FOR most of us, starting the working day with an outdoor breakfast would be a brave move.
Oh, we might get lucky and pick a morning when there’s no rain, but even in high summer the days don’t warm up properly until after clocking-on time.
To take our minds off the chill, we could always listen to the sparrows, assuming they haven’t been scared off by a local cat.
Things are a bit different for an ex-teacher called Dorinda Balchin and her husband, Pete, who used to work for Rover in Swindon.
They breakfast in comfortable warmth on a verandah overlooking a lake, inhaling the sweet scent of bougainvillea and admiring their pink, orange and white flowers. They hear the songs of sunbirds, parakeets, bulbuls and babblers.
There is no cat to harass the songbirds or the heron, stork and kingfisher which sometimes visit. There’s a leopard, but it keeps itself to itself.
The Balchins aren’t the only British couple in their fifties to leave their jobs, sell up and run a hotel, but most choose a location rather closer to home than India.
Lakeside takes its name from Kamaraj Lake in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The front door there is about 7,130 miles from their old one in Swindon.
“I started teaching in 1980 and took six years out to have children,” said Dorinda, 54.
“I was head of RE at Faringdon Community College, teaching until the end of July 2008.
“Pete was an engineer for Rover cars and did a number of other things, but ended up working for the building supplier Travis Perkin.
“We were living in South Marston – we met in 1976 and married in 1980.”
So far, so like millions of other British couples, but opportunity came knocking in the guise of a man called Joe Homan, whose Joe Homan Charity helps children growing up in poverty in South India and Thailand.
“We’re not necessarily the adventurous type,” said Dorinda, prompting a grin from her 59-year-old husband, “but this goes back a long way.
“We’re big supporters of the charity. Joe used to come and talk to the students at Faringdon and they supported children in India through him.
“He had built this place in Tamil Nadu that he was using as a guest house, and we went to visit in 2007.”
Pete said: “Joe was almost 80. He said he had to sell. The three of us used to sit there on the verandah drinking cardamom tea and looking at the view.
“On about the ninth or tenth night I said to Dorinda, ‘Would you like to sit and look at that view or would you like to go back to Swindon?’ She said, ‘I would love to live here.’”
The two realised that the place would need work to make it a paying proposition. The sale of their house would buy Lakeside with its four guest rooms, its five cottages and its seven-and-a-half acres of grounds, but Pete needed the skills gained during decades of DIY projects to bring everything up to scratch.
There was also a mountain of paperwork to get through, as foreigners aren’t permitted to own property in India outright; they must form a company and own it through that.
The couple’s children, archaeologist Sarah, 27, and 24-year-old forklift driver Tom, gave their blessing.
“We went back to India in February 2008 to finish negotiations,” Pete said. “We moved out there on October 31, 2008.” At that time, they had spent less than 20 days in India.
Hard work and knowledgeable local staff have earned them an insight into the region’s culture, customs and expectations, with Indians and foreigners alike among its fans.
A reviewer from local newspaper The Hindu wrote: “When there’s a stunning lake, a panoramic mountain view, a green carpet all around, cool breeze through the year and abundance of bird life, you just want to soak in the peace and solitude. That’s what I did.”
Dorinda is trying to learn Tamil while Pete, admitting defeat by the language’s 247 characters and letter combinations, prefers to stick with English, which is commonly spoken.
Like many people who end up in a country other than the one they’re from, they’ve discovered that just about any cultural gap can be bridged by respect, genuine interest and willingness to learn.
Pete said: “When we used to go on holiday we didn’t want to sit by the pool. We wanted to know what places were like, what the people were like, what the schools were like, what the businesses were like.
“Overall, it’s absolutely perfect.”
Lakeside’s website is www.lakeside.co.in, and the Joe Homan Charity’s is www.joehoman.org.uk