... and now I face the final curtain. Said curtain being for my new writing shed in France. Or perhaps a blind.
We went to our French house this summer for six weeks, the longest we've ever spent there. And it was wonderful! The indoor plumbing! The electricity supply that didn't bite! The new kitchen!
Just one little thing, or maybe two. We still had the impenetrable jungle outside the back door, True, we no longer had to hack our way through it with a machete in order to reach the outside lavvy. And the perennial sweet peas were colourful, though sadly unscented. But it had to go.
Our builder met up with us in the town where he lived. His instructions "by the anchor roundabout" were surprisingly quite easy to follow. We went to his builder's merchant and spent a vast amount of money on paving slabs, gravel, cement, and semipermeable membrane. The things one learns when having renovations done.
We also took a trip to another builder's merchant to look at sheds. The old man still kept insisting that my writing shed was a low priority. He isn't a writer, of course. But the builder's merchant was having a sale, which trumped his objections. And in the sale was the biggest, bestest shed you've ever seen. It had double doors. It had a little window. It was big enough to get a double bed in, never mind a desk and chair. It was less than half price!
It had also been sitting in their open hangar for a considerable time, but we only found this out later, of course.
So all was set. Our man called in his son-in-law to help with the heavy lifting. The deliveries were timed to perfection.
Well the son-in-law arrived as planned, on the early ferry, and they came straight to us to make a start. Catching us still in bed. Well, I expect my cup of tea in bed in the morning, and the old man is reluctant to get up, especially as he tends to run on English time still, refusing to have anything to do with nasty foreign time which is one hour in advance. I think this has cured him now, at least temporarily. So while we hastily threw on clothes and breakfast and the essential cup of tea all round (I did say our builder and his son-in-law are English, didn't I?) they went and communed with the old shed.
Within a day the old shed was down - well, you've seen the photo. A hard push was about all it took. That and half a dozen trips to the tip with the remains. A cement mixer was borrowed. The weather was set fair.
No delivery. No slabs, gravel, cement, semipermeable membrane. It was only one day late. I love the French in general, but I have to say they can be a bit nonchalant when it comes to things like that.
And the shed. Well it was supposed to arrive in the afternoon, but the guy at the builder's merchants happens to live not far away, and he thought it would be a good idea to deliver it on his way home after work. We sat, and waited. And waited. Our man looked at his watch and phoned his other half. She was not amused. French working hours last an hour longer in the evening because of the longer lunch break. It came eventually. I just hope our man managed to make it up to his lady.
So the next morning I was presented with a pot of wood stain and a set of brushes. You thought because we were paying to have it done we could get away with sitting in the shade watching? Not hardly. I set up the garden umbrella - it was hot and I burn easily. (Sorry everybody in the UK who had a miserable wet summer. The Jet Stream moved. France was south of it, and you were north.)
I started off doing every plank lovingly and artistically. After two days I was slapping woodstain on as fast as I could. The slabs were criticized - not properly square and even. The wooden planks for the shed had warped and weathered in the builder's merchant's store. Roots had to be hacked out. More slabs and gravel had to be bought. There was exactly enough roofing felt for the roof and not a centimetre more. The second shed had to be done - that's the Man Shed as opposed to the Woman Shed. (Not in the sale. It cost twice as much as the Woman Shed in spite of being half the size. I hesitate to draw a conclusion - well, no I don't.) The sheds had to be fixed down to the slabs, and the fittings sold with them were inadequate. Much eye-rolling and harrumphing.
The slabs went down in the end, some of them twice over. The sheds went up. I moved in my flatpack desk, a garden chair, and my computer, and started writing.
The editing proceeded at an amazing pace, after weeks of slow progress - there's something about that special place just for writing that I can't quite explain. Terry Pratchett would call it headology
There is a heater, so we'll have to wait and see how it works out in November.
And now by popular request, Susana,
I'm thinking of putting Astroturf on the floor.
But not so fast, gentle reader. The inside of the house is done, barring one or two little details, some new doors, redecorating where cupboards have been taken out, the damp patch on the ceiling upstairs, new carpet - well, you get the picture. You're never completely finished with a house.
There remains the outside. I told you last time about looking at paving stones for the patio. That is, I hope, to be put in hand some time over the summer. And would we like a fancy lamp-post thingy to light us if we have an evening meal outside? Why not - he's already put in the basic wiring, after all. And those street lamps are so, well, yellow. I must say I rather fancy sitting out in the cool evening, as long as we can keep the insects away.
The big thing though is my Woman Shed. I want my Woman Shed. The Old Man says it's low down on the list of priorities - well, he would, wouldn't he? He said the same thing about the kitchen, if you remember, and look what happened there. The Old Man has short arms and deep pockets; which comes I have to admit from having been hard up for a lot of our married life. The Old Man also has a tougher skin than I do, and can sit out in the sun without needing to bother with a shed.
I want my Woman Shed. I want a nice big one with room for a desk, electricity for my computer, enough space for the old put-you-up so that it can serve as the overflow bedroom if ever anybody comes to visit. There's an outside tap nearby so I can get water for tea or coffee. There's the outside lavvy, just handy to the side of the shed. The birds will sing, the sun will shine, and I will get so much writing done you won't believe it. I've already bought the booster so that I can get wifi out there. I shall even be able to procrastinate, with Facebook and that new game I discovered.
And I know there are sheds out there just perfect for me. Had it not been for The Kidney Stone Problem we would have been out looking at one recommended by Rod the Electrician and his mate,the Outdoors Man, which even has a little lean-to attached to it, where you can keep your mowers and spades. Which will lock, because some toe-rag nicked our garden fork some time over the winter. It wasn't even a particularly good one. People coming in on the big road and making a clean sweep of everybody's garden shed, according to our neighbour. But I digress.
It's not as if there's anything wonderful there at the moment anyway. A shed constructed of rotting timber, breeze blocks, and internal bricks - those French ones that crumble when exposed to wet, frost, and time. A dirt floor. A wooden extension at one end that the previous owner used to house his chickens. The look of the garden would be so much improved by a nice summer house, I'm sure you would agree.
We've got the money: the work that's been done, although not exactly cheap, has still not quite used up the funds we had earmarked for the improvements, so I'm not accepting that as an excuse. Rod the Electrician and his mate the Outdoors Man are poised. Are you with me? All together, "We want the Woman Shed!"
... or perhaps not. Not if we were lucky. But there were only certain shapes and sizes available to us.
We had to accept that the existing carcasses of the cupboards would all have to be replaced. Not only that, but we would probably have to have glazed doors rather than solid wooden ones. We had, of course, asked whether we could purchase the display units from the showroom, but had been told that they had already been sold.
Anyway, after several phone calls to the Granville store and waiting until the weekly deliveries arrived, we managed to assemble enough cupboards, doors and other bits and pieces to construct a whole kitchen's worth of nice, wood-fronted units. Now I personally am not a fan of glazed doors on cupboards. As far as I am concerned, doors are there to stop other people seeing what an untidy state the inside of the cupboard is. Putting glass in defeats the object of having a door in the first place. But it is what it is, and it is glass doors. I'm thinking perhaps I can get some transfers to put on the glass, or in the very French style, some gingham material to make little curtains with to cover the inside of the glass.
There were one or two other problems. Firstly, the power supply for the dishwasher meant that the top drawer of the set of three wouldn't fit. Rod got round that by combining the top two drawers. This is actually a Good Thing, because the saucepans can now be stacked in the extra-deep drawer. First win.
Secondly, the special linen bag that niftily fits into a pull-out unit at the end, specially made to hold baguettes of French bread ... is just too short for a whole baguette to fit into it. Perhaps we shouldn't have had the little drawer above, but it's a very useful little drawer and I'm keeping it. As things stand you have to break the end off the loaf. And once it has been broken off, it would be a pity not to eat it. Don't you think?
Thirdly, the taps. We got some nice wooden worktops from Ikea (yes, they have reached rural France) and inset the sink, to find that the original taps didn't stick out far enough from the wall for the water they provided to fall into the sink. The modern way is for the taps to be fed from below, but if you look at last time's picture, you will see that these taps, which had probably been installed when everything else was done, back in the nineteen seventies, are fed from behind. And the wall is two-foot-thick stone. Not the sort of thing you want to be drilling through if you can possibly avoid it. "Leave it with me," Rod said. So we did, and in the meantime used jugs to transport the water to where it was needed. Eventually he found a way round it, with a bit of banging and hammering no doubt.
In another flash of inspiration I had decided to have another work surface on the other side of the kitchen, with a gap underneath. We currently have a tallish fridge/freezer blocking the way round the foot of the table, but as we got it second hand in the year 2000, we have to accept that it may not last for ever. The space under the work surface would be the ideal place to put a small fridge and a small freezer, We have the power points there (as well as everywhere else). The work surface rests on the chair rail. The chair rail is 83 centimetres above the floor.
Standard fridges and freezers have a height of 84 centimetres.
Back to the drawing board. Luckily the legs supporting the work surface at the front are telescopic and can be wound up a bit further. The chair rail will now sport an extra inch of wood above it. "Leave it with me," said Rod when we were there this March.
And he did find a cooker hood slim-line enough that we can still open up the cover that fits over the cooker hob. What a guy!
As a post script to our first trip to the DIY emporium last September, we were asked to follow Rod back. He had a call to make at the Lidl - great, I bought paella, and other irresistible delicacies - and then he wanted to show us the paving slabs his mate could lay outside the lavvy, so the old man wouldn't have to spend his time hacking through sweet peas when we arrived for our holidays.
It was a hot day, and the middle of the afternoon when we parted at the paving slab supplier's depot. Theoretically our car had air conditioning, but the coolant had needed topping up. "We won't need air conditioning in September," said the Old Man. Top-ups can be quite expensive. The outside temperature reached 30 degrees Celsius that afternoon. We were hot. More importantly, so was the satnav. "Too hot!" it told us. "Cannot function! Aaaaargh." We were driving along a road previously unknown to us, through the middle of the empty French countryside.
If you were in northern France last September and came across an English car with the front passenger window wound down, an arm stuck out, waving a satnav in the breeze to try and cool it down enough that it would tell us where we were and how to get where we wanted to go, that would have been us.
Oh, the display kitchen? They offered to sell it to Rod when he went back, after we had returned to Wales. After we had managed to put together enough units to fill the space available. Apparently it hadn't already been sold, after all.
So, my little chickadees, we are approaching the present day and the current situation with our house in France. It's been a long journey, and there are still things to do, but the end is in sight.
When last we left our intrepid Francophiles, the satellite tv and broadband dishes had been installed, and work was proceeding with the electrification of the house.
Now I have to admit I had gone a little overboard on the electrical sockets. My belief has always been that you can't have too many; so I had some here, some there, and ooh, some more over there, and why not ... anyway, there were plenty. Then we changed our minds about which side to put the tv and broadband hub, so let's have a couple more by the window. Why not? We had an electrician almost permanently at the house.
The house had originally had oil-fired central heating, but in all the years we had been there, we had never managed to get it to work. I had read the instructions, and proceeded as they said, but the sands of time had gathered in the nooks and crannies of the boiler and solidified. The plumber had removed the old fitments, the space had been given to a dishwasher, so now we needed the electric radiators we had decided were the most sensible solution for a house that would not be occupied in the coldest part of the year in any case.
Oh, said Rod the Electric, you need to go to a place in Flers for that, and he rattled off the directions, ending with "You can't miss it". We arranged to meet him at the DIY place the next morning.
Well, we did find the place in the end, after driving through Flers twice and stopping to ask a very helpful lady who was washing the windows of her apartment, and we were only ten minutes or so late. We had allowed for a certain amount of errantry, you see, having had experience of French road signs previously. What can you say of a nation that has road signs indicating the way to "Toutes Directions"? At least the British are more selective, indicating the way to "The North" or "The South".
So we got to the DIY emporium, as I said, snagged a large trolley, and went around practiacally stripping the shelves. Light fittings, more sockets, a pile of electric radiators, undercupboard lighting strips - why not get a few more? - outside lights, inside lights, lights for the staircase and the lavvy, we would have lights everywhere.
Then there was the kitchen section. Now the Old Man had insisted that a new kitchen was way down the list as far as he was concerned. As far as I was concerned, we still had money in the French account, so I took him on a tour around the kitchen units.
It seems the French have a weakness still for Formica. Personally I have a weakness for natural wood, and there was just one kitchen on display with natural wood doors. Look, it's quite cheap! We collared a sales assistant We had worked out on the back of an envelope what units we needed, if we could get doors to fit the existing units on the opposite side to the sink. Could we buy those units?
Non. The kitchen she is discontinued. There is only what there is in store. But perhaps we can get some units from the other shop in Granville.
All is well, Granville has more units, we can get them next week. Doors of such and such a size? Non.
We go to lunch in a restaurant with a WWII aircraft theme, eat les frites au fromage, and lick our wounds.
To be continued.
Yes, I'm just back from a month in France.
And why, when I have all mod cons, inside plumbing and wi-fi, did I not post anything about my wonderful new kitchen?
Well, It wasn't the worst holiday ever; I've already blogged about that, after all. But it was up there.
We always stop over at our sons' place Down South on the way to the ferry. It means we can get the early ferry without driving all night, or the afternoon ferry without getting up at stupid o'clock. Although on this occasion the Old Man decided he didn't want to drive to our French house in the dark so we were on the early ferry. Stupid o'clock it was.
Except that when we stumbled out of the house at 5:30 am, the car wouldn't start. Now I have to say in its defence that it had hiccuped a bit the previous week, but seemed to have recovered. Anyway, we got one of the sons out of bed, and he said not to worry, he could give us a start from his car. And when he finally got the bonnet open (he hasn't had it very long, and obviously hadn't had occasion to top up the screenwash yet) he found the negative terminal on his battery is just too close to something or other (I didn't inquire) to get a crocodile clip on it.
Not to worry, he said, he would call his mate who lives next door. Everything is done by phone now. I'm surprised he didn't send him an email. But in all fairness, his mate next door got out of bed and came to try to get our car going for us, which shows what a stand-up guy he is - thanks, Carl, you're a toff and a gent. Unfortunately it still didn't work. So we called first the ferry company, then the RAC.
The RAC man turned up at 8:30, coincidentally the exact time our ferry was sailing. He sold us an extremely expensive new battery, and off we went. We had to pay to have our booking transferred, and more because they didn't have any inside cabins left, but we did at least get going, on the ferry we would normally have caught anyway. Complete with night-time drive in France, our headlights adjusted for driving on the Continent by having gaffa tape stuck over part of the glass.
We had not been in the house for a week when the Old Man got a pain in his belly. He likened it to being kicked in a delicate part of his anatomy, but it didn't go away. Unless he lay flat on his back. For a few days he even had to eat reclining on the bed like a Roman patrician. We did a check-list of symptoms, and eventually came to the conclusion that he had a kidney stone. Which gave me the opportunity to point out that I always said he doesn't drink enough, but otherwise was not a happy conclusion.
So he spent the rest of the month doing very little, though he gradually improved and was able to come grocery shopping and mow the lawn once. And as I became responsible for the catering, at least we didn't spend the entire time eating sausages.
He was just about well enough by the time we came to depart that he could drive us to the ferry port. Except that we got a message from the ferry company, 36 hours before we were due to sail, to say that the ferry had been cancelled because of "electrical problems". Once again we had to re-book, and once again we ended up paying extra. It was a bit late to go for the next morning's early ferry, we had the final shopping to do and the house to close up for a couple of months, so we ended up on the (more expensive) Saturday overnight ferry. We missed our sons' birthday, and only just got in all the things we needed to do Down South, like taking our French clock, the one with the eccentric Big Ben chimes, to the clock repairer, and having a meal out with the boys. We got back just in time for my first Creative Writing class of the new term on the Wednesday.
Oh, and one more thing. When we were about to disembark at Portsmouth, the car wouldn't start.
We left our heroine ... back in England waiting for the electrician to be ready. We had already planned on a trip to France in September, when the cost of the ferry crossing drops from its summer high, and by luck this year I had no Creative Writing classes in the autumn term to work around.
Our electrician had actually started work on the house before we got there. Behold! a new distribution board with trip switches instead of fuses, marked "Do not change the position of any of these switches!". No more fuse wire for us. And no more wondering if the whole place would explode when we turned the mains electricity on.
Of course in one week he hadn't got far with the rest of the rewiring, so we had no light in our lovely new cabinet de toilette, and no window either. Daytime was no big problem, there was a window in the adjoining bathroom. At night we could either rely on the street light outside, filtered through the overgrown hazelnut tree, or we could use a battery operated emergency light sat on top of the spin dryer ("we'll keep it just in case"). Still, an inside toilet! We still hadn't got used to the novelty.
Rod the Electric had however given priority to some electrical sockets in the upstairs sitting room. The previous visit had seen me totally failing to connect to the internet on my phone or on the dongle I had bought. I came home afterwards to five hundred unread e-mail messages; even deleting the junk mail had taken me several weeks. I know that's a lot, but you have to realise that I'm fatally attracted to anything marked "Free!", such as webinars and how-to books. So I had taken the plunge and ordered satellite broadband on Pay-As-You-Go, and satellite television, to be installed a couple of days after our arrival, as long as we could get a clear run at the satellite over the slight hill behind the house.
Came the day and two more nice Brits arrived with a van full of long ladders, meters, coils of cable and two large satellite dishes which they installed on the back wall of the house. We look as if we could communicate with the Space Station through them, but now we can get the BBC again and keep up with the skateboarding ducks and the questions on "Pointless". And delete the junk mail before it takes over the world. I even managed to watch some of the webinars I signed up to, until I realised my month's worth of air time was disappearing rapidly. It's not cheap, you understand, but cheaper than a subscription which would not be used for nine months of the year. All we have to do is make sure the hazelnut tree doesn't grow even higher and block the signal.
So what could be better? We have indoor plumbing, electrical sockets and switches that don't give us shocks, and can communicate with the outside world? Life is good in France. Just the last few details to deal with, eh? What could possibly go wrong?
This week I have been beset with happenings that have brought out my inner Grumpy Old Woman.
My laptop, I have to admit, is at least four years old, which I'm told is pretty old as laptops go. So it's really no surprise that it's starting to drool down its cardigan and tell everybody that things aren't what they used to be. And I do have a spare, being a belt and braces sort: a notebook small enough to carry round without stretching my arms down to my knees. Admittedly it did run on Windows 8, but never mind, I get the free upgrade to Windows 10. No problem. It has deleted half of my files during the upgrade,, but I'm sure I can reconstruct them.
And we've just changed our bank. Bank X was always very fair with us, we had no complaints, but Bank Y made us an offer we couldn't refuse. No hard feelings.
What could possibly go wrong?
The first thing was that the transfer was due to go ahead on the same day that we were due to pay our credit card bill. Quite a large one, in fact, as it included the new kitchen units we had bought for our French house. (I'll get back to the convoluted story of the French house next time.) I did try to change the date online; living in the GWBA* you thank heaven on bended knees every day for the internet. Sadly, my name had to be taken off the joint account for technical reasons, so I no longer had access to it on line. Not to worry, we could go into the bank the next working day and sort it out.
Except that the account had gone into changeover purdah by then. Nothing could be altered, but if we went in on the day of the changeover they could confirm that the payment had actually been made. Problem sorted, and indeed when we checked up, everything was fine.
So we came back home, and a day or so later I thought I would go online and check out our balances on line. We were already registered with Bank Y for internet banking, there should be no problem.
Except that by this time I am using backup laptop, all set up in my library/office with external keyboard, speakers and a tangle of peripheral USB devices. And Bank Y doesn't recognise backup laptop and decides I am an evil hacker trying to get access to our accounts. I must tell them my mother's cat's maiden name, do I recognise this picture, and enter random letters and numbers from security numbers and passwords.
I get right through to the last part, and Bank Y's computer doesn't recognise the numbers I enter. I try again. The numbers are incorrect. If I try too many times my accounts will be frozen in deepest Antarctica, never to be accessed again. I am too scared to try again. Oh well, I didn't really need to look at our bank balance. I'm sure everything is just fine.
I go off to my daughter's, to wait for a grocery delivery between the hours of twelve and one. It doesn't come. On phoning the store, I am told that, in spite of delivering to daughter every week for the last year, the man couldn't find the house. He has been phoning the number on our account. We are not answering. Because we are at my daughter's waiting for a non-arriving grocery delivery. Did he not try the other numbers? In spite of the shop refusing to accept my order unless I gave them two other alternative numbers, they do not have any alternative numbers. Would the hours of four to five be acceptable. Well, it will have to be, won't it? The groceries finally arrive. All has been worked out. They give me a bunch of flowers as apology.
But that very evening Rod the Electrician phones from France. Everything is coming along swimmingly, well apart from the fact that they gave him the wrong size cupboard door, they have no more cupboard doors the right size, he's taken a set of drawers instead, but the top drawer won't work because it clashes with the sink ... But not to worry, everything is fine, and could he have some money sent directly to his French bank account because he's meeting his bank manager on Tuesday.
Today is Thursday.
I go to the computer - yes I even have internet banking with French Bank. "Click here to set up new recipient". I click. "We have to have your mobile phone number before we will do anything whatsoever". I search for my mobile phone because that is the one number I can never remember. Back at the computer: "Enter mobile phone number in the box". Except that there isn't a box. I click everywhere on the page without finding any spot to enter the number. I give up with French Bank.
Now I could use our new main bank account with Bank Y, in fact that is what I would prefer to do. Except that Bank Y doesn't believe I am who I say I am, remember?
So I go back to Bank X. We still have a couple of accounts with them, and by combining the balances I can just about make the amount Rod the Electrician needs. The money will not go until the next working day, of course, but providing I've got all the numbers names and etceteras right, and the pigeon carrying the message isn't blown off course over the weekend, the money may just about get there in time. I hope.
I was going to post this blog on my Blogger website. But when I tried to log in, Blogger decided I was not who I said I was, because I wasn't on the computer it was used to.
Here we go again.
* Great Welsh Bugger All
The more observant of you may have noticed something missing in the picture I posted with last week's blog.
Like, a roof.
We had a long conversation with Brian the Builder and his mate John the Plumber about what needed to be done with our French house. In brief, everything. Drains, heating, water, inside lavvy, bath and shower, kitchen, outside lavvy (because it's always good to have a spare, and we were tired of hauling buckets of water out with us). And the ceiling upstairs was showing some interesting water stains.
Not to worry, said Brian, he would take a look and see if he could patch it up enough to last through the winter. Which he did.
Leaving the two of them to it, we went back home to Wales for the winter, in the knowledge that things were moving on. M le Maire was happy that we would be connected to the main drains at long last; he had been writing to us for a while urging us to get it sorted out, to which we had to reply that as we had not been to the house for five years, we had put nothing at all down the drains for some time, but we would sort it out when we could. So, sorted.
Then in January we got an email from our next door neighbour (the English one) with a picture of our house. With no roof.
Brian the Builder had thought that, as the weather had been quite nice for a bit and the forecast was good, he would make a start on it. So he had removed the entire roof down to the trusses.
The weather changed. The roof had luckily had the waterproof lining thing put on it by then (I'm not very technical when it comes to roofing) so at least the rain did not come pouring through. But for a while we were the only house in the village with a bright blue roof.
Other things were being removed as well. All the old heating system, the shower and basin, the water supply itself. We went over at Easter and were happy to find that John the Plumber had at least made a temporary connection for the tap in the kitchen sink, which was now our only source of water. We stood in a plastic bowl and poured water over ourselves. It was like camping in our own house.
And the electrics. John the Plumber had once upon a time done electrics as well, but he had become fed up with the French bureaucracy, which had gone from complete laisser-faire ("You have bare wires sticking out of the wall? That's OK!") to pernickety in the extreme. He would not be able to do our rewiring, the one job that we had put at the top of our list. Remember you mustn't touch that switch! But he knew someone else who did electricity. Unfortunately the someone else could not start on our house until next September.
Still, at least the drains had been done.
In my experience French properties come in two basic types: those with no land, and those with too much land.
Ours is the second. We had, on roughly three quarters of an acre:
Obviously this creates a problem for people who are only intermittent residents. As I said in a previous blog, one tends to arrive late at night off the ferry to find the path to the lavvy overgrown with ankle-biting brambles and perennial sweet peas (pretty colour, no scent). Any thoughts of planting vegetables or fruit trees were killed when we realised we were very unlikely to be in the country when the harvest was ready.
Our next door neighbour, the French one, did however have a horse, and a goat, so when he asked for permission to pasture the animals on the field, we accepted without hesitation. So the field is generally not too bad, and we get to see peaceful grazing animals from time to time. The neighbour is also unnecessarily grateful, and keeps embarrassing us with his effusions. (We are, after all, British.)
Remains the last bit of ground with garage. We did flirt with keeping the car there. Unorthodox perhaps. But the road is very narrow, and it takes someone with exceptional parking skills to get a car into the garage with less than fifteen minutes' backing and forwarding. You are then left with the walk back to the house. With the shopping. We prefer to park outside the front door.
Then on our recent reappearance in France, we were told by M le Maire that complaints had been made about the overgrown brambly state of the end plot. We must do something about it!
The following day our English neighbour arrived at the door towing a youngish French person. This is Gregory, who lives in the house opposite our garage. He would like to buy your end bit of garden to make a football pitch for his sons to play on, being as his house, though large and comfortable, lacks sufficient garden space.
I accepted with alacrity. My husband was less eager, until he went up the road and actually looked at the state of the land and realized he would be the one who would have to clear it. We agreed to make the sale and exchanged email addresses.
Back at home, I searched through the documents I had filed away all those years previously. I found, miraculously, the statement of local taxes for the property. I found the purchase contract for the house and land, but no deeds. I wrote to the notaire who had dealt with the sale. No reply, even with the prospect of charging us for drawing up documents. We cancelled our trip back for consultation with Gregory's notaire. (In France it is legal, and cheaper, for both parties to use the same notaire, as he is held to be impartial in the affair.) I read through the documents again, and on page seven I eventually spotted a paragraph which, translated, amounted to "We haven't got any deeds. If you want deeds, you will have to have them drawn up yourself," said no doubt with a Gallic shrug.
So we gave a Gallic shrug ourselves, arranged to meet with the notaire, and set the sale in motion.
Not having deeds didn't seem to make a lot of difference. We proved we were who we said we were. Several times over. Hands were shaken all around. The brambles are now somebody else's problem, which is a bit of a bargain, even though I suspect we let the land go at a knockdown price. The neighbours are happy. The husband is happy. Next door is happy because we haven't sold the field. I dare say the horse and goat are happy too.
So there we were, back in France after five years' absence, with a bit of money saved up.
Less than twenty four hours after our arrival there came a knock at our door. It was M le Maire, and his wife who spoke some English. In fact I speak French, having studied it to degree level, but the English by and large are not known for their linguistic prowess, and he had made provision.
Good morning, welcome to our lovely commune. You must connect up your house to our new main drainage system, and there have been complaints about the brambles in the end portion of your land, so could you please arrange for them to be cleared.
He was quite pleasant about it, and offered to let us have information on people who could carry out the work, and take a look at their quotations to make sure they weren't overcharging us. Please come to see him at the mairie as soon as we had more information.
Now when we had purchased the house it was alleged by the estate agent to be tout a l'egout or mains drainage. Our English neighbours however were of the opinion that there was a septic tank out in the garden which had to be emptied out periodically.
In fact both were true. What we worked out was this: at some time in the past the Council had come around and installed storm drains which emptied into the river downhill from us. Local residents took advantage of this occasion by slipping the workmen a few hundred francs to join their houses up to the storm drain. Our house itself was thus joined to the drains. However the little sentry box in the garden was still served by a septic tank. As it turned out though the septic tank leaked, so the contents were recycled into the garden. The lilac jungle (it's too big to be called a bush) enjoyed that greatly, and there was no requirement for emptying.
But now the Council had a sparkling new system, whereby all the household water was taken by the main drain, pumped uphill and passed through a reed bed which purified it to drinking water standard (our daughter and son-in-law have a reed bed system, and this is no exaggeration). Perhaps the commune gets some sort of reward or kudos for having all their houses on this system; in any case, the mayor was very keen on having the last hang-outs brought into line.
We consulted our English neighbours. Yes, they had been connected. If we liked they could get in touch with their friend who had done their installation and get him to come out and talk to us. We liked.
Yes, their friend said, he could do our work, no problem. He also did general building and decorating. Did he do plumbing and electrical work? No, but he knew a man who did. How about the roof? Yes, he could take a look.
The roof had a couple of minor leaks - we could see from the ceiling where it was stained. He looked at it, and said that he could do a bit of emergency work to make it weatherproof for the winter, but it needed reroofing. Did we want slates to match the front of the roof or tiles to match the back of the house? Slates are nice, but tiles are cheaper.
So we took his quote up to M le maire, who approved it. Slates or tiles? Well, they preferred slate, but would not object if we had tile.
Let the work commence.
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
LIKE MY BLOG?
Hop across to my Contact page and join my mailing list.