Safe Keeping for Secrets

When is housework a good thing?

The house now has heating, so I’ve stuffed random packing materials into every possible cranny to stop the heat going into the roof-space and out of the windows. There are a lot of crannies, but there’s a heap of bubble wrap

I close doors to keep the heat in wherever possible. It feels good – mainly

Note to self: don’t close that bloody kitchen door again (there’s a very good reason why I’d never seen that door closed before and it took me over an hour to break in on Sunday morning)

I sit alone, having my coffee, lunch and evening meal at the recently unpacked and rather grand dining table in the grand – slightly derelict – courtyard. What else could I possibly need?

Well, wifi, as it happens

Because being able to access a neighbour’s wifi from the bedroom has allowed me to spend an evening researching the family of leather merchants who owned this house a hundred years ago

The father, Emile, was the mayor of the town when the first electricity turbine was installed in 1890. It would have been a very exciting era, and it makes perfect sense that he and/or his wife would have remodelled the house around that time

I found out that one of his sons helped found the town’s first ever rugby team. I’ve even seen a picture of him, cross-legged in front of his team mates

Sadly, I learned that this son died aged twenty eight in the war in 1914, and so did his older brother in 1918. Emile’s third son – another talented rugby player – was apparently also injured in the war and died prematurely. According to a local gentleman’s memoirs it was his widow who remained living here, and the ‘beautiful’ house was virtually abandoned after her death

We look through the panes of glass they looked out of, the shutters and doors have survived, the staircase and the tiled floors that they trod all remain

For some time, one of the simple terracotta tiles upstairs has interested me. It was so obviously different but I couldn’t move it and was afraid to damage it. Yesterday I tried again to lift it and this time the tile came away easily when I caught the corner just right, dislodging the loose dust that acts as grout and revealing that it was neatly wrapped in newspaperP1010055

Underneath it I found a small but perfect underfloor safe. All it held was a few scraps of newspaper, but I felt a real rush, because this had remained untouched for a very long time. The dirt and the newspaper had ensured that the tile sat soundly and was not easily found, perfect for hiding valuables. Only someone scrubbing this floor would have noticed itP1010057

P1010058So maybe housework isn’t all bad!

I have replaced the tile, leaving the newspaper undisturbed for now. I will try to date it later, but one of the items I noticed in the paper looks interesting …

I wonder what other secrets remain in this house

The Accidental Prop Shop

The world’s smallest brocante – and nothing is for sale

All my current favourite rooms in the house seem to be the ones that had been in complete darkness for over forty years, with the shutters and doors firmly closed. Perhaps they scream the loudest and so they get the my attention?

This room is effectively just the end of a corridor next to the ‘Damask Room’ and had been used by the elderly lady as a cooking and laundry area until the mid-1970s. Note the clothes pegs and hangers – I’m not really a detective

Poshbird's prop shop
as we found it August 2015

I spent a day last week stripping this tiny room bare of paper. The Dissoucol worked a dream and I learned the (mercifully brief) wallpaper history of this space

Poshbird's prop shop

Under the very brown patterned wallpaper with the horribly mismatched border there was a cobalt blue and white lace-patterned paper which must have been very elegant in its day. This in turn had its own border, deep blue and graphite with silver grapes on it, though I only found small traces of this

Poshbird's prop shop

Poshbird's prop shop

The ceiling paper was extraordinary only in the fact that it would never have worked with either wallpaper. I was fascinated by how the pattern has chemically degraded

Removing the old coat rack (I have kept it for future use) revealed a patch where the colour had remained, showing an unexpected and much cheerier sky blue background

Poshbird's prop shop

I found various scribbles on receipts covering up to 1975 in the coke box. I gathered all the evidence – which will need a good iron – and stuck it into a vide grenier frame for safe-keeping

Poshbird's prop shop

Also in among the coke was a cannonball, about two and a half inches in diameter. No doubt at least one of these has hit the house during its history, judging by the cracks. This house just keeps giving

Poshbird's prop shop
in spring 2017 we ‘lost’ the cooker or whatever it was
Poshbird's prop shop
some epic gravity-defying cobwebs

The little room is earmarked for a loo and washbasin and we’ve had plumbing installed in readiness, but I was SO enjoying unpacking all sorts of smaller gems after two years in their wrappings that I decided to actually ‘put’ them somewhere to enjoy them. I’ve never had them in one place together before so it’s been hard to gauge scale etc. Plus, I wanted to check for breakages – so far, so good…

Poshbird's prop shop
Exterior doors (right one partially cleaned)

The original paintwork on the doors showed fabulous colours under the filth, so rather than remove the lead-based paint (and who knows what else is in it?) I will keep it. It rivals any posh paint colours of today and has a genuinely fabulous patina. I’m sure some people would squirm at the idea, but I don’t care. I can use wax to seal it

Poshbird's prop shop
Starting to unpack (interior door to hallway)

And so, here we have the world’s smallest brocante, the beginnings of my own personal prop shop from which I can pick and choose items. Don’t you just love it?

Poshbird's prop shop

Pavarotti’s Key

Hanging doors and pointing fingers

I knew I’d earned my bath each evening when that dirty ring of shame (or honour, depending on how you choose to view it) appeared almost immediately I got in the tub

At least eight internal doors in the house were taken off by the builders and plumbers for ease of access, but that was months ago and they had taken up residence propped against the walls (the doors, not the workmen, who all cleared off on their summer holidays without replacing them) so it fell to me to try to re-hang them alone before the family arrived

France uses a simple and effective drop-in hinge system, but some of these doors are over two hundred years old and very heavy. I’m pretty strong, and thanks to working in beer cellars I’m used to pivoting heavy items onto blocks, but  this was exhausting. It was a very hot day and the ludicrously oversized key in the Head in a Bag Room door was constantly bruising my right thigh as I tried to locate the hinge

It was then that I remembered someone describing making love to Luciano Pavarotti as ‘like having a large wardrobe fall on you’

‘With the key still in it’

I shuddered, removed the enormous key and successfully hung the door without further injury (!)

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Once done, there was no way I was going to try to lift it off again alone, even though my Marigold glove was stuck fast in the hinge (I guess it could just as easily have been my finger – ouch!) so the glove remained pointing its pink finger along the hallway until Baz arrived the following week to assist me

The house is certainly starting to change. The Head in a Bag Room is now fast becoming the much more user-friendly Damask Room, no doubt the first of various damasks, as I am currently having a bit of a love affair with patterned wall coverings. Of course, the newly-hung door needed to be painted blue as it had been propped elsewhere when I decorated so I had missed it

Interestingly, I noticed, the last person who painted the door had done so while it was closed

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Traditionally one opens the door before painting?

Unfortunately, because this was such an ugly and unpromising room, we hadn’t taken many pictures of it beforehand

There was never a plan to work on it first. This busy wallpaper was over EVERYTHING, there was decayed lino on the floor, brown skirtings and woodwork, and the old lady’s mattress leaned against the wall. Satisfyingly, apart from the removal of the mattress and installation of a 140kg radiator we’ve done everything else ourselves. At some point we will need the electrics sorted out, but for now we are using a portable LED light

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Head in a Bag Room after stripping (sorry, wordpress insists that the picture is THIS BIG)

Putting the bed together really spurred me on and I found it quite therapeutic to spend an hour or so a day decorating as a break from the slog of heavy workIMG_1353

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On the road to Damask

I put the shell-motif mirror over the fireplace. Gill – who doesn’t miss much – noticed it in a previous post, and I think it really works here. I had a much better pic of the room a few days later but wordpress is being an arse and won’t upload it. Hopefully, you get the idea for now. It’s a long way from finished yet, but there is a new calm in this unexpectedly light and airy room and it was a good feeling to take our shoes off before going into our new sanctuary. I love this space now (excuse the old light cable dangling)

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And every girl needs a place for her claret jug. As this will eventually be a guest bedroom the jug may just have to be kept filled for visitors

 

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