Life in France

A not every day story of normal people trying to live their dream in France starting at the beginning and ending?

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Death of a Friend

Just to change the normal routine, because on Saturday I received a telephone call to say that somebody that we knew had died in the early hours of the morning. Robert wasn't a really close friend but somebody that we knew through our nearest neighbour. He was to be frequently seen walking around the area often with a camera in his hand. Without fail on a Sunday morning he would walk the few kilometers to church for mass and then walk back via the village for a coffee with friends or maybe two glasses of wine in the bar. It was always two glasses, never one or three just one of those things that lodge in your mind. As we had known him we were invited to his funeral which was held yesterday. Of course I went, ( Lynda is away at the moment) it was an education in a nice way. I have never been inside the village church (built in the late 1500's), never been to a catholic mass or any other for that matter and I didn't have a suit to wear. As it happens it turned out that it doesn't matter what you wear as long as you are there! People were in working clothes, casual dress and a couple were in suits. They certainly don't seem to have the thing about dressing in black. Perhaps this is because we are in the country and not the city. The mass in French was interesting and I just followed everyone else when they stood up or sat down I was just a little bit after them of course! The choir sang the responses with the people and at the end of the mass it is local custom that everyone walks past the coffin to pay respect to it, the pallbearers then took him out to the cemetrie about 200metres away where he was buried. I hope that Robert would have enjoyed the service and seeing how many people came to see him off so to speak. (nearly 100 turned out). 58 is not very old but then cancer is no respecter of age and I hope now that he rests in peace.

Friday, November 26, 2004

A Septic What?

You may recall that earlier I mentioned that we are trying as much as we can to do things in an environmentally friendly way. To this end we have solar panels to heat the hot water and underfloor heating supplemented by a boiler for when the sun don't shine. We have a waste water recycling system which consists of three "ponds" full of different types of plants which filter and clean the water so it can be used to water plants/vegetables and if required top up the domestic water system. We also want to install an eco-toilet system. As we are not on mains drainage you would think that this would be an ideal system. But, this being France of course its not that simple.We are told by the local river authority who have responsibility to ensure water draining from land etc is clean (we nowhere near a river) that we have to install a septic tank! Hey! How the hell we supposed to do that? These things have to be dug into the ground almost 10ft down. Just over 5ft down is solid rock. The only way to install a septic tank would be to make the hole with dynamite! After numerous telephone calls the authority agree to a meeting at the house so we can show them the problem we have and the proposed solution.
They arrive on the due day and after much debate agree that a septic tank would be just about impossible to install. They are however not sure about our proposed toilet system as they have never come across the concept before. Trailblazers that's us! They agree in principle to us installing it as long as we provide them with detailed information on it from the manufacturer and get the mayor to agree that it ok for us to do it, in writing! Its called covering your arse!
fax to Canada to manufacturer produces manuals and brochures which we send off to the authority with the letter from the mayor. Two months later we get a letter back, in triplicate signed by everybody and the office mouse saying we can install the system but they reserve the right to visit at any time to inspect it to make sure it complies with spec. Issued by manufacturer. Hooray, at last I can start installing toilets in the house........

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Apple trees and Cows

We are trying to do things here as much as possible in an eco-friendly way. We also want to help with the re-introduction of ancient French varieties of fruit as the area used to be renowned for its fruit 50/60yrs ago. To this end we joined the local verger memoire and purchased 8 small apple trees to start and re-create our own orchard. We already have a number of very mature pear, cherry and apple trees but these are starting to die from old age so need replacing. The saplings arrived in early spring so we had to plant them. Now, my idea of planting is a light spade and fork with fine good earth to work. Rude awakening here! I needed to garden using a PICK AXE, the sort of thing your average navvy would be familiar with , not a normal gardening implement! It took me two days to dig 8 holes and put in all the leaf mulch and stuff needed to give the trees the best start possible. TWO days to plant 8 trees ridiculous. Finally they were planted and watered in and given a good talking to just to make sure they understood what they had to do. Summer and they are in full leaf. No blossom but they only 3 yrs old so not expecting any yet. We got up as usual one morning and on looking out of the window saw the cows wandering around outside, they had escaped from the field behind the house. We rounded them up and called the mayor (his cows) and he duly turned up with his sons and took them off to pastures new after having a long conversation with us to pass away the day. It was only after they had gone that we noticed cow tracks heading towards our fledgling orchard. Well you can guess can't you? The cows had broken small branches off two of the saplings but had EATEN one! arrgghhhh, we went round to see the boys and they said no problem they were insured for these type of eventualities and how much were the trees, had we receipts and they would sort it out. Turns out as it less than 50€ it not worth claiming on insurance so could they do anything else? As it happens the eaten tree has actually started shooting again so it not dead so after a bit of negotiating we agreed to settle for a payment of a Roquefort Cheese. This is an excellent creamy blue cheese and is very expensive, so we are very happy and the mayor is as well so all there is to do is shake on it and enjoy the cheese with some wine. Which I am doing now. mmmmmmmm

digging holes for the orchard!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Getting Plastered

So at last we are at a stage where the plasterer can put up the partition walls for the upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms etc. At the moment all we have is a vast open plan look ie; nothing! The idea is to create one bedroom and three bathrooms and toilets out of the space in the main house and two bedrooms on the newly built extensions. We will end up with three double bedrooms each with its own bathroom and toilet. At least that is the plan. In the UK normally they put up a wooden frame and then attach the plasterboard to it and then plaster over to form the wall but as this is France of course that is not the way to do it! Here they mark out the floor using a laser sight and then put down metal rails. These are screwed into the floor then the uprights are added then the plasterboard is screwed onto these. To do the whole of the upstairs took a week! Finally they don't plaster over here either, of course, they tape over the joins and plaster skim only over the tape. When its dry you just rub it down lightly with sandpaper then paint! Not quite that easy but in principle a neat idea. So now we have partitioning up and all we have to do is get the carpenter back to lay the new wooden flooring and relay some of the old oak stuff and its done. Aha, but we also have to clean the old wooden beams off and insulate the roof before he comes back. Just another job in a long list of stuff left to do. We are progressing though aren't we?

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Of Cats and Snakes

Now, I don't know about you but I'm not a great fan of those creatures that slither along the ground without legs, no not worms but snakes! I'm not keen but Lynda positively does not like them at all. Being English and moving from the suburbs where a snake was unheard of (or at least NEVER seen) to the middle of the country where they are common wasn't in the plan. Nobody told us about them until AFTER we had this little episode!

We have a French pussy (calm down she is a cat) called Willow and she is a little sweety. See earlier posts for picture. Now Willow is an excellent hunter often presenting us with dead mice or even live ones which she plays with then kills and eats, charming eh? Anyway, this one day I'm just sitting down with a cup of tea in the sun when I hear Lynda shout. Now when she shouts she SHOUTS, it means get here NOW NOW! So I put my tea down and wander up the side of the barn to the front where Lynda is pointing at the cat and saying "she's got a SNAKE, true she had or rather she was trying to get it, it was coiled up hissing at her and trying to strike at her. Neither of us knew what type of snake it was or even if it is poisonous, it was a pretty colour though! So what to do? I tried to get the cat away from it, no chance but then I didn't want to get too close to the snake either as it wasn't to happy with things. What to do, Lynda going frantic, cat jumping backwards and forwards and snake got cat fur in its mouth.

Into barn and got a shovel and a rake! Err why you ask. The plan is to get the snake onto the shovel, hold it down with the rake and move it somewhere else at arms length of course while Lynda gets cat into house. First problem is to get between cat and snake. Managed this eventually and Lynda grabbed cat leaving me to deal with our not so happy hissing friend.
As I got the shovel to touch it it sort of went dead!! No not DEAD but I thought it was. Got it on shovel, well most of it and holding it on with the rake walked 100yards to bottom of road and put it into the field. No sooner did it touch the ground when it became VERY much alive!!!! Boy is it fast or what? I don't know who is meant to be fastest it or me but it didn't pass me as I ran up the road away from it.

Cat seemed to be Ok but to be on safe side we rang our friend Gunter, described the snake to him and he said " oh nothing to worry about its a coulevre (type of grass snake) not dangerous as such, but to watch out for the vipers" eeeekkk VIPERS..... They err poisonous.... hmmm a little give you a nasty headache and make you feel sick a little. OK don't want to meet one of them then. Evidently for any English reading this its an Adder but here its a Viper! Not seen one yet and hoping not too. Keeping eyes well and truly open...Pass me a drink please tea gone cold need something stronger......... Head swiveling 360° watching!!!!

Monday, November 15, 2004

It's Official

There we are then, water back in the source but the question is, is it drinkable? We ring up our local laboratoire d'anaylsis and make an appointment for someone to come out and take samples to be tested. The day arrives and the man arrives at the due time and takes from his car his little black case. All very official, after confirming that we are who we say we are and that we do live here he asks to be shown the source. Off we trudge and take off the cover, he peers in and looks at us and says; "that looks clean, shall we go to the house?" that can't be it surely?
Once back at the house he takes a sample of water from the first tap in the house which is in the cellar. Good job he didn't want the second as that is the cows watering trough! He puts the sample into three little glass tubes, seals them and then puts a nice label on them. Then we repeat the process at the kitchen sink. He then places one tube from each tap into a little machine with coloured lights on it. After a couple of minutes the lights changed colour and flashed, evidently this means that we have passed the initial test and now have to wait for the results of the laboratory tests. Meanwhile he tells us its safe to have a shower and use the water for cooking and tea as long as we boil it first.

Two weeks later we get the official letter from the laboratory with a printout of the results; we now have eau potable and we have the piece of paper stamped with the official seal and signed in triplicate so it must be true. They recommend that once a week we put 1 tablet of chlorine in just to kill off any bacteria that may start to breed again. Nice eh! But it is officially drinkable. Off to celebrate with a glass of water. Cheers.....

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Noises From The Source

Today's the day we clean the source, clean the source, clean the source. The day dawns bright and we await the arrival of the ex-owner and his brothers, one of which just happens to be in the local fire brigade. They arrive in two cars and pull out a large pump they have "borrowed" from the fire station. Having already drained the source down its just a case of taking the concrete lid off and putting a ladder down into it. Now being a natural spring its not possible to just turn the water off and it just happens that the well into it is about 20' deep by about 4' across. Just enough room for the ladder and one person to go down! Oh no not me... Wouldn't get me down there never know what else might be lurking in the depths! The ex owner of the house volunteers ha ha older brothers volunteered him. He puts on a very fetching green all in one PVC suit and takes the suction end of the pump hose down. Soon back up and the other end connected to the pump and off we go. Water pumping out fine until... Water goes over the mains connector.... bzzzzzzz bang and it stopped. No surprise there then. Much shouting and shrugging later two of the brothers jump in one of the cars and drive off. One that is left gets shotgun out of car and decides he might as well see what he can shoot for dinner! Great eh?Made sure I was behind him at all times, they don't have the best safety record in the world and have been known to shoot each other by mistake; SOME mistake huh? Anyway I digress, other two return with a huge floating pump which is lowered down into source followed by ex owner on the ladder. He has to pull the starter cord to get it going. Lots of muttering and not much success! Suddenly a loud pharrrrp echoes up from the hole! Ooops pardon moi, phaaarrp oops pardon moi, must be the strain of trying to start the engine! engine starts, water floods out, closely followed by a red faced French man. The two brothers joking with us saying they expected to see him come out of the source like a rocket with all that gas!!!

Source all pumped out, all we have to do now is wait two/three days for it to fill back up then we can test it to see if we have to do it all again or if it has cleaned all the cowsh*t out. here's hoping.......

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

We got Water

Here we are then a tanker full of water and all we have to do is connect it to the supply pipe in the cellar. We being the mayor, still in sandals, and me. First hurdle I don't speak much French and he speaks no English at all. We have a hosepipe but it is not quite long enough to reach from the tanker to the cellar. Not to worry by sign language I get the message that we need to connect one end of the hosepipe to the point in the cellar. Easy peasy a couple of clamps and a sharp knife sorted! Now we only 20ft away from getting water back. Mayor gets across to me that he is going to get some pipe that he has that should do the job so I rest for an hour. Well what else is a bloke supposed to do? Mayor returns with pipe yeehaa its long enough, great.... Problem; its a different diameter to the one we already got so we need to cobble together a reducer of some kind. Hey, you couldn't write a comedy script as funny as this. Real life is far funnier sometimes. By soldering a couple of pieces of copper pipe together we finally join the pipes together only remains now to connect to the tanker. hosepipe to small now! Laugh I nearly cracked me ribs, mayor thinks I've gone bananas for sure. Not only is the pipe to small but we need a tap of some sort to screw into the tanker . Haven't got one sooo off to the hardware store armed with a piece of paper with the word tap written on it in French and the size! This time the mayor stays behind. You may laugh but the bit of paper did the trick. Fitted tap to tanker, fitted another reducer to tap, fitted hosepipe to tap and turned it on. Hallelujah we got water back!

now for the source, but that organised for another day. Break out the pastis for a celebration drink.... hic

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Water funny wet stuff

Water a thing you take for granted in a house. You just turn on a tap and you get water coming out. Well that's what used to happen before we moved to France. Before we started ripping the house to bits we would get water out of the tap if; only one tap was turned on (two on and the pressure was not enough so they would both stop), the cows weren't drinking from the trough outside as this was the first stop in the water route. All things considered quite not modern. Don't take a shower if the cows are walking down the field towards the drinking trough or you could end up soaking wet, soap everywhere and shampoo in your hair and no water to rinse it off with. Not a pretty picture. Get it right though and hey brilliant, that is, until one day Lynda noticed the water was a little brown in colour and had a distinct smell of cow s**t if you know what I mean?
Just incase you haven't read our story so far(if not why not?) we do not have mains water but have a natural source located about 100ft away from the house. I went up to the source and squished through a load of mud,water and cows mess to get to the lid that covers the source. On taking it off the cause of the problem was obvious. With all the rain that we'd had recently it had washed the cow mess straight into our water supply, lovely!!!
Telephone call to the mayor ( his cows ) he arrived in usual farming clothes including socks & sandals and squished his way to have a look, yep definitely got a problem. Will move cows and get us a water tanker of clean water bought up by tractor to keep us going. Old owner of house turns up ( cows on his land ) squishes his way to have a look. yep definitely got a problem. He went and got his tractor with a shovel on the front and dragged the mud and s**t away from the top of the source and dumped it further down the track where it wouldn't drain back into the source again. The mayors wife arrives next and sympathizes with our predicament, then goes to have a look as well! The old owner gives us a key to one of his other farms and says use the shower when ever we want until this sorted properly. Mayor returns with a tanker of 2000 litres of clean water. All we have to do now is connect it into house supply line and bobs your uncle water in the house again, but as this is France, you will know that its never as simple as you first thought!

we still have to drain the source and clean it out as well but that's another day......

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Windows and Doors

The house has had no windows or doors in for 3 months and for some of that time it didn't have a roof either. Its got cold, extremely wet inside and feels a little unloved. The first winter we at least lit a fire in the house which kept it quite warm as the walls are over 3ft thick and act as a sort of storage radiator. I read somewhere that if these walls are soaked through (like ours) they will dry out at the rate of 5 to 6 inches a year. That means in theory that our walls will take 6 YEARS to completely dry out! Wow! In reality it may be a little less because of the warm climate down here. Anyway, the carpenter turned up with the new doors and windows and they were fitted within a day. Good work, and he cleaned up after himself now that is MOST unusual here. Very impressed. All fitted just in time for the AGA to arrive. For those that don't know an AGA is a very large, very heavy (540kgs) cast iron range cooker that is permanently on. It looks really nice in the kitchen to be! Once lit it provides a background warmth which I am sure the house very much appreciates...... Another step completed on the long road to making it a proper house and a home once again.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

The Plumber

Choosing a plumber for the work to be done which was a complete new installation of domestic water (from a spring not mains), domestic heating including underfloor heating all powered by solar power & traditional boiler was not just a case of looking in the trade directory and ringing a few and getting quotes. That would be far to easy this is France after all. Because we have been approved for grants to help us rebuild the house we can only choose a plumber that is registered and approved by the government department for solar energy. That narrowed it down to 1!!! So that's who we had to use. He is also doing the electrics which again is a complete new installation as all the old stuff we ripped out as it was damned dangerous. Turns out when he starts work that he doesn't do electrics he has sub-contracted it to a friend who is a qualified electrician. This decision as it happens has come back to haunt us.
All the tradesman have to sign a document proving that they have all the relevant insurances and that they agree to the specifications drawn up by the architect and the time scales for the work to be completed within. This is important for reference later on. Initially work progresses at a good pace and the electrics are 90% finished within the time scale. Just leaving a couple of "small things" which the plumber said he could do. Oh if only!!! After 3 months and reaching the completion date all is not well. The plumber asks for an extra month to finish off as he claims he was held up by the builder! Ok we'll go with that as there were a couple of problems. So end of month........ Not so, another month....... Another month.........need more specialist parts....Another month....Another meeting to find out why he not finished, bearing in mind we have paid him a lot of money by now and NOTHING is 100% finished. Remember those "small things"? Turns out he hasn't got a clue!!! We refuse to pay him anymore money, he threatens legal action, the architect says ok lets go to court!!!! Plumber throws a tantrum and walks off site... That was three months ago he hasn't been back since and we haven't heard from him at all, not a squeak, bugger all, complete silence!

So I am finishing things off myself!!! Amazing what you can learn while actually doing the work. Hell of a way to learn though!!!!! Not sure how we are going to get the approval certificate but we'll have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

Ho Hum what a life eh... Are all tradesman this bad or are we just unlucky?

Monday, November 01, 2004

Roof coming off.

Getting it off

Sunshining again so today's the day we start taking the roof off. We have agreed a date with the builder for him to come back and start doing the building work so we have to be ready for then!
All hands on deck, well, on the roof. The roof is made up of concrete/asbestos sheeting about 30 years old we think and is held on with bolts into a wooden frame. So first job is to unscrew the bolts, you wouldn't believe how many there are on a 120sq metre roof. Believe me its a lot my arms were aching from undoing them or perhaps it was from hanging on so i didn't slide off the
roof? The sheets themselves are about 6' long 3' wide and quite heavy we had to be careful not to break them because of the dust. It may have asbestos grains in it! Finally all off and the old supports for them off as well. phew what a job that was. Just waiting for the builder to turn up now! Waiting, waiting,waiting, thunderstorms, waiting, downpours,waiting,raining, the house is by now completely soaking wet inside. Some of the plaster has come off the walls its a right mess. After numerous phone calls and messages the builder turns up FOUR weeks later as if nothing was the matter. My French not good enough to swear at him but I think he got he message we not happy bunnies. The external building work was soon done and the roof went on in double quick time but if he thinks he is being paid straight away he is wrong. He can wait just like we had to. Petty I know but feel better for it. Next the plumber......