March 24, 2015

PROGRESS IS IN THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

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The last two weeks have gone by in a blur of hectic activity.  I’ll try to get things in the right order and do an update.  This is a long post so please bear with me!

I was looking at the sunset in the picture above when news arrived of Barrie’s death.  It had been a warm and glorious day and we were in the process of moving out of the house ready for the builders to move in.  The weekend continued to be sunny and warm as we moved to take up temporary residence in our friends Tim and Gaynor’s house in the next village, something for which we will be forever grateful.

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In fact it was so warm that a lizard appeared out of a crack in the front wall of our house.  Unfortunately it was not fast enough to escape the attention of our little Daisy.  You can see her here playing with its tail – isn’t it grotesque that the tail carries on wriggling when the rest of the lizard has run off elsewhere, presumably to start growing a new one.

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The builders arrived early the next Monday morning and we stopped by in the evening to see how they had got on.  They had made a good start.  The staircase had been removed and a lot of the floor was already dug up. We could see why the existing tiles were breaking up so easily.  They had been laid on a thin layer of concrete on top of a thin layer of sand on top of the earth, which is pretty much what we expected.

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The builders had also made a start on raising the lintel on the doorway to the buanderie – the very low one that so many people bang their heads on!  With the staircase gone we had no access to upstairs and with the door to the downstairs loo now blocked by rubble you can see why we had to move out!

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By the end of the first week the whole floor had been dug out to a depth of about 20cm, a thick layer of insulation laid down, a waterproof membrane on top of that then steel reinforcing wire ready for the concrete.  The red thing sticking up in the middle is the electricity supply for the island unit.

We spent the early part of the week driving back and forth to Tours looking for a gas hob and electrical items, namely an oven and lights for the new kitchen.  We managed to buy some ceiling lights.  The Thursday was the day of Barrie’s funeral.  It was a glorious day, a solemn but joyful occasion – it was sad to say goodbye to a friend who will be well missed but the celebration of his life left a bitter sweet feeling of joy for having known him.

We checked the house on our way home and they had laid the concrete.  The house was then left for it to dry and the builders had their Friday off.  We also had a day off, went out for lunch and bought some wine.  On the Saturday we went back to England for a week in order to buy a cooker and do a few other errands.

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We had intended to buy a hob and oven in France, thinking that ones with French fittings would be best.  We really liked the double oven we had in our old house in England, a large fan oven below and a small oven with the grill above.  Then we discovered that it is IMPOSSIBLE to buy such a thing in France!  Having ordered the hob housing unit to fit this style of double oven we had no choice but to order one from the UK.  Delivery charges were extortionate so we thought we might as well go and fetch one ourselves. 

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Then we also discovered that the hob we like costs more than double from any French supplier than it does from John Lewis.  Having first checked that it could be adapted for use with propane gas we decided to fetch that at the same time as the oven.

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Our week in England flew by. By the middle of the week we had our oven, hob, worktop lighting and a pile of plumbing bits and pieces safely bought and stowed in the car ready to be brought to France.  On the Thursday I had an unexpected treat.  My sister in law Kathy was going with some friends to the NEC to a sewing and craft exhibition and there was a spare place in the car.  I had a zillion and one things to do but the idea of a girls’ day out was too good to miss and I have to say I had a fantastic time.  For his day off Nick went fishing.

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On the Friday there was much excitement due to the solar eclipse.  I had completely forgotten about it myself until it started to get dark about 9.30am!  Then I remembered and dashed out with my camera.

On Sunday we came back to France to take up residence again in Tim and Gaynor’s house and to see how the work had progressed in our absence.

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Monday was a lovely day and we took some time off to recover from the previous day’s twelve hour drive.  We enjoyed some spring sunshine on our host’s sunny terrace and after two weeks of frantic activity we were able to chill out for a whole day.

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At teatime we took our little roadster for a spin in the sunshine and visited the house.  To our absolute delight we discovered that in our week of absence, the drive had, at last, been done!

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Hooray, no more mud to do battle with when it rains!

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By Monday evening the lintel was finished and the walls half finished.

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There is beautiful new stonework around the door way and a new bit of oak lintel which blends in perfectly with the old.

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The stone walls around the old stone sink were ready for the final finish.  We have anguished over what to do with the old stone sink.  Ideally we would have made a feature of it, revealing it in all its ancient glory and possibly making a display area above it.  We have seen this kind of thing in other old houses and they look really effective.  The stumbling block with ours is that the water supply has been brought into the house through the stone above the sink and the water meter is underneath it.  Making it into an attractive feature would involve moving the pipework and the water meter, which is entirely possible but a big and expensive job.  In the end we decided that the space was best used to house our (yet to be purchased) water softener. 

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The hole for the extractor fan above the new hob has been made in the thick back wall.

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This evening, all the stonework is cleaned and finished beautifully. 

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The first few floor tiles have been laid.  Progress is good.

We’re crossing our fingers that the builders will be finished by the weekend and we can get our house back.  There will be a lot of cleaning up to do before we can move back in as this kind of work creates a lot of very gritty dust.  The builders have been very good at sweeping up as they go along, being respectful of our property and sheeting down as much as possible to minimise the travel of dust, so it’s not anywhere near as bad as we had expected.

In the meantime we have more fetching to do – plasterboard and electrical fittings for the other two walls.  There is also plenty of gardening to do – if you can call trying to transform something that looks like a battlefield into something that looks like lawn - gardening!

March 8, 2015

FAREWELL TO AN OLD FRIEND

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Barrie Fairhead passed away yesterday, 7th March.

It was a chance meeting in the village square with Barrie in August 2007 that spurred us on to buying the little house in Le Grand-Pressigny.  We were dithering and he encouraged and supported us through the buying process and the early years.  If we hadn’t met, the moment would have passed and we might not be living in this lovely part of France now.

Barrie was a great character and a good friend, a warm hearted Yorkshireman and he loved his life in France.  Our lives were enriched by knowing him and we will miss him.

March 4, 2015

GOING, GOING, GONE

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Getting the old kitchen out was a big job.  Having emptied all the cupboards and set up a temporary kitchen elsewhere in the house it needed a lot of effort and a good thump with a big hammer to remove the rest of the units.

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The previous owners of the house had told us that it took five big blokes to carry in the large expanse of granite worktop on one side of the kitchen.  Common sense told us that it would probably also take five big blokes to get it out again – if it was to come out in one piece at any rate.

Having carefully prised it away from the plasterboard covering the walls, the time came to heave and grunt and get it out of the front door and into the back of a large van.

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The worktop survived and everyone looked very pleased with themselves.  A very tricky job done successfully.

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After that the rest came out much more easily and we were left with pretty much an empty space.

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I’m pleased to say that nothing is going to be wasted.  The granite worktops, sink and the old cooker have gone to one new home and some of the units are in the barn waiting to be collected by their new owner.  We are keeping a few of the wall cupboards to re-use ourselves when we remodel the utility room later in the year.

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We have set up a temporary kitchen in the dining room.  Our old spare cooker stands in the doorway that we never use and is working fine.  We have put a skeleton selection of pots, pans, cutlery and crockery on the top of the sideboard and any other available surface so we can prepare proper meals.  The appeal of eating out for several weeks is great, but from past experience we would probably get thoroughly fed up with it after a few days.

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The only awkward part is that our water supply is in the utility room at the other end of the house.  When I have to walk the length of three rooms and back again to fill then boil a kettle I try to remind myself that the other option was using a series of bowls and buckets, so this is much better.  Almost luxury in fact!

Of course the other awkward part is that the sink in the utility room is directly under Daisy’s (temporary) cat flap.  So far we have managed to avoid a clash of activities but I dare say it can only be a matter of time!

March 1, 2015

WHEN LULU MET DAISY

Lulu meets Daisy

It was a big year for all of us last year.  We moved house in England and in France and Lulu coped with it all really well.  She had hardly settled in at our new French house when a small interloper arrived.  Daisy the kitten.

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I have had a cat and a dog in the same household before (many decades ago) but the cat was there first and they got on well together.  Friends who have introduced a cat to a house where the dog lived there first have not fared so well and they don’t get on at all.

Consequently I was nervous about bringing a kitten into Lulu’s new home, but wondered if the fact that she had not yet firmly established her territory might make things easier.  In any case, the cat was needed to deal with the huge population of mice so we had no choice.

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It turned out to be a fairly painless process in the end.  We had to put a bit of time and effort into it but it worked out fine. 

You can read all about it in Lulu’s blog here.

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February 25, 2015

MUD, A NICE LUNCH, MOUSE NESTS, MORE MUD AND GOODBYE ROUNDABOUT

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I arrived chez nous last weekend, very tired after a truly horrible journey which involved rain, hail, sleet, snow and a fifty minute hold-up due to a crash on the M1 which caused me to miss my train.

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Just as I thought, there was plenty of mud chez nous.

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The contractor turned up on Monday once the rain had stopped to begin digging the trench to take the electric cable to the gate.  While he was hard at work we went to Tours to choose some tiles for the new kitchen floor.  We dropped a note in the letter box of the mason giving all the details of our choice at teatime and headed home to cook a nice meal in our old kitchen for the last time.  And to use the dishwasher for the last time, too, as it was destined to be parked out of the way for a few weeks until the new kitchen is installed.

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On Tuesday we began moving our things out of the kitchen cupboards and with our temporary kitchen not yet up and running we went to Descartes in search of a spot of lunch.  We chose to eat in a restaurant we have passed by many times before, called, I think, “Le Cherizy” and were in for a real treat.

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It was very pleasant inside and for 13.50€ we had three very nicely presented courses.  Smoked salmon and avocado salad, steak and chips, and orange confit. 

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Excellent value and a most enjoyable experience so we will certainly be going there again.

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Today we started the job of removing the old kitchen. I always had my suspicions that we might find unwanted visitors lurking behind the units once we started taking them out.  When we moved in there were mouse traps and mouse droppings on top of the wall cabinets. 

Sure enough, a huge mouse nest was built in a hole in the wall just behind the cupboards.

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With the wall cupboards out of the way, the worktops can be removed, hopefully in one piece and, along with the old cooker and hood, will be on their way to a new home tomorrow.  We don’t like them but always felt that somebody else would be able to make good use of them – a much better option than simply taking them to the tip.

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Unfortunately the wet weather means that we can’t have our new drive for a while.  Our window of opportunity of fine weather has been and gone.  The contractor has filled in the trench and removed the roundabout that was in the middle of the drive then he’s off on holiday for a week so we are left to live with the mud and have no real idea when he’ll be back to finish the job.  It all depends on the weather.

The good news is that the mason has already ordered our tiles and, because of the wet weather, might be able to start the kitchen floor at the end of next week.  So the rain that has put the kibosh on our drive might have worked in our favour in another respect – the mason can’t get on with his huge list of outdoor jobs so can fill in with our indoor one.  Fingers crossed!