31 January 2010


We left Le Grand-Pressigny on New Year's Day in 2008 feeling rather pleased with ourselves. We had achieved a lot already but it was going to be a long stretch until our next visit at Easter. We had had a great time getting to know the place but we had an enormous list of things we wanted to do and things we needed to buy.
Furniture for a start.

Contemplating the need for furniture.

We had looked in some of the places people had suggested to go for furniture but so far we had drawn a blank.  We had found nothing at the right price (considering this is a holiday cottage, used for just a few weeks per year, and not a permanent home) and the nearest Ikea was in Paris!

Sale rooms and the vide greniers had been suggested but relying on being in the right place at the right time to find just the right furniture seemed to be unlikely. They would be fun to look around for all those important extra bits and pieces later. We were beginning to think that at this rate, we could end up spending a large part of each holiday looking around furniture shops.

Back in England, we put the problem on the back-burner for a while and then, one day in January Nick was passing our local furniture shop in Derbyshire and spotted a display of really nice stuff in the window. And they had a sale on - 25% off all of it. We went in for a look and fell in love with it. It was made from reclaimed oak, was supplied by a company in the next county, and yet looked for all the world like some of the lovely French country furniture we had seen in Tours.  It would be just right. 

We talked about it for a long time, mainly because to buy things in England was not what we had planned. We fully intended to get everything in France. Buying it at home and then getting it over there seemed like hard work, but in the end that's what we did.

We placed our order and the store agreed to keep it all in their warehouse until we were ready to transport it across to France. We also bought two small Ikea sofas and stored them in our garage at home.  We wanted to get the decorating done downstairs first as that would be much more sensible than trying to paint round a whole load of brand new furniture.

Work in progress at Easter.
Easter then, was spent doing up the one room downstairs - the living room. In a short 5-day break we got the walls, beams and ceiling prepared and painted. We also got everything cleared up and cleaned ready to put the furniture in. It was hard slog.

Cleaning the old paint off the beams and painting the ceiling inbetween them took hours of hard and dirty work.

Less than two weeks later, we came back with the biggest transit van we could hire on our normal driving licenses.  We loaded up the furniture and took the opportunity to fill the remaining space with all kinds of things that we would not be able to fit into the car, including our old garden bench which we thought would get a lot more use in France than it did in our garden in chilly Derbyshire. There was also a shower cubicle and tray for the bathroom, which was to be the next DIY project, and a spare lawnmower.

We set off Friday lunchtime, sitting very upright in the uncomfortable van and taking it in turns to drive. We stayed overnight in Rouen and en route we called at the bed shop in Tours. Somehow we managed to squeeze two single beds and mattresses for the second bedroom into the van. By now it was bursting at the seams!

There was not much space left in the van.

At the other end, Alex and Nicole, Barrie and Lucie helped us get it all off the van and into the house. Just a few hours later, it was all positioned, polished and looking just perfect. At 8pm we were enjoying a very welcome meal in the hotel in the village before turning in early, exhausted.


All in place and perfectly polished.

Mme André was somewhat bemused by the whole thing. We turned up with a van, stayed one night and then left again !! The drive home was long and hard and to our absolute dismay, we hit snow, literally, in Northern France, even though it was 6th April - that wasn't supposed to happen ! Driving a large and completely empty transit in snow was not a happy experience. We passed a couple of nasty accidents on the motorway, one involving a horse box, although the horse was standing by the overturned box and seemed to be OK. These slowed us up and we missed our ferry, having to join the long queue for another one.

Not a speck of dust to be seen !

The whole weekend had been quite an adventure but I wouldn't wish to repeat it in a hurry. Huge transits are horrible to drive. They are slow and hard work and very uncomfortable and doing all those miles and then back again in just 2½ days was exhausting. But it was worth it just the once.

The little cottage "au pied du château" was beginning to look like home.

27 January 2010



One of our favourite TV programmes from years gone by is "Allo Allo" which ran for 10 years between 1982 and 92. So much so that we have bought the whole series on DVD and when we need cheering up on a grim winter's evening we put it on and have a good laugh. It never fails.
For those that are not familiar with the programme, Officer Crabtree was the idiot Englishman who believed he could speak French, masquerading as a French police officer.

Nick has become an expert at what we have called "the Crabtree".
I will explain : our French teacher once told us that the English and French languages are often very similar so if you don't know the word in French try saying the English word instead but with a French accent. Nick has become this theory's greatest fan.
One of his classics occurred that first Christmas week in Le Grand-Pressigny in trying to buy a cabbage on the market. He couldn't remember the French word for cabbage so he took our teacher's advice and said "un cabbarge s'il vous plait", emphasising the arge to make it sound as French as possible. The stallholder immediately knew what he meant and without a hint of amusement or bewilderment reached over and handed us a cabbage.
This is surprising since the real French word for cabbage sounds nothing like cabbarge - it's chou.
During the same week he performed another version of the Crabtree - "saying the wrong word".
We were in the PreHisto one afternoon, taking a break from the DIY and the landlady was enquiring how well we had settled in. It had been bitterly cold and she asked if we had any heating. (We think that's what she asked, anyway.)
We were very pleased with our beautiful new wood-burning stove, the poêle, so Nick proudly announced that yes, we had a new "poulet" which was heating the whole house !!
She and several of the people at the bar burst into laughter and it took us a while to realise his mistake.  He had informed everyone in the bar that we were heating our house with a new chicken !!
(Photos from a Google source, not by me.)

24 January 2010


Having just had a week in Le Grand-Pressigny that included New Year, I couldn't help making comparisons with our first New Year there in 2007. So I thought it was time I picked up the story again and carried on where I had left off.

The butcher in Le Grand-Pressigny

One of the things we have enjoyed in the two years that we have owned the little cottage "au pied du château" is getting to know the local shops. During the week between Christmas and New Year in 2007 we shopped often in the village. There is an excellent butcher, a boulangerie, a florist that also sells fishing permits and guns, and a general store, the Spa. There is also a bank, insurance office, post office, estate agent, DIY and builders merchants, hairdresser, pharmacy, newsagent/tabac, plumbers and tourist office. I hope I haven't missed anything out.

That week in 2007, we decided that we would like to invite Barrie and Lucie to dinner one evening. This would be our second dinner party challenge - cooking with our new cooker and finding enough crockery and cutlery for all four of us at once ! We decided to cook roast beef as it seemed fairly safe and we knew what we were doing there - or so we thought.

In the morning of the appointed day we shopped for everything we needed in the village. We are very keen to support the local shops although periodic visits to the supermarket at Descartes are inevitable. We bought bread and a "tarte au mirabelle" for dessert in the boulangerie. It is virtually impossible to enter this shop and then come out with just some bread. The cakes, tarts and other goodies on sale are extremely tempting. So we also bought some little meringues and "gateaux", which are actually biscuits, to go with our after-dinner coffee.

We bought cheese and saucisson sec at the Spa. Vegetables had already been bought from the market in the village square on Thursday morning. 

Next we plucked up courage to enter the butchers. I say this because, even now, a trip to the butcher is a slightly unnerving experience. Personally I find it makes a huge difference how many people are in the shop already when I enter.

If there are just one or two, I have enough time to scan the produce on offer, decide what to have and how to ask for it, get it and leave before I lose my nerve. If there are too many in front of me, I lose track of what I want in listening to the locals who buy all kinds of scary looking stuff and know what to do with it, panic because my French is so pathetic, then by the time it's my turn, I'm a nervous jibbering wreck and make myself look a complete idiot. An English idiot ! 

 Worse still is if people pile in behind me whilst I'm waiting to be served. Then, not only do I have time to forget what I wanted in the fog of total panic, but the knowledge that all those people are listening to every mis-pronounced and inappropriate word makes me feel even more stupid, if that were at all possible. Now I must say here that none of this has anything at all to do with the proprietors, M. and Mme. Poupeau. They are immensely patient, helpful and kind to us and have never ever said a single word that was intended to make us feel uncomfortable or inadequate in any way. 

 On this day, we were in luck. There was just one person in front of us so we checked out the meat in the display and also spotted some quiche and taboulé we would have for lunch plus some paté we could serve as a starter for our little dinner party. Quite an order and we were feeling confident. Nick was at the helm and he asked Mme for "un pièce de boeuf à rôtir pour quatre personnes" (in his best Crabtree accent). She smiled, disappeared in the back and re-emerged with the biggest and most fabulous piece of meat I have ever seen in my life. She sliced a piece off and took the rest back to the fridge, re-emerging with a large parcel. This turned out to be thin slices of fat, some of which she wrapped around the meat and tied in place with string from a ball nailed to the ceiling. We marvelled at the whole performance.

Next our joint was wrapped and weighed, hitting the mark at 800 grams exactly! With a sweet smile, she lifted it up and as she was about to hand it to Nick she seemed to have second thoughts and quickly drew it back towards her, just out of his grasp ! Taken aback, we both stared at her as she said, in a stern voice. "quinze minutes, Monsieur". About two seconds passed as their eyes met and she said, leaning forwards ever so slightly, "quinze minutes......vingt minutes, maximum !"

Quick thinking as ever, Nick replied "Mais oui Madame, vignt minutes, bien sûr !" Satisfied that we were going to treat her beef with the respect it deserved, she allowed us to pay for it and we left the shop with our purchases, stunned but happy.

This picture is not the actual joint - but ours looked just as good !

Later that evening, we cooked it for almost an hour and it was absolutely perfect !

13 January 2010


When we bought the house in 2007, at the back there was what can only be described as a large pile. We were not at all sure what was in it - it seemed to be overgrown stone, "silex" and general junk. It took up a huge area and we wanted the space for ourselves. The only way to find out what was underneath was to start digging.
We didn't fancy doing that ourselves .... but we knew someone who would, our friends Alex and Nicole. 

On that side of the house there was a wall separating us from our neighbour down the hill. Most of it had fallen down and Mme André had alarmed us with stories of someone climbing over and prowling around the property.  In any case, when we were deciding on how to spend our budget for alterations, rebuilding the wall was a priority. So we hired Alex. He's good with walls.

There was also the case of the missing window. On the inside of the house there was nothing, just a smooth (!!) wall but on the outside was a window, complete with lintel and hooks for the shutters. Re-instating the window would be a big and messy job but it was a also a priority. Alex tackled the wall early in 2008. We instantly felt much more comfortable knowing there could be no unwanted nosey prowlers. Re-instating the window required planning permission, which Barrie organised for us. It was tacked onto the application for permission for the new half of a roof and the new velux window on that side. There was some uncertainty that we would get permission for the old window to be re-done because of its proximity to the boundary between us and our neighbour. Luckily it was granted. In winter 2008-09 Alex engaged and worked alongside a local mason to put the window in.

Having the new/old window made a huge difference to the house. Previously the one room downstairs could feel very dark. The window seemed much larger inside than outside and we are absolutely thrilled with it. It lets in so much light and faces west, giving us the evening sunshine.

Alex also made us some new shutters for the window and finished it off with those cute little people shutter fasteners.

Finally, in our last absence of ten weeks between October and Boxing Day, Alex and Nicole removed the pile. It was tons of overgrown rubble, probably the spoil from the demolition of a small building, although we had no idea where it had been.

We couldn't wait to see how it looked. It was superb.

Now we have a fabulous clean and useable space.

As well as getting a huge amount of extra space (huge relative to the size of our tiny cottage that is), we gained another window. As the pile was gradually removed another window emerged. You can see it in bottom left of the picture above. On the inside it is hidden by the structure that forms the staircase. Maybe one day we will do something imaginative with that, too.

11 January 2010


When the cottage was built, possibly around 1700, it was probably just a one room dwelling with a loft space. It has obviously been through several incarnations and renovations, the discovery of which will keep us mystified for years.
At some stage, possibly in the 1950's or 60's an extension was built on the end of the house to form a kitchen and toilet. (Our neighbour, Mme André, has told us that 1955 is the year that mains water arrived - prior to that the water would have come from the well in our garden, for us and our neighbours.) In possibly the 1980's this was remodelled into just a fitted kitchen. We know this as we have seen that the same kitchen units are still available in the Lapeyre catalogue in their traditional collection. We think that at about the same time a shower room was formed from part of the room downstairs, the tuffeau fireplace was fitted, a staircase was put in and the upper space was boarded out to form two bedrooms - a major modernisation of the building.
The main bedroom when we first saw the house.
When we saw the cottage in August 2007 it was crammed with huge old French furniture, of no particular style, just the sort of stuff that someone would relegate to an infrequently used "maison secondaire". Downstairs was not too bad but upstairs was definitely the poor relation.
The bedroom with the larger window was to be the master bedroom but it was on the side of the house that needed a new roof. With that would come a new Velux window to replace the scruffy little skylight with the broken catch. We preferred that room as it was much lighter due to the large window, but this didn't fit properly and the sill height was dangerous. It was important to be very careful when opening or closing the shutter as it would be easy to fall out onto the terrace if you leaned just a little too far....
In 2008 we did nothing to the bedroom except tidy it occasionally so that summer visitors could sleep in it. We used the other, smaller bedroom for ouselves as it was less draughty in autumn and winter.

The bedroom, tidied up a bit to make it useable by our first visitors.
In September 2008 the essential half of a roof arrived. Without being asked, the roofers also boarded over the broken plasterboarding with the pink flowery wallpaper when they fitted the new Velux window, leaving a lovely new wall for us. Very nice of them - but it was probably just the easiest way for them to tackle their job.
Over the winter 2008/09, Alex and Nicole fitted us a new double-glazed window to replace the broken one and also removed the ghastly shag-pile carpet and built a beautiful wooden floor on top of the underlying concrete. Nicole completed the work by staining the floor. It looked gorgeous and almost as if it could have been there forever.

Now we're getting somewhere - new velux, new window, new floor.

Alex demolished the partition at the end of the bedroom, revealing the lovely beams in the old wall and also repositioned the door thereby making the room a couple of feet longer. He also put new boarding over the other wall and the rest of the pink wallpaper. That was going to be a lot easier for us than trying to remove the paper and make good the surface underneath.


New floor, new door, new plasterboard, lovely old beams.

Alex also fitted a new safety grille to the window, making the use of the shutters much safer.

New grille in place - much safer and attractive, too.

As demonstrated by Lulu.

.For most of 2009 we did very little to the bedroom except occasionally tidy it up for visitors. We were simply having too much fun just enjoying the place on holiday and lots of the DIY jobs that we were so keen to tackle early on were by now in danger of never getting done - we had simply stopped noticing them !

The bedroom temporarily pressed into service again for more visitors in May 2009.

In October we decided we just must finish something so we made an effort to get on with decorating the bedroom. The idea was that we would finish the larger bedroom and move into it as our room. Then at some stage we would do the same with the other bedroom, which would become the guest room.

.It turned out to be a bigger job than we thought. The painting of the older walls was very time-consuming because on some of the surfaces, we had to effectively scrub the paint into the walls. The new plasterboard needed two coats of paint and a lot of sanding to disguise the joins. The beams needed scrubbing to remove years of old cobwebs and splatterings of paint left from the last (and probably only) time the room was decorated.

.The ceiling had been boarded over at some stage with a kind of wood panelling that we had seen in lots of other houses. We debated whether to remove it and put nice new plasterboard up but that seemed like another big job so we decided just to paint it. That took ages and required three coats.

By the time we arrived last Boxing Day we had done most of the preparation work and were ready to finish the job. Nick did most of it, facilitated by my regular supply of food and drink. I helped to paint the beams, the walls and the woodwork. The final job was to paint the new floor with a non-slip varnish that gave it a lovely soft sheen but safe surface to walk on.

The end result.

. I also supervised the replacing of the furniture and the other finishing touches. We're very pleased with it.

Light, comfortable and airy, just as we wanted.

4 January 2010


Happy New Year, everyone.
Our little home in Le Grand-Pressigny on New Year's Eve.
I'll be back soon with lots to tell.