December 30, 2014

AN AMAZING YEAR, MONTH BY MONTH

JANUARY

2014january 

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

2014february

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

2014

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

2014march

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

2014-2

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.

2014-3

  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

2014may

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

2014june

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

2014july2

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

2014august

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.

2014-5

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

2014sept

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.

2014-8

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.

2014oct

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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2014october7

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

2014oct7

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

2014oct5

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

NOVEMBER

2014november

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

2014december

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.

2014december2

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 !!!!

December 27, 2014

ALMOST A WHITE CHRISTMAS AND A WHOPPING BIG HOLE IN THE GARDEN

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Back in Derbyshire for Christmas, we woke up this morning to a kind of winter wonderland scene.  We very nearly had a white Christmas but the snow arrived two days too late, falling on Boxing Day instead of Christmas Eve.

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The truth is that it actually arrived too early – a few hours earlier than forecast which meant that many people got caught out going home from their Boxing Day celebrations.  Consequently this morning the roads were littered with abandoned cars, making the roads even more difficult to drive on.

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We decided to leave our car at home and instead took a white knuckle bus ride into town.  There we had a nice lunch, enjoying the opportunity of being able to have a drink because we weren’t driving.

The main purpose of our shopping trip was to buy some of that ghastly clear plastic carpet protector.  Yes, you can still buy it, although it took some finding.  The urgency to find such a thing is due to the antics of a certain “butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth” Miss Daisy.

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Daisy will be six months old in about a week and predictably, on Christmas Day she came into season.  Only those who have had to live in the same house as a cat in season will know what that means!

When we talked to the vet in Descartes about having her spayed, he said we would definitely want to do it as we wouldn’t be able to stand the noise.  He was not wrong!  She makes a very loud noise which is something like a cross between a meow, a chirrup and a whine, and her favourite place to make it is at the top of the stairs, on the landing, outside our bedroom.  All night long.

We have taken to shutting her downstairs in the interest of getting some sleep and she tries to dig her way under the door to get back upstairs to her favourite calling spot.  Consequently the carpet in the doorway is taking a battering and we decided to do something about it while it still had some tread left!

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Changing the subject, our last few weeks in France turned out to be hard work.  It was a constant battle with the cold and the mud.  With the boiler not working it was a full time job to keep the two log fires going and to keep enough heat to warm the house. 

On top of that, the condition of the drive had deteriorated enormously.  The thin layer of gravel had gradually given way to mud with more muddy areas than dry ones.  With the dog, the cat and the frequent visits to the barn for wood, it became impossible to keep mud out of the house.

A new drive is one of the things we planned to get and, like most of our other plans, we felt the need to replace it sooner rather than later – as a matter of urgency in fact.  There is however one other major piece of work that has to be done before anything else.- the installation of a new septic tank – the fosse.

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When a house is sold in rural France, the sellers are obliged to have the fosse inspected by an organisation called Satese.  If the fosse does not meet the current standards the buyers are obliged to replace it and have twelve months to get it done.  This is the way that the authorities are attempting to make France more sanitary – to rid the countryside of unacceptable eighteenth and nineteenth century methods of dealing with the products of human existence.

Our fosse is essentially a large concrete box with a hole in the bottom buried just outside the front door.  We have no idea what happens to the waste ultimately – the previous owners were there for twelve years and say they have never had to have the fosse emptied.  Predictably it failed the inspection so, with Nicole and Alex’s help, we engaged a contractor, Fred, to do the work.

Plans were submitted for a modern design of fosse and we waited for Satese to get in touch.  Eventually a rendezvous was arranged between Satese, Fred, us and Nicole, for the site to be inspected again and soil tests done.  We had no real idea what the next step in the process was – whether we had to wait for a letter and approve any changes or what.  Consequently we also had no idea when the work could begin.

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On 15th December the man from Satese came and had a discussion with Fred.  Soil tests were done, a modification to Fred’s plan was proposed and signed off there and then.  Fred announced that he would come and start the work two days later !!

We were overjoyed.  That was the best Christmas present we could have had.  When Fred has finished the installation of the fosse he will then put down a new drive as part of the job.  When the drive is down we can then get on with the internal projects, the new staircase, the kitchen floor and the new kitchen. 

fosse1 

Our original idea was to return to France when the work began on the new fosse, to see how it was done and to know what was going where.  The fact that the work was to begin the day after we came back to Derbyshire for Christmas put an end to that idea but as Fred said, we really would not want to be there!  I suspect that he also felt he could get on faster without two anxious home owners fretting about the state of their garden!

He did however promise to keep us up to date as the work progressed with some photos.

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While installing the new tank and pipe work it was discovered that the overflow from the old fosse was pumped into the well.  Lovely!  Fred said he had seen this kind of thing before, especially on farm properties.  And worse I suspect.

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So by the time we are next chez nous, we will have a new fosse, a new drive and, with a bit of luck, a new boiler too.  It will be lovely to return to a house that can be kept clean and warm, and not to worry where our waste is going.  We will also be able to look forward to getting on with the other improvements we have planned.

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So, all that remains is for me to wish everyone a belated Happy Christmas and wish you all the best for the New Year.  From Daisy and, of course……

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…from Lulu, Nick and me.

Greetings of the season and a very Happy New Year from us all !!

December 15, 2014

A BONFIRE AND A NEW LEVEL

bonfire

With the help of Alex and Nicole we have cleared a lot of trees and bushes from the boundary of the property. 

When I say “we” I really mean Alex and Nicole, with Nick acting as labourer and taking advantage of their expertise and advice.  My gardening activities involved staying out the way and providing tea and cake!

Too many trees had been planted too close together which meant that many of them were not growing properly as they had no room to breathe and develop as they should.  We also like the idea of a more open appearance – we can see more of the view, and passers by can see more of us – the property no longer looks unloved but looks very much loved and lived in.

The result of all this garden work produced several large piles of twigs and branches – too many to either pile up on the compost heap or to take to the tip.  The perfect opportunity for a bonfire.

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Nick piled the wood on top of an old, worm eaten sideboard that had been left behind in the barn.  Neither of us have had a bonfire for decades.  We both had fond memories of family bonfires on Guy Fawkes Night as children, but lately any bonfires we encountered were at large, organised events.  We waited for the right kind of weather – no wind, no rain – and hoped we could get it right.

It’s funny how something so simple can conjure up unexpected memories from the depths of our experience and as I looked at our bonfire I was reminded of a picture in one of my childhood story books.  I remembered very clearly the scene of a bonfire in the garden of a large house.  One of those very solid middle class houses with bay windows, stone paths and pretty gates.  Two adults and three children of various sizes were wrapped up against the autumn chill and were helping the gardener to collect leaves and wood for the bonfire, which was large and burning strongly.  You could tell he was the gardener by the way he was dressed in cloth cap, boots and trousers held up with braces, hurling branches into the fire  – in contrast to the figure who was obviously the father of the family, dressed smartly in overcoat and scarf, casually leaning on a wall with a pipe in his hand.  I can remember feeling envious of the family in the story, having such a lovely big house and garden, compared to the small semi detached council house that we lived in ourselves.

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Our bonfire was soon fully alight and burned steadily while we fed it with cuttings for the next hour or so.  I was amazed that we managed to burn so much damp wood.  It all disappeared and the next morning there was just a small pile of ash, still smouldering gently in the frosty air.

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Another job we tackled this weekend was to empty the middle room upstairs in preparation for the creation of a new floor.  We haven’t yet come up with a name for this room.  In many longères it would be a bedroom, even though you have to walk through it to the next room which really is a bedroom. 

It was the upstairs space in the house that helped to sell it to us.  At one end of the house is a huge master bedroom.  At the other end is a bathroom, this room and a decent sized bedroom.  The previous owners called this end the “guest suite” and this middle room was furnished with a sofa, bookcases and a large dresser – which we bought from them.  We intend to use it as a study/workroom/craft room and we use a variety of terms for it.  Sometimes we call it the study, other times the middle room or library.  Some would think of it as a dressing room, being joined on to the small bedroom by just an opening without a door.

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In any case, whatever you might call it, the floor has a ridiculous slope.  There is a height difference of about 10cm over the length of the room and it also slopes about half as much front to back.

At first we thought it was just one of the quirky features of an old house and that we could live with it, but when we got fed up with trying to level bookcases and found it difficult to sit up straight on a chair, we decided to do something about it.  We are going to have a new floor built on top of the old one.  It will sit on top of the existing floor at one end and on batons at the other end to get the level right.  We will end up with a step down in the doorway onto the landing but this will match the step at the other end of the landing into the big bedroom, so that’s fine.

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Ever helpful and incredibly nosey, Daisy was on hand to help with the clearing of the room at every stage!