the stage clear of water and their kit dry. We did have a break in the storm and they managed one number, before the heavens opened again and we decided to move the band under the main marquee outside the bar, tables moved we squeezed them in at the end, all very cosy and they played into the night. We had a break from the music to cook and serve pizza, total of just over 40, all cooked in our very own bread oven, a very satisfying experience, for which I have to thank my daughter and future son in law, great job, thank you.


It was at this point we decided to go live on booking platforms and open Belongamick to the unexpecting public, within 4 days we were fully booked for 2 weeks, busy wasn’t in it, it remained that way until the end of October, with the occasional couple of days we managed to block out, what a start, fantastic.


So, with the wedding behind us and now accepting guests again it was time to go and see what I had done to my shoulder, off to the Doctor I went, first it was an x-ray, one week later back at the Doctor with the results, nothing to show there, so now it is scan time, one week later I am at the hospital having a scan. The Doctor at the hospital  explains I’ve tore a ligament in my shoulder, “too early for an operation, take results back to your Doctor”, so I asked if they would “send results by post to me for me to do this”, “oh no” he said, you  “must wait and get them now or come back first thing in the morning, this needs dealing with”, oh dear. So, next day I revisit hospital pick up results and go to make an appointment with my own Doctor. First thing Monday I am in, she looks at results and said she’d make an appointment for me to have a steroid injection. I was to call at reception on Wednesday, I did and was given an appointment for Friday in Poitiers, another specialist, I had my first injection, the following Monday and I was in for my first physio session. All this within the space of, what? 3 weeks, to say I was impressed does not cover this, I was just a little annoyed I did not go to the Doctor in the first instance. After about 8 – 10 weeks of physio I went for my second injection and to be fair, physio wasn’t really helping, though I had regained maybe 50% of movement and could raise my arm level with my shoulder. The 2nd injection saw me being able to raise my arm above my head, I still could not get it behind my back but was able enough to get back to work and even start in the gym again with light weights. I had my 3rd and final injection a few weeks ago, I’m not 100% but a heck of a lot better and now able to get back to work for real. Physio has stopped as he said it obviously was not helping, next step, one day way off in the future is an operation, but I’ll not be rushing for that.

So where now? well, we have an article about Belongamick in “Open house” the NABD (National Association for Bikers with a Disability) in the UK, hoping for some bookings from that for 2022. We are already receiving repeat booking from guests who stayed last year and………………………….well for the next piece of news, and very exciting it is, you’ll have to wait for the next blog, I’m not allowed to say anything just yet.

À bientôt.
Hope you enjoyed your coffee!

Mick and Julie purchased the little house in Les Breuillons, Bethines France in 2003. At the time it was a ruin, part of a building that at one time was three houses, (French peasant cottages of no size, consisting of one room and a loft above for animals) they had the section that used to make up two homes in the past, but had long ago been made into one house with a living room, kitchen and bedroom on the ground floor and a loft acceded from outside by a ladder to a side opening. When they first purchased the property they engaged the services of a builder, looking to get some of the work done quickly so as to make the property more comfortable for their future visits, they soon realised that, financially this was not a good option and once the initial basic work was complete, they elected to take sole responsibility for the renovation work. 


So, for the following years every opportunity they had Mick and Julie would spend most of their holidays visiting and restoring the house including installing a staircase and adding two bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs along with an en-suite bathroom for their main bedroom down stairs. 


We could now list all the work that needed to be completed to make this little house a home, Mick and Julie will be the first to admit even they cannot remember everything they had to do, maybe later as things are remembered we will add them, but for this short opening we will leave the first and now main cottage here.


Just as they finished the little cottage, some 10 years after purchase, the attached even smaller house became available. As it was actually attached to their house, they decided to purchase that also, they quickly set about turning that one room with an upper loft into a one up one down with its own private bathroom, soon after completion life events took over. Julie lost her parents, Mick’s father died and his younger sister also passed with cancer. In 2014 Mick was involved in a serious accident on his motorbike in which he sustained serious injuries, including 8 broken ribs a punctured lung and seriously damaged left foot, the ribs and lung have now healed, the foot will always be a problem, but not one he allows to hold him back.
This was just after they had moved house in the UK, out of the city, they had decided they would renovate this new house and stay until retirement, then they would move to France. Mick was settling in to renovating the 4-bed house, total remodelling the house putting on a small extension to the rear and purchasing a small plot of land from the local council to allow them to extend the garden and maybe grow some vegetables and keep bees. Mick finally got back on his bike in 2015 after his accident, putting over 10k miles on his new Honda 1800 F6C with his best riding buddy, Zorba at his side on a 1500 Honda Valkyrie over the next 12 months.
In the summer of 2016 together, they took off on a tour of Europe. Shortly after returning from this trip David Martin, AKA ZORBA phoned Mick with the devastating news that he was terminal with pancreatic cancer with a limited time to live, Mick and Julie along with most everyone that new Dave were shocked to the core by this news. The following few months went by in a blurr, with Mick and Julie reflecting on the previous few years and this “final” news, it was time to make a change. Life is short, Zorba, when he was taken was only 52 years old, Mick at the time was 56, Julie 55. They are so proud to have some of Zorba’s ashes behind a plaque in a wall that David actually encouraged Mick to start building some years earlier at Belonga Mick.
So, the last quarter of 2016 Mick and Julie after long discussions decided to make the move to France sooner rather than later, maybe semi retire, run the little house as a bed and breakfast and let the small attached cottage as a gite, sounds good. One slight problem, they were, not for the first time, living on a building site, so when will they be able to move? Sooner rather than later was the decision, so they set about finishing the house to go to market, sell up in the UK and make the move a permanent one.


Julie continued to do what she had always done, she’d get the train to work in the city at 7am and return home at 6.30pm, to another surprise at how much work had been completed. Mick was hard at it, in between trips to France with a trailer load of belongings every few weeks, doing a few days’ work there and returning back to the UK. Within 12 months the house was finished,  the garden was landscaped and it was put on the market in September 2017 and with great surprise an offer was made and accepted on the house within 24hrs of it going up for sale, so quickly they hadn’t had time to get any pictures or estate agent literature prepared, the move was on. So, it was early December 2017 that they finally, loaded the last trailer and set off to France with a one-way ticket.
Once in France they immediately set about remodelling the upper bedrooms, whilst they were okay for a holiday home, they were not up to a standard for paying guests, so after doing that and redecorating most of the cottage that winter, they were ready to accept their first guests in March 2018.
What they didn’t have was any land, it would have been nice to have a garden and something to do when not entertaining guests. Soon after moving another property became available, one they referred to as “the professors house”. This came with nearly an acre of land and a couple of large barns, all mostly in a state of ruin, but “with potential”, an offer was made and excepted. They now had three houses and a handful of barns along with the land to keep them busy.
But wait, the story doesn’t stop there.

Mick had been feeling unwell prior to leaving the UK, he had made several visits to his Doctor and had been advised to take antacid relief for his indigestion. It took about 6 months to get registered with a  doctor here in France, along with all the other little bits of administration that have to be taken care of to ensure you are living here correctly and free to work, a stressful time, but in the sun who cares.

Winter soon rolled in after the first year, but with work to do it was hardly noticed, however, Mick was beginning to feel decidedly unwell, eventually in the March he went to the doctor and mentioned it. Being as thorough as she could, the doctor gave him a full medical but found nothing serious was wrong, his blood pressure a little high and after testing his cholesterol, this also needed reducing, let’s see how we get on with meds. It wasn’t long before he was back at the doctors, this time he was experiencing, “discomfort” in his chest and getting light headed. Within a week he had had a chest x-ray and was back at the Dr with results, nothing. Again, he explained the symptoms, but this time also included the indigestion, for which he was still taking antacid relief though it was not having much effect. The Doctor immediately referred him to a cardio specialist. Mick attended the appointment at the cardio’s office and an ECG, nothing unusual, but being thorough and given the symptoms the Doctor said he will conduct a stress test the next week and a scan, cutting the story short Mick was admitted to hospital within a few days of this, where he initially had an operation to clear an artery in his heart (balloon), followed the week later by the insertion of 3 stents. As you can imagine this set the plans back a little, Mick now had to take it easy for a while, not as easy to do as it is to say, he was soon back at it, all be it at a slightly slower pace.

We roll on 12 months; the land was cleared and a decision was made to restore one of the large barns, maybe put in a small bar, somewhere for the guest from the bed and breakfast to relax and eat, so was born MJ’s Bar & Grill, now a fully licensed bar and restaurant along with ,what soon will be its own dedicated catering kitchen.
But wait, again the story doesn’t stop there, a fourth property came available, this was very close to the first little house, too close to want neighbours, oh what to do? yes, you’ve guessed, Mick and Julie put in an offer and after negotiations they purchased the house along with a few more barns and a little bit of land.

Then in 2020 Mick revisited the cardio specialist for what he hoped would be the last time to be signed off and told all was now okay.  The final examination included a nuclear stress test on an exercise bike, Mick failed this dismally and actually had a mild heart attack whilst on the bike, best place to have it in a specialist hospital. It was quickly diagnosed he needed more investigation and at least one more stent. This was not going to be straight forward given the location of the blockage, at a branch, between two of the previous stents and there was always the possibility of more invasive heart surgery, the success of this procedure would not be known until after the operation. Well, the day soon arrived and fortunately Mick came through needing just one more stent. So far 12 months later, it appears all is well though life for Mick is now at a slower pace,  some would say his slow is the equivalent to others being rushed off their feet, it was back to Belonga Mick to recuperate.

This mostly happened during the Covid pandemic, Mick and Julie were lucky in many respects, not least, the area of France they are living was not affected to any great degree by these events so disruption to hospital visits were minimal, but it also meant that the new bar and restaurant ventures along with the Bed and Breakfast business, as with most businesses of the time ground to a halt. Not being people to stand still, they quickly adapted to do take away food, Pizza, and fish and chips at least that kept them on the map and slowly introduced local people to their establishment. They also used the quiet time to advance the renovations, landscaping an area outside the bar area in anticipation of maybe being allowed to start outside service at least. They also made a start on the renovation of another barn, removing the roof with the intention of lowering it and fitting PV/solar panels for electricity generation. It was while doing this project that Mick had another mishap, while descending a ladder that was on the upper floor of the barn he stepped backwards and the floor gave way, he fell heavily, only about 10 feet but it left him with a few bruises and a stiff arm. His arm slowly got more painful and became difficult to use, thus resulting in another visit to the Doctor some 5 months after the event, well he couldn’t go sooner, he had a wedding to organise, Mick and Julie were getting married in June 2021 after some 22 years of being together, the wedding having been postponed from 2020 because of Covid restriction, this time nothing was going to stop it.

So, here we are, as I write, Mick is waiting for an appointment for a scan on his shoulder, he has had an x-ray but it shows nothing, he is also going to physio therapy on a regular basis.

Oh one more thing worth a mention, when Mick and Julie first arrived in France in 2003 neither of them spoke French having not even studied the language at school. They still struggle with the language, but putting that aside manage to run the business with guests who are in the main 95% French along with some from other European countries, even the bar is patronised by mainly French, something they are grateful for, what better way to learn a language than to be totally immersed. They continue to run Belonga Mick and MJ’s Bar & Grill and welcome guest locally and from all over Europe, most weekends they are fully booked in the restaurant and a reservation for a table is advised, and although the actual summer holiday season has ended, they continue to get guests at the accommodation and again have periods where they are fully occupied.

Looking to the future and the addition of the 2nd gite in the very near future things look bright.


Now we have got this far I will continue to relay their story as it develops, along with the odd story from the past as remembered.