May 21, 2009

INTERMISSION


This is a picture of my mother. She was seventeen when it was taken, six years before I was born.
She was a shy village girl with a mischievous sense of humour, the youngest of eight children. She would have loved Le Grand Pressigny as there are similarities to the Derbyshire village where she lived for most of her life. She really loved her home and was content with her country life. She died in 2002 and I miss her a lot.
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There will be a short break. Normal service will be resumed when we return from our holidays - with lots of news and photos. And of course the continuation of the story.

May 20, 2009

IN LIMBO

The chateau at Le Grand Pressigny

Reflecting on the events of the previous day, not only had we found the house for us but also just at the point where things could have gone really pear shaped, our second guardian angel had turned up.
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Nick had definitely been in cold feet mode. We were never going to find a house that didn't need something doing to it. All the ones we had seen so far needed major "doing up" that we couldn't do ourselves. The little cottage in Le Grand Pressigny was different. Most of the stuff that needed doing was DIY and a few holidays should sort that out. It would be fun. However, the roof was a different matter - and so were the windows.


All of Nick's concerns and worries were perfectly valid. I could not disagree with him on a single point. Getting work done could be a whole load of trouble that we didn't need as all we wanted was a place to relax, not to cause us aggravation.


The boucherie in the village

Then along came M. Fairhead. There are quite a few English in and around the village, some with holiday homes and some are permanent residents. The chances are that we would meet them all eventually. I can still hardly believe our luck that we happened to meet the one person who could make all the difference to our plans on that day, right at the moment where I was beginning to see all our dreams disintegrate into mush.


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On Sunday morning we drove into the village and bought a "tarte au mirabelle" from the boulangerie to serve to our guests with coffee. We walked round to the little cottage to take another look from the outside. It looked unloved and insignificant and I tried to imagine what it would look like if we tidied up the front a bit. The neighbour was pottering about and we smiled and said "bonjour". I had to bite my tongue not to say we were going to buy the house next door - there were a lot of hoops to jump through yet. Not to mention the other 4 houses that Antony had arranged for us to see.


The church in Place Savoie-Villars

Barrie and Lucie were impressed with the gite. It had been very useful for us to be staying there as we had a constant reminder of what a nicely "done up" house could be like.


Just an ordinary pump in the village

Barrie was familiar with the cottage as he had shown a client round it only a few days earlier, with the idea of it being turned into a gite. This client had put in an offer which had been declined by the vendor. The cottage was also for sale through the agent in the village (where we made ourselves known but from whom we never heard a word). This agent told Barrie that he thought another thousand euros on the offer would secure the house. This put it at twenty thousand below the advertised price. Barrie was also able to give us an idea how much the repairs and alterations might cost, plus the reassurance that he could obtain the necessary planning permission and oversee the work. To quote Barrie's wife Lucie "it just gets better and better".



The old railway bridge

We did our sums and the whole thing would come in well within our budget if we could buy it for the lower price. Unfortunately we had to wait until Tuesday to get any further as today was Sunday and on Monday the immobilier was closed.

I had no idea how I could stand the suspense or sleep a wink until then.

May 17, 2009

TWO ANGELS IN ONE DAY- PART TWO

The chateau

Sitting outside the PreHisto bar in the sunshine, watching the Saturday evening "traffic" - of people, not cars, we had a long talk about the events of the day.

ANGEL NUMBER TWO - BARRIE

We quickly talked ourselves out of the renovated bungalow at Cussay. Beautiful as it was - and Nick REALLY liked the garage - it was too expensive. It would gobble up all of our budget and there would be no cash left over even for furniture, unless we were prepared to start borrowing extra money. We did not want to fall into that trap. There was no way we wanted our holiday home to feel like a millstone round our necks financially. Besides, having thought about it, the house was almost too well renovated. A lot of its character had gone and it looked like a new house. We actually quite liked the idea of doing a bit of DIY - some way of putting our own stamp on our little French house, wherever it may be.


A rooftop view in Le Grand Pressigny

The pizza van was in the village square and whilst we were enjoying our second apero we were vaguely aware of a couple of about our age who visited the van then sat at the next table to us presumably to wait for their pizza to be cooked. They seemed like locals, exchanging handshakes and "bisous" with other passers-by. I thought I caught a snippet of English in a Yorkshire accent (him) and a Birmingham accent (her). They said "bonjour" to us and ordered their drinks.


The bridge over the river in full bloom

As our discussion continued, I began to panic. Nick was back-pedalling so fast I could not keep up with him. We both liked the little cottage in the village but when we got talking about how we could go about having any building work done, such as the half of a roof it needed and the windows we would like to put in, things got complicated and began to sound expensive. He was worried that we might fall foul of "French builder syndrome" - problems with the language and not getting the job done properly.This is what happened to Pete & Cyn with their balcony and to other students in our French language class. All these people resolved their problems in the end but Nick was at that point thinking worst possible scenario. How could we possibly control what happened over here when we were back home. Coming back in a hurry to sort problems out was not an option - far too expensive and we just didn't get enough spare holidays. Etc., etc., etc.
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Down by the railway station

As fast as he was sinking in the quagmire of imagined building disasters, I was trying to keep him afloat by pointing out the good points. Nothing needed doing urgently - the house was quite habitable as it was and just needed tidying up. Going on our experience so far, this little cottage was just perfect for us and I could not see how we could possibly find anything better. We were unlikely to find a house that didn't need any work doing in our price range.


La Poste vans resting

As we talked, I thought that the other couple might be listening to us - the way occasional looks were exchanged and the odd glance across to our table. I don't know how we actually got talking - something to do with asking the time and Nick's watch behaving strangely. After a few minutes' chatting, the man leaned over and said, "I don't normally do this but I heard a bit of what you said and I think you need my card". It said:


FAIRHEAD Barrie
Maitre d' Oeuvre


It took a only few seconds for the meaning of this to sink in. M. Fairhead was an architect and structural engineer from Sheffield who had retired to the village but since started working as an architect and project manager - for people exactly like us.


The war memorial in Place 11 Novembre

Now call it a luck, call it fate or anything else you like. I just think it's an incredible coincidence that Barrie and his wife Lucie turned up just at the moment we needed them. It is something for which I will be forever grateful, if somewhat mystified. Thank heavens for that pizza van.

Chez Grand Ma, the restaurant on Grande Rue

Our worries about organising any work suddenly melted away. Barrie and Lucie went off to their home in the village with their pizza and we went to the local restaurant to celebrate. We had invited them round to our gite for coffee in the morning and we were really looking forward to talking some more.

May 16, 2009

TWO ANGELS IN ONE DAY - PART ONE


A view of Le Grand Pressigny

Some people believe in guardian angels. Some believe in fate. I'm not sure what I believe in but things started to go right and an amazing coincidence happened on Saturday 18th August 2007.

ANGEL NUMBER ONE - ANTONY

After breakfast we went to Descartes to see what Lochois Immobiliers had to offer. There we were greeted by Antony the Agent - our first angel. Bless him, he was such a sweetiepie and he had a sense of humour and he spoke a little English. I almost feel ashamed to admit we heaved a sigh of relief. Not only were we able to communicate with him, he also understood what we were looking for and was keen to help. Not just keen to flog us a huge dilapidated renovation project just because that's what the English usually buy.


We sat in his office and looked through his folder of properties for sale and he would comment on each one along the lines of "this one is too big for you" or "this one needs too much work" or "that one is overpriced" or "that one floods". After an hour we had picked out 8 possible houses. He told us to go for lunch and come back at 2.00 pm by which time he would have 4 houses for us to look at in the afternoon.


We wandered down the street to the Saladerie with two hours to kill and had a lazy lunch, wondering what the afternoon had in store for us. When we got back to Antony's office he was all ready to go with information sheets printed out for 4 properties that afternoon and 4 more on the following Tuesday (they were closed on Mondays). What an incredible difference from the service we had previously received from other agents.

The first house was in a small village not far from Descartes. It was a tastefully restored old house but more of a family home than a holiday home. Not for us that one.


The elusive cottage "au pied du chateau"

Next we went to Le Grand Pressigny. We parked up and walked into the small courtyard. As he approached the house I thought "Oh, I never even noticed this one". It was a small cottage tucked away at the end a row of houses. We stepped inside and it was dark and stuffed full of huge French furniture and "brocante". But it had a lovely feel to it; no odour, the rooms were the right size, there were lovely oak beams and a gorgeous fireplace. Once we had opened up the other doors and the shutters, the sunshine flooded in and we could get a true impression of the place.

Lots of brocante but a lovely tuffeau fireplace

We explored the house inside and out. Pretty soon I had the "this is the one" feeling.

It met all our requirements:
  • a small house
  • two bedrooms
  • a proper kitchen
  • a functioning bathroom
  • a small private garden (with a view - of sorts)
  • off-road parking for the motorcycles
  • in the middle of the village
  • dog-walking terrain nearby

As we were walking round the house, we already found ourself making plans for what needed to be done to it. Nick fancied putting "lucarnes" in the bedrooms - dormer windows which would open up the rooms to give more light and a lovely view over the village rooftops. The gite we were staying in had these. Also, in the one room downstairs, there was a window on the outside of the house, complete with lintels and hangers for the shutters, that had been blocked up. We thought how much lighter it would make the inside of the house if we could reinstate it.

We could see that the roof on one side of the house was in good condition but the other side would need replacing at some point. Also the electrics and plumbing would need sorting out a bit and there was obviously some damp in the walls. In spite of all this, it fulfilled one of our major requirements:

  • somewhere we could use comfortably as a holiday home whilst work was in progress - not a major renovation project

The restored house at Cussay

Antony was keen that we should also see the other two houses he had organised for us so off we went. The next one was at Cussay and, just as he said, it was beautiful. It was right at the top of even our first budget but we could have moved in straight away and it was spotlessly clean. It was an old bungalow, although not as "ancienne" as the cottage we had just seen. It had been tastefully restored with three bedrooms, a modern fitted kitchen and a large garage that had a second kitchen in it for all the outdoor entertaining ! The garden was large with a lovely little vegetable patch but mostly just lawn so half an hour on a ride-on mower should sort that out - Nick had always fancied one of those.

....with the lovely garden icluding "potager"

Hmmmm.........now we were spoilt. Not one but two possible houses, at opposite ends of the scale in terms of budget and amount of work required.

This house had a lovely view of the watertower, just off the picture to the left

The last house was more like what we had been looking at all week. The house itself was probably early 1900's and was in poor condition inside. Lots of work would have to be done before we could even consider spending our first night there. The outside was phenomenal. Attached to the house was a very pretty little old cottage "to do up", there was also a substantial courtyard and garden, a row of "dependances" (outbuildings) that had been a stable block and through an archway a huge orchard / field. The house itself was uninspiring but we could see that someone could do wonders with the rest. (There was however, the unfortunate matter of the water tower that someone had built rather inconsiderately right outside the salon window of the main house!)
It came with a nice little cottage "to do up"

Not for us, that one.

The view of Le Grand Pressigny from the PreHisto bar

We parted company with Antony and arranged to meet him at his office on Tuesday morning to view the next four houses. We then returned to Le G P and retired to our customary spot outside the PreHisto bar for an apero and a serious debriefing. Having spent the first part of the week feeling quite depressed at the end of each day, this time we had the luxury of two possible properties to choose from. Both completey different but equally suitable.



We had a lot of thinking to do.

May 15, 2009

BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD

The lovely fireplace in our gite just outside Le Grand Pressigny


So far we had spent 3 days looking at houses and had viewed 10, none of which came even vaguely close to our specification. The house at Rilly was pretty but would be way above our budget by the time it had been altered to provide a proper kitchen and 2 bedrooms. And, although it was in a lovely spot, it was still a car-ride from any shops or other facilities, which was not what we wanted.


A fireplace in one of the houses we had seen


In the comfort of the beautiful gite we had hired, we talked about it for a long time and came to the conclusion that we were not prepared to compromise on our specification. If we deviated too much we would not be happy and therefore there was no point. So how could we try to get the estate agents to show us properties that we might actually be interested in buying, rather than ones they thought we might fall in love with once we saw them, even though they were nothing like our original spec.


The bright and cheerful bathroom in our gite


We came up with the idea of dropping our budget by 50K euros. If we told the agents we could afford a lot less than before, they would be obliged to show us smaller and cheaper properties. Consequently, if a house needed a lot of "doing up", we were still in with a chance.




On the other hand, would you fancy taking a bath in this? We didn't


On Friday morning after breakfast we drove into Le Grand Pressigny and went to the butcher, the baker and the Spa shop to buy stuff for our dinner that evening.

Hmmm......what we really wanted was a little house somewhere like this.


Our gite was full of lovely features, like this old fashioned light fitting


We called in at the estate agent's office in the village. There were several smallish, cheap properties in his window, although as usual it was impossible to tell exactly where they were. The boss was out but the young lady took our details and promised to get in touch (we had 3 mobile phones with us!) when he returned. (We afterwards heard nothing from him at all.)


After lunch we went for a ride round and decided that we stood more of a chance if we shifted our attention from the area around Chinon to the area around Descartes or Loches. Looking in several "immobiliers" windows, we saw lots of houses, in various states of repair, that were small enough and might suit us better. In the late afternoon we found ourselves in Descartes and looking in "Lochois Immobilers" window we saw this :-

"LE GRAND PRESSIGNY - AU PIED DU CHATEAU"


I thought "now that narrows it down a lot"........ if it was at the foot of the chateau, then it couldn't be 25 km outside the village ! It was a bit more than our revised budget but probably worth a look.

That evening we went for a walk around the chateau. We walked up and down the narrow streets with all the quaint little cottages. There were no "for sale" signs to be seen and we saw nothing that looked even vaguely like this picture. This was not entirely unexpected but we thought that anything around there could be a possibility. The agent also had several other small, cheaper properties advertised in his window so we decided to pay him a visit the next day, Saturday, half-way through our house-hunting fortnight.

One of the narrow streets around the old chateau

From the beginning, I always thought that once we were standing in front of the right house for us, I would know that "this is it."

The next day, it happened.


May 13, 2009

LOST IN FRANCE

A pretty courtyard in Chinon


On the Thursday morning of our first week of house-hunting, we were up bright and early to make the trip to Chinon to meet another (our third) estate agent. The route from the gite took us through the village (Le Grand Pressigny) each time and on this lovely morning the market was in full swing. There were people everywhere with baskets of this and that. The whole scene was very jolly.

We arrived at the agent's office at the appointed hour but the agent was late. He eventually turned up, rummaged through his tatty old briefcase and pulled out the details of the four properties we were to view that day. We climbed into his ancient and battered old Renault and off we went ......... in the opposite direction to what we expected.

After a few miles, the agent noticed that his petrol warning light had come on. He asked us if we knew where there was a petrol station. We exchanged the sort of glances that said "we've got a right idiot here" and suggested he looked for a supermarket as they usually have petrol stations.



The town of Langeais


Then we stopped at Langeais. Not because we were looking at a property near Langeais but because he'd forgotten to pick up the keys to the first house from the office there.


Once fully equipped with petrol and the right keys, we set off back again to find the first house. After quite some time we stopped outside a modern bungalow with a hand-written for sale sign on the gate. We thought this was odd as we didn't think we were looking for such a modern house. The English owner came out to see what we wanted and by talking to him in English, obviously, we managed to work out that this wasn't the house we were supposed to be looking at althought it was for sale. The agent was, apparently, lost and had no idea how to find the first house.


He had no map with him but we did so with a bit of furtive consultation (after all, we weren't supposed to know where we were going), off we set again. We stopped outside a really attractive, renovated house, with painted shutters and pretty planters all around. It was somewhat isolated but we started to get excited - it was so lovely that we might be prepared to compromise on our requirement for the house to be in or near a village. In fact I could hardly believe we could get something so nice for the price being asked.

That was because it was the wrong house again.

This agent was obviously a complete twerp. He made some joke about the fact that he had only been doing the job for one month and as soon as he'd made his first sale he would buy himself a Tom-Tom. We had our doubts that he would last that long.




An attractive fireplace for sure


After another half hour or so of touring the flat and unintersting countryside, we finally arrived at the "hamlet" we were looking for and the house. The one picture in the information sheet showed a smart tuffeau fireplace, giving the impression of a nicely renovated house. As per normal the reality was completely different. The "salon" was a huge, almost windowless room of enormous proportions and completely unfinished. The fireplace was the only nice bit in the whole house. It was not cheap and the cost of all the work that needed doing would put it way over our budget. It also had a substantial garden but within moments of us arriving, the neighbour appeared and offered to sell us his orchard as well.


At least it had walls

Not for us, that one, then.


The Troglodyte house

We had always fancied seeing inside a Troglodyte house - one where the back is a cave and some kind of dwelling is built on the front of it. This agent has several on his books and we thought it might be fun to own one as a holiday home. When we arrived on the doorstep it looked quite sweet. As soon as the agent unlocked the door and we stepped in, the smell of the damp almost knocked us over. Inside, the house was very chilly even thought it was hot outside. And literally every room had a cave at the back of it, even the bedrooms and the kitchen. The downstairs hall/corridor was a cave. There were curious hooks and brackets sticking out of the walls and ceiling in the salon. It was very spooky.


The hallway downstairs


The kitchen had mould all over the walls (so did the bathroom). I really didn't fancy scrubbing that off every few weeks so we decided against that one too.


Plenty of elbow grease needed to tackle this kitchen


Next we went to see a house that the agent was really excited about, near Bourgueil. It was another large, 4 bedroomed house on a busy road, with little garden and the usual spare cottage in the back yard to do up. It was in very poor condition and not cheap.



We thought it rather curious that the cottage "to do up" had a better roof than the house.



But the water supply was not so good.


By now it was late in the afternoon and we had truly had enough. The agent didn't mention the fourth house we were supposed to be looking at and neither did we.


When we got back to the comfort and tranquility of our gite in Le G P we phoned the agent we were supposed to meet the next day and cancelled. We needed to do some serious rethinking for surely we were doing something completely wrong here. We were certain that there must be plenty of houses suitable for us out there but we had no idea how to get these agents to understand what we wanted. All they did was show us really grotty properties in poor condition and poor locations. Either that or they were in the middle of a farmyard or miles from nowhere. Maybe that's what the British usually go for.


An older couple in our French language class were selling up and hoping to retire to France. They had looked at 50 properties so far and not found one they liked. We thought that was unbelievable at the time but now we could see exactly how it could happen.

May 12, 2009

TIME TO REFLECT


The story so far..............

Nick and Jean have spent many years exploring France and have arrived at the conclusion that they would like a holiday home there. They have two weeks to find one and are looking in the area around Chinon in the Loire Valley.

After two days of house-hunting, they are fed up already.

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On Wednesday of the first week we had arranged to have the day off. The previous two days had been a frustrating waste of time and this house hunting lark was turning out to be very hard work.

In the morning we drove into Le Grand Pressigny to go to the boulangerie for our bread and croissants and found the place buzzing with activity. There was a sort of auto-jumble taking place down by the station so after breakfast we went to have a look.




It was great fun. Lots of old cars, motorcycles and tractors on display and some for sale (runners and non-runners). There were food stalls and meals being served in the station building. In fact it was carnival time. We recognised our gite owner, M. Duport and he was very friendly and seemed pleased we had made the effort to turn up. We wouldn't have missed it for anything !





There was lots of old junk for sale, but some good stuff too. We didn't buy anything but had a great time looking. Apparently there was some sort of old vehicle society in the village and this is one of the events they do every year.




We then wandered back up to the village and had a proper look around. It suddenly occurred to us that this is the sort of village we would like to live in. It had shops, bars, facilities, events and a market every Thursday. If we could just persuade the estate agents to show us little houses in places like this, we would be quite happy. They only seemed to show us huge renovation projects miles from anywhere.




A different sort of renovation project


In the afternoon we went a little further afield and looked at some other villages nearby, including La Guerche. That seemed like a nice little place too.


The chateau at La Guerche

Later that evening, we sat in the sunshine outside the PreHisto bar, watching the world go by. There were lots of people going about their business, having fun, greeting friends. This was just what we wanted from a village.

The next day, Thursday, we had an early rendezvous with another estate agent in Chinon and on Friday with one in Dange St Romain. We had high hopes of both of those. As we were talking, wondering what the next two days would bring, I said to Nick, "actually, I quite like it here".

May 10, 2009

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER QUICHE

Some more "other stuff".

A piece in Walt's blog has reminded me of a motorcycling story. I haven't got any photos to go with it so I have put some unrelated ones in.


Our standard poodle puppy Lulu is growing up. She was tiny at 2 months.

Apparently "la fete des Meres" is on June 7th this year.


She seemed so fragile and vulnerable - just like a baby.

In about 1996 we were on our way back home through France looking for a hotel in Alencon. We found one in the town centre - I think it was the Hotel de Paris but can't be sure.




She's a big girl now - she knows how to get treats from my dad. Just sit perfectly and look cute.

As usual we asked for a room and then asked for secure parking for the motorcycles. Nick was on his Zephyr 550 and I on my Virago 535. The man at the desk said certainly and gave us directions to get to the "secure parking". We had to first mount the pavement and go through a queue of people at a bus stop into an entrance . We then went through a corridor that had a couple of 45 degree bends. This opened out into a small yard at the back of the hotel. To get the bikes into this space we had to go down 4 steps.




She came into season yesterday at almost 10 months. I feel quite sad - the baby months are gone and she's grown up now.


With the bikes safely stowed right under our bedroom window, we had an early pizza and retired to bed. About 11.30 pm we were woken up by banging and cracking noises - fireworks somewhere in town. We were a bit miffed that we hadn't known they were on as we were fond of French firework displays. They went on for about an hour.



I made smoked salmon and asparagus quiche for dinner yesterday. I looked at some recipes but then just made one up out of what I had. It was lovely.

At 1.30 am we were woken again by someone knocking and whispering at the back of the hotel. Assuming the worst - someone trying to steal the bikes, which would have been quite a feat thinking of where they were parked, we looked out and saw a couple of youngsters climbing in through a downstairs window. Presumably guests late back after the fireworks.


I made some jam tarts for my dad from the pastry trimmings. He loves them, but especially if they're a bit burnt like my mother used to make them. These weren't.

The little balls are biscuits for Lulu.

At 5.30 am we were woken again by the most infernal racket - banging and grumbling and rattling of metal things. Assuming again that someone was either trying to steal the bikes or was annoyed about where we had parked them, we looked out and saw the backside of a chef who was rummaging in a shed in the yard.


I made some belly-dancing earrings for a colleague's birthday next week. She doesn't know about this blog so they'll still be a surprise.

Of course....the next day was French Mother's Day. No doubt he was looking for the special Mother's Day baking tins that are only used once a year and are therefore kept at the back of the shed.


We were too tired to be bothered with breakfast, having been awake most of the night. This was something we would regret. All restaurants are fully booked at lunchtime on Mother's Day and nobody felt much inclined to make space for a couple of scruffy bikers who looked as though they had been up all night.


We have avoided travelling in France on Mother's Day ever since.