Good Friday Round Up

Two men in a mid-air wheelbarrow – what could possibly go wrong?

I quietly admire the French disregard for health and safety. I’m never sure if it’s borne out of genuine belief in what they are doing, or (more likely, I suspect) simply a heartfelt cocksure two-fingers-up to everyone

Either way, as the wannabe bathroom progressed this week, a lot of tramping through the house with buckets was avoided by using a cherry picker up to the first floor balcony, loaded with an oversized wheelbarrow, loaded in turn with pre-mixed cement and two shovels. What I hadn’t expected was for the two guys to jump into this wheelbarrow and to shovel the cement over our balcony and onto the bathroom floor

Clearly, madness

Two men in a mid-air wheelbarrow? Well, it worked brilliantly. There should be a dramatic picture here but one was face on and that’s an invasion of privacy. The other had an inadvertent (I think) builders bum. Also an invasion of privacy, and I’ll spare you

I really am a bath person, so I had a bit of a wobble when the building crew told me I wouldn’t fit my ‘baignoire’ into the tiny space, but Smiley Plumbers Un et Deux, for there are actually two of them, said we’d squeeze it in, though we did only half-joke that I will have to dive in

The guys have worked so hard this week. They were here until 6.30 last night because the toilet was problematic. It didn’t help that I had brought them a cheap flatpack English toilet to work with, which had terrible instructions and a totally crap diagram – none of us recognised the ‘black ring’. Three of us pondered the issue that ‘we don’t have zeess system in France’ and ‘ze wall it is like zeess’. It is indeed ‘like zat’, all organic shapes busting out where you least need them, but when I said I still wouldn’t plasterboard to assist fitting the loo, they didn’t throw a strop, but found an equally organic solution. All credit to them

Today we all three walked the house again and discussed places for the radiators. Of course, everything we do here is a compromise because this lovely old house was not built for modern life, but I have enormous respect for the guys working on it. They remain polite always, they good-naturedly tolerate my British humour (and I frequently resort to humour) and they respond with theirs. Ultimately they see what the house’s beauty means to me and there is an unexpected synergy

Joyeuses Pâques, tout le monde x

 

 

 

Take Nothing for Granted

Water or wine? Sometimes either will do

(My apologies if the image is terrible. WordPress is trying to force me to buy an upgrade, so it is showing all my images as low-res and is deleting any drafts that I start. You may not even be reading this!)

Written one hour ago:

It hadn’t occurred to me to ask before, so I asked the smiley plumber this morning:

‘Est-ce que l’eau est potable?’

He grinned. Of course it is drinking water. After eighteen months we can finally go to the tap and have a glass of fresh delicious water. And it really is delicious, better than that bottled rubbish I’ve been used to. I had woken up with a caffeine withdrawal migraine, so I grabbed some tablets and the only glasses we had were a set of champagne flutes

Santé, tout le monde!

It’s Wednesday and this was day three of various people in the UK, the Netherlands and France making well-intentioned promises about Monday’s delivery: ‘this morning’, ‘this afternoon’, ‘tomorrow morning’, etc. It’s now nearly 6pm and it still hasn’t turned up

I will have no-one to help me to unload the goods tomorrow. If they ever do arrive, that is. But that doesn’t bear thinking about, as it contains a lot of things I have bought and squirrelled. Things that belong to me

Perhaps the migraine is more due to stress than to coffee. Stress is less easily remedied, of course

It might not be the best time for looking at colour charts for the head in a bag room. I’ve been torn between something fresh and airy and something dark and stormy. Guess which one was winning today…

Ooh! Perhaps that driver’s head in a bag would top it off?

At this stage I was about to press ‘publish’ but there was a man outside..

Update at 7pm

Yes!! It has arrived. And though the Ukrainian delivery guy didn’t speak French or English and looked like he wanted to kill me (probably mutual, in hindsight), and while the box appears somewhat weary and deflated, I think everything’s OK inside. Good job I stuck a few pillows in with it!

Finally I can go and shower, and celebrate with another glass of water and another look at those colours I chose

Maybe the smiley plumber can install a wine tap as well?

Fifty Shades of Greige

Because blandness comes as standard

Last night hadn’t passed as I’d hoped. I had barely slept and each hour was marked by the church bell, one hour behind time. At first I thought I had dreamed that my alarm had gone off, because the 7am sky was non-committal, not the bright blue I had expected

And so, the word ‘greige’ surfaced, a word I originally learned from a very bouncy Etienne Daho song on my playlist back in Brussels circa 1991 (I still sometimes play it). I grabbed my phone again and checked for the exact translation of greige, which is ‘the colour of silk in its natural state, a light grey towards beige’

I might have said ‘muddy’

My phone reassured me that it was currently clear and that the day would get better. Of course, all that time spent awake during the night had encouraged doubts and thoughts of ‘what am I actually doing?’ to creep in, and I was glad to see that the sky had changed to clear azure as promised. I put those negative thoughts away. I had a lot to do

My day was spent stripping wallpaper and sweeping out the bulging fire grate in the ‘head in a bag room’, which is now ready for washing, filling and painting, and should probably be re-named before I get too used to calling it that!

The delivery I had been expecting all day didn’t arrive. I worked until I was filthy and exhausted and I could barely put a sentence together when Baz called. My clothes and I were by now fifty shades of greige so I took a shower at my rented apartment and recovered with a mint tea in the sun

The builders had left nothing but this cabinet in the bathroom. I can only assume that they thought I’d want to keep itIMG_5105I ‘took care’ of it as soon as they’d gone for the day

I was in the supermarket this evening with plenty of red wine in my basket (I absolutely have to sleep tonight) when the plumber called me. Just five minutes later we were back in the house talking waste pipes, British taps and toilet installations, and I am delighted to announce that thanks to their work we now have a cold water supply officially inside the house and that a basic bathroom will be installed within the next week or so

I must go now. I must sleep, and that wine won’t open itself

 

What Remains

Elle ne rit plus

After a day of noise aplenty, this evening is extremely quiet. Even the pigeons have packed up and left

Downstairs is now a full-on building site, and barely feels like our house at all

That’s OK. I know there has to be a time like this, when there is less house than there was – literally, as we are three walls down from my last visit. Numerous pickups loaded with rubble from the false walls and the huge stash of charbonne have been a sobering reminder that there are some things best entrusted to the ‘better equipped’ than we are. We could not have done this part of the work

Newspapers show that the last time anyone lit a fire here was January 1973. Makes sense

The house is temporarily without radiators, and the hallways are suddenly broad and impressive. Every single pipe of any sort in the house has been cut with an angle grinder. Plus, the sink, the bidet and the disgusting laughing toilet are all gone

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‘Elle ne rit plus’**

** That’s the last of the toilet humour, I promise

The defunct monster boiler and fuel tank have been removed, as well as three monolithic cookers of various weights and ages, two of which were up on the second floor and required huge effort to move. There is a double bed wedged into the top staircase at the moment, yet somehow that doesn’t seem important. The air is thick with dust and I have retreated to let it settle overnight

But I feel that it has been well worth coming down for this. There is now a definite commitment on both sides and stuff is happening

There will be a bathroom of sorts this summer. And a (relatively) clean area to make toast and coffee until we get a kitchen built

Feels good. Feels really good

The Fall of the House of Birds

Sanity is Optional

Builders blustering into the house has created a great deal of stress and creative energy. Here are some of today’s tableaux depicting progress. There were more but you’ve been spared because nerdpress got stroppy when I tried to upload them:

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‘La Toilette Qui Rit’
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‘Face With Cigar and Telescope’
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‘Jazz Collage’ (detail)
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‘Still Life With Resting Wheelbarrow’
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‘La Toilette Qui Dort’
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‘Stardust’

 

 

Round and Round and Back

Big is not always better

The house has benefitted hugely from its first dry year in possibly decades. Today the sun was out and proud, and – though I couldn’t feel my  fingers or toes – the house basked. Even the water in the cellar is drying out, thanks to the new roof

This house never complains. It doesn’t threaten or stamp its feet. There’s no drama, it is just chilled and calm and forgiving. I love this house

We had talked of moving the kitchen into part of the cave/garage to allow more space, but now we have decided to keep it where it is. We can keep the floor tiles, the floor to ceiling two-metre wide larder, the chimney breast with its bottle shelf and the cute sink/drainer in the corner. What we will have to lose is the quaint old coke-fuelled range, the horrid Formica cupboards and the frill (Sorry, I just cannot live with that frill)

A simple kitchen, but enough for us. And enough for the house

When I told our builder yesterday that I had changed my mind again, he said it was good that we’d taken time to decide how the house will work best for us. And that’s true, because the mind can run riot in a house like this – all the possibilities – but the ‘feel good’ factor is important too

And this feels right. For us and for the house

 

 

How Low Can We Go?

There are clues everywhere, but put on your sunglasses

It’s exciting to find dates on things. I got a rush when I noticed that the panel of the attic door which we use on a daily basis is patched up with a financial report from 1914. Did someone from the house have links with Paris at that time?

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Newspaper seems to have been used liberally in the house. It’s great because it helps establish dates. The latest so far is 1983

On our first weekend at the house (Wine, Weather and Woodworm – 4 nights in Quillan) we noticed a door from one bedroom which didn’t open, while the other side of it in the ‘Jewel Room’ had fabric wall covering continued across it, making it invisible. The fabric covered the entire room, but we removed it from one wall amid a tempest of dust, exposing two layers of paper, the bottom one being pure ‘jazz age’ in exuberant zig zag, while also incorporating stripes and curves (below right). I love art deco but this is hideous

Having removed the paper from the wall with the door, I found that they had filled out the old door with cardboard and newspaper to make it flush with the wall before papering

The date of the stocks and shares is 9th August 1895. Under the newspaper is also some very old sort-of-flock paper, in a beautiful teal colour. It must have once looked very impressive, and it presumably pre-dates the newspaper

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Back in ‘the big cupboard room’ I purloined the builders ladder from the attic and have unleashed a torrent of papers. There are flowers, geometric print with flowers, stripes with bouquets, just stripes and then a simple one-colour blue on a pale background under them all

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Geometric with flowers – do you think it’s too much?

The one thing the occupiers of this house didn’t over-use was restraint. My neck and shoulders ache tonight, but I’m getting a little bit closer to the bones of the house now