Watching and Waiting/ the French Fear

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Watching and saluting

There’s something about the front bedroom on our second floor, known for good reason as the bedroom with the head in a bag. I have noticed that people are inevitably drawn to throw open the right-hand window and shutter when they go in there, even though this room is every bit as derelict as the rest of the house.  Actually, I realise as I write this, it’s probably because there is no electricity in there and so no light. Aha! Now it all makes sense …

Except the head, which wasn’t a head at all in the end, but was and is still in a paper bag

Despite the impressive three-storey leak indoor water feature over our stairway we keep the house as secure and weatherproof as possible. So, when a friend texted me in December that this window was left open and the curtain was billowing – the builders had been in to measure up – another friend kindly went to the rescue and closed it for me

In the loft there are the signs and smells of a vast previous pigeon infestation. When I originally viewed the house I only saw one pigeon up there, but there were eggs too, and so I assumed the worst. I love birds but we could not co-habit. Yet when I returned in August the same eggs were still there and there was something resembling a very dead bird, sort of squished on the floor. The problem was thereby unintentionally solved, and we remain to date a pigeon-free zone

When the builder came to meet me he predictably threw open the window and shutter in question (again), and the sound of pigeons was immediately audible. There were three, lined up on the window ledge directly opposite and peering intently at us, just waiting for someone to make a mistake and provide access to their well-appointed former abode

Some days later as I waited outside for my lift to the airport, I looked up and three of them were again lurking and watching from the loft windowsill, in a pigeon two-fingered salute

There is a fear called ‘Anatidaephobia’, described by M. Google as ‘a pervasive, irrational fear that one is being watched by a duck’ . Disappointingly I now understand that this is an invented condition, though C still claims she has it. It is completely separate from ‘Ornithophobia’, a fear of birds in general, which no-one in our household – not even Mlle C – suffers from (it would make chicken-keeping a challenge)

There is no shortage of pigeons or of semi-derelict properties, particularly in France. Perhaps it’s just me, but I feel there must be a recognised fear of pigeons waiting for you to screw up and leave a window open so that they can get back into your house

 

The Mighty Quinn – my first ‘pet’ spider?

The only water tap at the house is over a massive stone laundry sink in the furthest part of the garage, and the installation of this tap was greatly anticipated because we had no water source at all when we arrived at the house in August

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I was too scared to include my finger in the pic for scale

Arriving at midnight for my first solo visit in October, I was none too happy (terrified, actually) to discover that an enormous spider lives on the windowsill above this tap. On the first morning when I went to get water he marched right out of his web and across the sill to take a look at me. I dropped the empty bottle I was holding, and backed off in a cold sweat

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All empty – time to say ‘Rebonjour’ to Quinn

I calmed down when he returned to the entrance to his web, where he remained for the rest of that week, observing me

With no way of getting around the water situation – I needed to fill bottles with at least 25 litres a day for flushing the loo, cleaning myself and the house and for making camomile tea – I could not avoid at least one visit a day to the sink of terror. So I reminded myself that he was here first, and to curb my extreme fear I named him ‘Quinn’. Through the week greeted him each morning and evening as my fellow resident, nattering away to him in French as I leaned over the tap

As a coping mechanism the friendly approach worked. I am not crazy enough to imagine that it was social interaction for ‘Quinn’ and for the whole week I didn’t take my eyes off this huge ancient spider faded to a shade of dark blond (did I actually just make a spider sound like Brad Pitt?), but I was no longer so scared and was at times actually glad of the company

Charlotte was horrified to hear about my regular chats with him, until she saw his photo – it’s hard not to be impressed by him. When I returned from my January visit she was as disappointed as I was that there had been no sign of him at the entrance to his web. I hope he’s OK and hasn’t decided to move on from his comfy domain. I have tried to be a good housemate

 

‘Colour and I are One’

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‘Colour and I are One’. So said Paul Klee, one of the most exciting artists of the 20th Century. Certainly colour can provoke a strong emotional reaction, and this will be on a daily basis when used in our homes

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Castle and Sun – Paul Klee

Like so many people, I pore over colour charts and long to possess the shades therein. Choosing one is limiting, yet I also love the commitment of applying paint to wall after all the preparation

When we moved in to our first flat in Eton it was a blank magnolia canvas, so I indulged myself in reds, yellows and oranges. Baz soon joked that the rooms were becoming smaller due to the number of coats of coloured paint I applied. Then we moved to our little house and when Charlotte was born I painted all the walls in soft buttery yellows to be warm and uplifting. Sixteen years down the line I have replaced pretty much all of this, always happy to have an excuse to re-decorate. Repeatedly. Eventually the novelty wore off and RSI started to set in, and so our hallway still remains unfinished in one corner

I love the brights, but of course there are some wonderfully subtle yet highly pigmented shades, muddied and grounded by earth tones. These have been championed by the rather smug middle-class heritage paint producers, who seem to have plucked them out of an imagined past, charging us a premium for having given them their ancestry and poetic names (‘Elephant’s Breath’, ‘Mole’s Breath’,’Mouse’s Back’ etc.)

As for ‘Cats Paw’? – if I had a cat with paws that colour I would not expect it to come back from the vet…

A member of the family, a professional carpenter and decorator who can recognise the exact F and B shade painted on a wall, tells me that these colours can be reliably matched as trade paints way more cheaply and with higher quality paint, and that when someone asks for a particular F and B paint colour he uses a matched Leyland trade paint and his customers are very happy. So this is something I plan to research. It may be a disappointment, but I have to check it out because regrettably I have to take care of the pennies on the French house. And because it really appeals to my inner ‘Belligerent Bitch’ (which would no doubt be an intense blood-red on the chart)

Does anyone out there have any experience they can share of this matching service?

 

 

 

Coincidences and who is ‘Serge’?

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Must be a very French ‘thing’ to leave Xmas decs up so long?

So after our strenuous afternoon moving the charbonne, we shared a bottle of Cremant as an apero, and went for pizza. We then strolled through the remaining Christmas decorations to have a drink at a local sports bar I have only been to once before. Of course, in small French towns it is unusual for two women to go out for a drink at ten in the evening, and when we sat down the three men at the bar turned and said ‘Bonsoir’. It didn’t feel entirely comfortable but we were not to be easily dissuaded, so we sat and ordered our drinks

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During our second drink, the tallest guy stood up, walked the few paces over to us, and asked in fairly good and friendly English where we hailed from. When told which region of France my friend currently lives in, he asked whereabouts and she named the small village. He suddenly became very animated and even doubtful at first, because apparently this obscure village with only one hundred inhabitants is his family village and they still own two houses there. It transpired that they actually know the same people: (‘Oh yes, Serge is doing the driveway’ and ‘Oh, the one with only three fingers’, etc). When she mentioned a concert she’d attended in a house near the church before Christmas, he even knew who had played there

How? Because it was his sister’s house, of course!

Such coincidences can defy belief. She was only with me for a second night due to car trouble, the guy in the bar was spending just two nights in town on business, having never visited the area before

Around midnight we headed off to our respective dorms, all with a couple of hundred yards of each other. The fact that they made individual random visits to this town – this bar – at the same time is incredible to me

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Spotted in McDs in Limoux the next day and it made me giggle. Go on, say it out loud..

 

 

Wouldn’t it be Nice (nice)

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That’s ‘nice’, actually, not ‘Nice’. This was the view from the attic window when I braved the pigeon poo-covered floor, looking due west to the hills. What a shame we cannot have a terrace to enjoy it. A friend tells me that the mountain I can see in the distance to the north is actually Andorra. How amazing that these peaks are so close and are only blocked by the hills surrounding the town

 

 

Luck is on Our Side, but Gravity isn’t

Today’s meeting with the builder, the plumber and the electrician was another roller coaster. This time it was ‘Non, non, non’ from Jerome the plumber. ‘Non’, there isn’t enough in the budget to do what I want. ‘Non’, we can’t keep the art deco bidet (that was a solid ‘non, non, non’ on its own) and ‘Non’, the soil pipe isn’t working because it runs flat through the cellar to the road, due to several beams. So we’d better stop using the loo for a while. Despite this, we are undeterred. Baz and I aren’t going to let this trio of experienced French artisans pee on our campfire. Non

We plan to up-cycle the few bits of furniture we found here and put various work surfaces on top to make a kitchen next to the garage. Now we need to make sure that none of these tradesman chucks anything away, as to them it is all junk. They may actually be right about some of it

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Doesn’t exactly scream ‘La Cuisine’, does it?

But we’ve had some luck recently. Some months back a company importing stone a few doors away from our office had done a runner and left their unit, so Baz called our landlord to tell him. Baz asked if we could have a look inside when they sent their people in to clean. His response was ‘Go for it’

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Lovely jubbly freebies

The tenants left it in a horrible mess, with live electric wires hanging all over the place, several inches of stone dust and a blocked gully full of contaminated water. It took weeks to clear and repair the unit, but thanks to the help of the clearance guys we scored two sparkling white kitchen table tops still in protective plastic, as well as some carrara marble, and a stunning transparent piece, ideal for bathroom shelves. One guy gave us some smaller red pieces too, and he was so enthusiastic that it seemed rude not to take them. They will certainly add some colour somewhere

The joinery company next door has given us an enormously tall wardrobe with huge drawers, which was removed from a London house. It is heavy and beautifully made, with lovely  glazing bars and fielding. If we hadn’t taken it the whole thing would have been trashed, which would have been such a waste. So we have the bones of the kitchen for free

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Now we just need to move the electrics, knock down the dividing wall, install gas, get a new boiler and running water and somehow find a solution for the soil pipe….Oh yes, then get all this down to France. And build something kitchen-ish

Enough. I must stop using this blog as a to-do list. It won’t make it happen any faster!

New and Improved (Exactly the Same)

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Tuesday. The lock of the front door seized up with the key stuck firmly in it. After repeated attempts to remove it I settled for leaving the key in the lock overnight and bolting the door from the inside. Faced with having to break the key off and replace the whole thing, we levered the key with a screwdriver and it gave way and came out, slightly bent but still usable. We removed the lock, doused it (I don’t think that is too strong a word) in WD40 and I wrapped it carefully in a towel in my handbag, like a puppy. Today, in LeClerc in Limoux, they cleaned the lock and cut 2 new keys for 21 euros and it is working again. Not only is this cheaper than buying a new lock, I was able to easily re-fit it myself without damage to the door, and we can keep the beautiful original lock. Not to mention that my handbag is much lighter!

The meeting with the builder was a real mix of good and bad news. Yes, the roof will be very expensive (though hopefully less than he originally quoted) but also yes, the house is actually pretty much structurally sound. The ‘sound’ bit was the last thing I had expected. He reasoned that the 400 year old beams are still supporting the weight of all the original floor tiles, so they are strong and we shouldn’t worry about a bit of movement. There’s logic to it, and he demonstrated his point by jumping up and down on the spot several times where I want to put one of the extremely heavy and apparently very humorous ‘baignoires anglaises’

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Buoyed by this news I started removing the hideous 70s-patterned fabric from the walls of the Club Room (see remnant hanging right of photo – this awful material was covering every wall, right up to the ceiling). There are 3 or 4 layers of paper underneath before I reach the plaster, but it is encouraging so far. It would be lovely to be able to get one room looking presentable fairly soon, so that we could use it as a kitchen-diner, somewhere to have a cuppa and a sit-down, or even a glass of wine. Yes, that would be wonderful

I think I’ll have to settle for painting over the wainscotting. It is going to take forever to strip back this ‘brown stuff’, and then I’d probably paint it again anyway. But under the fabric wall covering was a fascinating glimpse into the thought process of the evil genius who decorated this one room, back in 1970-something:

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Yuck. They went to great trouble to select just the right shade of … whatever it is

‘Normandy Grey’ by Little Green would look a treat with the floor tiles and fireplace. It would certainly be more restful than this, but I am letting my imagination get ahead of things. Back to reality, I have to meet the electrician and the plumber tomorrow so that they can also scare the bejesus out of me, but tonight I am shacked up with a baguette and a very nice cheap bottle of red wine. Outside il pleut, in our house il pleut aussi, but in this apartment il fait tres chaud..

(smiley face, smiley face!)