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!

February 17, 2015

NEWS, SOME GOOD, SOME BAD

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The good news is that our new floor is fantastic.  It no longer slopes towards the door but is beautifully level and ready to have our furniture put back in the room – without the numerous bits of wood that we previously had to use to chock everything up so it didn’t fall over!

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The disappointing news is that even though the previous two weeks were fine and dry, the contractor didn’t come to do the drive as we had expected.

Now, after a weekend of rain, it is wet and muddy again and in a much poorer condition. If he was waiting for it to dry out in order to do it (the reason given for not starting the job), it looks like we will have to wait even longer before he can start.

Nick is now chez nous to begin the job of taking out the old kitchen.  I will be arriving soon, with the dog and the cat, which will make for a very interesting journey, I’m sure!

On the one hand I can’t wait to see the place again, after two months away.  It now seems unthinkable that for a number of years we didn’t see our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny for nearly six months over each winter.  I do remember feeling achingly desperate to get back each spring.

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On the other hand, I am really not looking forward to living with the mud.  With the cat, the dog and ourselves in and out of the house and the drive having hardly any dry areas left, it will be impossible to avoid trailing it into every room downstairs.  Maybe I should just give up and resign myself to letting the ground floor get filthy, as trying to keep it clean could be a waste of time and effort.

Upstairs is apparently also pretty bad.  According to Nick the cream carpets in the two bedrooms (a difficult colour to keep clean but not our choice as they were in when we bought the house) are rather grubby where the boiler man left his boot prints when he fiddled with the radiators.

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Still, we are lucky that the major job, the fosse, is now done.  There is however the unexpected effect on the ditch to resolve.  The waste water from the fosse is clean when it discharges into the ditch by the road, which with the recent heavy rain, is now quite full.  The entrance to the drive forms a dam that prevents the water running further down into the next part of the ditch, so maybe we need a pipe underneath it or something like that.

It feels a bit like “two steps forward, one step sideways” at the moment, but all in all it’s good progress. So long as you don’t mind the mud!

February 2, 2015

FOSSE, FLOOR AND BOILER UPDATE

The new fosse passed its inspection and the final certificate has arrived to say we can use it.  Hoorah !!!!

The remaining outside groundwork has been held up by the wet weather.  Fréderic the contractor has not yet been able to dig the trench we asked for to put in the electricity supply to serve electric gates and some lighting by the entrance.  (Both of which will make life much easier than fumbling in the dark with a torch to open the padlock that currently keeps the gate closed.)  Nor has he been able to scrape up what’s left of the scrappy gravel on the drive in order to renew it and make us a new drive.  All of this work requires a dry spell long enough to get it started and finished in one go.  The forecast looks promising for the next few days so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.

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The unfriendly weather that has worked against us for the outside work has done us a favour in terms of the inside work, meaning that Alex has has to abandon gardening and been able to get on with the job of levelling the ridiculously sloping floor in the “room that has no name”.

He measured the slope and noted a fall of 14.5cm across the room.  That’s nearly six inches!  No wonder we found it difficult to sit up straight on a chair!

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Basically he is putting a new floor on top of the old one, building slats for it to sit on.  The slats taper from the high end to the low end in order to produce the correct level.  This will produce a step out of the room onto the landing, but as there is already a matching step into the room at the other end of the landing this is hardly a problem. Not as much of a problem as not being able to put any furniture in the room without huge chocks under it anyway!

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Thanks to Nicole’s persuasive efforts the boiler man finally turned up and fitted the new boiler, which is up and running, keeping the temperature in the house above freezing while we’re still here in the UK.  He turned off the radiators that leak, which is probably about half of them, but there’s enough of them working for now and we’ll sort the rest when we get back chez nous.  We intend to replace all the older radiators but not until the weather is warm enough for us not to need them!

Other news is that the tree surgeon, having already removed the walnut tree, is coming back this week to reduce the massive lime tree and remove some other self-setting trees along the boundary.

Last but not least, Alex and Nicole have managed to persuade a reliable local builder to dig up and replace the kitchen floor as well as clean and redo the stonework in the kitchen walls and raise the lintel and height of the door into the utility room – the buanderie – the one that Nick bangs his head on every other time he goes through it!  The devis for the work arrived today, which is really good news, as the new kitchen can’t be installed until the floor is done (nor the new staircase).

It’s so frustrating that all this is happening while we sit here in Derbyshire waiting for news and photos of the work, but realistically it would have been no fun at all being in residence while it was all going on.  We are so lucky to have Alex and Nicole to take care of the project management for us, to chase up and meet with the contractors and tradesmen and make sure everything is going to plan.

So, it’s all coming together at last.  We won’t return to the house until the drive is finished as it’s all just too muddy and unmanageable at the moment.  We will therefore be two or three weeks later than we hoped/expected, but it will be worth the wait.  And by then, spring will surely be just around the corner.  Hoorah for that too !!!

January 24, 2015

KITCHEN, FOSSE AND KITTEN UPDATE – AND A PUZZLE

First, the fosse.  Despite unfriendly weather and plenty of delays, Fred the contractor managed to get the fosse ready for inspection by Satese on the 20th and it passed.  Tant mieux !!

The holes in the ground can now be filled in and then the new drive installed.  By all accounts the courtyard and garden are one huge mess and advice is that we should stay away for a while longer.

There is still no sign of the new boiler.

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Second, back in the UK we have found out the hard way how important it is to have the kitchen fitted properly – and potentially how much better the job might be by doing it ourselves, or at least with the help of people we know and trust to do a good job.

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Not long ago I noticed that one of the wall units seemed to be leaning at a slightly jaunty angle.  We came to the conclusion that this was a recent occurrence and decided to investigate.

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Once the contents of the cupboard were removed, Nick took it apart and discovered the reason.  The bracket that should have three screws holding it up had only got one screwed to the wall!

No wonder the cupboard had slid forwards, full of our crockery and other stuff.

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Further investigation revealed that the next cabinet along was just the same. 

When we bought the house one of the things that made us decide on this one was that the kitchen, along with the rest of the interior, was brand new.  The house had been recently renovated and had a completely new interior, including the kitchen, bathroom, electrics – everything.  It was like buying a brand new house in an old shell – all the character of a 1930’s house but with modern fittings.

Little did we know that there were numerous nasty surprises lurking behind the brand new interior.

So far we have fixed the leak under the kitchen sink, the leak under the cloakroom sink, the alignment of the downpipe from the bath – discovered when we noticed the bath water running down the drive onto the road! Also we have had to refit the built-in dishwasher so that the door opens properly – it was mounted too high in the unit and the door would not open completely.  Last but not least we have replaced electric sockets that didn’t work.

Hanging anything on the walls is near impossible.  The bricks are hard as iron and the plasterboard cladding over them is very soft.  We have tried every fixing screw known to man and in some places none of them work.  Hence presumably the reason the cupboards were hung so badly – whoever fitted the wall cabinets probably gave up, left them hanging on one just one screw and hoped nobody would find out.

We can grumble all we like about the standard of workmanship and how nobody takes any pride in doing a job properly any more, but this experience serves to convince us that we are doing the right thing in fitting our French kitchen ourselves. Or rather helping people we know and trust to fit it for us.  It might take a bit longer to get it finished but at least we’ll know it will be done right.

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Latest design images from the kitchen company have arrived and we’re very excited!  There’s still some tweaking to be done before the final order but so far it’s looking good.

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Thirdly, little Daisy had her operation this week.  No more risk of kittens for her (or us).

On collecting her from the vet we were told she had had to be fitted with one of those lampshade collars to deter her from licking her stitches – and that we should keep her quiet for the evening.

There was no chance of that!  As soon as we let her out of the cage she hurtled everywhere, crashing into everything because of the collar and that didn’t last long either!   It took her all of five minutes to wriggle out of it.  We refitted it and five minutes late she had extricated herself again.

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She was ravenously hungry and having given her the vet’s recommended light diet of scramble egg she continued to beg for food and tucked in to a hearty dinner.  This cat is fearless, clever and utterly adorable !!

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Finally, after a moderate snow fall on Wednesday we looked out of the bedroom window to see a strange pattern of tracks and footprints centred around the bird table.  There were plenty of bird prints and a noticeable pathway of something else – leading from under the decking.

What do you reckon?  We fear the worst.

Bon Dimanche !!

January 13, 2015

FOSSE AND KITCHEN NEWS

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Work continues on the new fosse in our absence.  Progress has been slower than hoped because the weather has not been too friendly but a date has been set for the inspection by Satese of the finished job for 20th January, so the work has to be completed by then.

Once the fosse is installed, work can begin on the new drive, so we’re still on course for the outside work to be complete by the end of the month.

There is some progress in our search for a new kitchen.  Back in December we had a visit from a salesman from a kitchen company in Tours.  We liked one of their ranges of kitchen units in the showroom but after he had been we felt a bit let down.  We were already losing confidence in him because he had failed to turn up for his first appointment chez nous, even though we had made an extra trip to Tours to decide on cabinet doors, worktops and handles, which must have shown how keen we were.  He looked at our existing kitchen and came up with a pencil design on a piece of paper that looked remarkably like what we already had, except for the addition of things that we didn’t really want but that he insisted were the right things to have.   Then he went away promising to email us alternative designs but so far we have heard nothing from him.

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So we decided to have a look at displays of kitchens over here to get some ideas for ourselves and try to decide what we really wanted.  We liked this range in Ikea with its glass fronted cabinets and the island unit.  It had a nice traditional feel to it but with modern features.

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Then we called at Magnet and really liked this range of units.  The store manager and his staff kept a discreet distance and didn’t pounce on us but when we asked questions they were extremely helpful.  This range has the largest variety of shapes and sizes of doors, drawers and cupboards which we thought could be very handy when working round our uneven walls and beams.  He also said that they regularly supply kitchens that are shipped abroad. 

We were beginning to like the sound of this.  Our visit from the kitchen designer from Tours left us feeling nervous and uncomfortable, not at all sure that we would end up with the kitchen we wanted without a struggle.  I hate to give in to the lure of dealing in our native language and chicken out of grappling with a French company, but we felt that with something as personal and important as a kitchen we needed to get it right.  Principles might have to be sacrificed if necessary.

We made an appointment to return a few days later to talk about it in more detail and explore a possible design.  That gave us time to talk to Alex and Nicole about the possibility of fitting the kitchen ourselves, as a joint effort between us and them.  They were happy to help and we felt relieved, thinking it would be great to be involved rather than hand the whole project over to strangers, letting it out of our control.

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As the planning of our new kitchen evolved we looked around the showroom for ideas and for features that we liked.  This island unit caught our eye.

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So did this one, although I’m not too sure about the twinkly lights around the bottom!

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We were in the showroom for 3½ hours in all and eventually a plan emerged.  It is more than thirty years since I had a new kitchen (except that our UK house already had a brand new kitchen, not of our choosing, when we moved in) and things have moved on a bit!  The design was done on a computer and everything was displayed on a large screen in front of us so that we could see at every stage how it was working out.  Marvellous!

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And here it is!  This is actually my photo of an A3 print out of an “artist’s impression” of the finished design.  The view is from the front door so that on entering the kitchen you will see a nice space and a swish island unit instead of a grotty wall and the back of the sink! (Or a breakfast bar and set of fancy bar stools if the Tours man had his way.)

There’s a bit of fine tuning to be done before the kitchen is manufactured but we’re hoping for delivery in April.  With any luck we will have a new floor, staircase and kitchen by the summer.  Fingers crossed!

December 30, 2014

AN AMAZING YEAR, MONTH BY MONTH

JANUARY

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A visit to the France Show in London, then we call in local estate agents to value our UK house and we make a start in getting it ready for sale.

FEBRUARY

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After weeks of cleaning, sorting out, chucking out, tidying and some decorating, twenty nine years of accumulated possessions are thinned out, the photos are taken and the house is ready.

MARCH

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The house goes on sale on 1st March.  Three days later it is sold.  We feel a mixture of surprise, joy and sheer panic.

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Nick’s mum celebrates her 90th birthday.

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After some rapid house hunting, we find one we like in the UK, only a few miles from the old house and close to my dad.  And very small.

APRIL

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I form the Loire Valley branch of the Clandestine Cake Club and the first meeting is held at our little house in Le Grand-Pressigny.

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  We have a table with friends at the village vide-grenier.  It chucks it down all day and we give up at lunch time, having made 90€.

With the sale and purchase going through slowly but surely in the UK, we begin house hunting in France and spot this one.  After numerous unsuccessful attempts to get to see it, I put a note in the letter box asking if it is still for sale.  By the time we get back to the UK the next day, there is a message on the answerphone – to say yes.

MAY

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Most of our furniture and belongings are removed to storage, ready to be delivered to France.  We have no idea where or when we will see all our stuff again.

JUNE

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We move into the new house in the UK and the rest of our belongings are delivered.  That’s when we find out exactly how small it really is.

JULY

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House hunting continues in France and we finally get to see the longère that we’re interested in.

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We enjoy moules et frites in the village square on Bastille Day.

AUGUST

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It’s the Comice Agricole in the village.

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Our friends Colin and Elizabeth are presented with a wedding gift from the cake club.

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We accept a surprise offer on our little house in the village and decide to buy the longère.

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Knowing that this will be the last summer in our little village house, we make the most of our last few weeks there.

SEPTEMBER

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On 1st September we sign the compromis de vente for our new house and our friend Ken helps out by acting as translator for us and the vendors.  We all celebrate together over lunch.

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The sale is completed in record time and, with a huge amount of help from our friends, we move out of our little village house, only two weeks after signing the compromis.  We say a fond farewell to the place we have loved and enjoyed so much for seven years.

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For the second time in three months we find ourselves surrounded by boxes of our stuff in a new house.

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Four days after moving into our new French house, we get a small, eleven week old kitten and we call her Daisy.

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Two weeks later, little Daisy disappears.

OCTOBER

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The kitten is still missing when our furniture from the UK house arrives in France.

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We now have two of everything – two dining suites, four sofas, way too many chairs and a spiral staircase to get the stuff upstairs.

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Two weeks after she disappeared, Daisy is returned to us.  She becomes and indoor cat for her own safety and my peace of mind.

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My dad comes to stay for two weeks.  The weather is unusually good.

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Another cake club meeting is a big success.  The cakes are fabulous.

NOVEMBER

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November is glorious.  Warm sunshine and beautiful autumn colours.  Plenty of leaves to sweep up and walnuts to collect.

Nick turns 60 and retires.  My dad turns 86.

DECEMBER

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On December 1st somebody flicks a switch and winter arrives.  The boiler stops working.  We battle with the cold and the mud.

I turn 63.  We dash back to the UK just as work starts outside for the new fosse.  With only one week to go Christmas becomes a blur of frantic preparations.

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On Boxing Day it snows, grounding us for several days.  I finally get round to icing the Christmas cake.

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We celebrate our wedding anniversary – 20 years.

It’s the china anniversary.  The trouble is, we have no room in either house for any more china!

So that was our year.  Chaotic, crazy and exhausting.  There were ups and downs.  Moments when we wondered if we were completely mad and moments of great joy when we felt like the luckiest people in the whole world.

WE WISH YOU ALL THE VERY BEST FOR YOUR HEALTH AND HAPPINESS IN 2015.

HAPPY NEW YEAR !!!!