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

 

 

A Bientot, Mes Oiseaux

La Maison des Oiseaux is calling me back

In an email exchange a month or so back, Gill (Blog-sur-Aude) referred to our house in passing as ‘La Maison des Oiseaux’. I found this fascinating, as I think of it also as a house of birds

Perhaps it was the loft full of pigeons, some living and laying, others fossilised, one of whom – living – ambushed me in the main hallway and made me jump out of my skin while the builders were replacing the roof, and leaving a mountain of detritus for me to clear up (the pigeons, not the builders)

Is it because I am ‘Poshbird’? No, I don’t think so

Anyway, I love birds. So, for whatever reason, I think the name fits our house. I might even find a suitably stylised bird to sit on the staircase in place of the missing bannister finial

And when this unusual winged wardrobe came up for sale I thought it was simply beautiful and I bought it with birthday money

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It sits on the deep bottom drawer, just visible in the mirror (as is my elbow)

It’s been packed up, so all I have are a few photos to drool over for now

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Bird motifs, gorgeous oak grain

‘A bientot, mes oiseaux!’

 

 

Same Again, PLEASE

Elegant in grey for four centuries, but now out of fashion?

I arrive at the Mairie, sans maquillage, and the lovely guy at the desk recognises me, smiles warmly and calls me by another woman’s name. As soon as I try to correct his error he apologises, remembering that he did the same thing the last time we met, and we both laugh. Do she and I look similar? He thinks so, he says. I explain that I’ve been told there is a grant toward restoring the outside of the house, and he says he’ll get me an appointment. I wonder what does this other bloody woman look like – is she actually my doppelgänger?

He phones me in the afternoon, while I am on the balcony with colour charts, matching the shutters as closely as possible (somewhere between ‘gauze deep’ and ‘bone china blue’ – though closer to ‘gauze deep’). I am on my way, I tell him, and I go straight there, just slightly grubbier than in the morning. He hadn’t realised how complicated the matter was, that there are forms to be completed for the permit, that 2 quotations must be obtained, and that we must then write a letter to the Mayor and the work inspected before money can be awarded

His English is good, but I try to keep him in French so we mix it up a lot. He’s apologetic about the amount of time involved – six months just for the permission, and longer for the grant – but I’m undeterred

He sends me upstairs, and as I climb the staircase I see that the building is very beaux-arts inside, though municipalisation has disguised much of this. I arrive at the correct office where a well-dressed and (as I discover later) very fragrant lady greets me somewhat coolly, having been pre-warned that this Anglaise was on her way. Her colleague at the other desk is in charge but is clearly a man who would prefer to spend ten minutes explaining to her what needs doing than to do it himself. As it turns out, she’s very kind and she accompanies me back downstairs to the guy I was speaking with before, because, as she explains, he speaks English and she doesn’t. Once installed at his desk she shows us both the extent of the paperwork and produces a sheet of twelve potential stonework/shutter colour combos for which I may request the permit

The choices illustrated are yellow stonework with shutters in mauve, dark or light blue, beige stone or red with brown, orange stone with brown, light or dark green, pink stone with brown or pale blue, or blue stone with light or dark green. It looks to me like the plans for a Disney resort

I am, shall we say, ‘unimpressed’

I explain that we don’t want to change the colours, only to repaint exactly as it is (grey front and white-ish back, both with the same pale blue-grey shutters, minus the rust stains). But no, they explain, there is no white or grey option, only the colours on the chart, though neither is championing these colour choices, and both are sympathetic. I simply will not renovate at all, I say, but of course this is not an option as the Mairie wants it sorted out. This is the stage at which I become aware of the fragrance of the elegantly dressed lady as she sits down next to me, in my stinky wallpaper-stripping clothes and we ponder the colours together. Upon their request I translate the French ‘beige’ into the English ‘beige’. Still beige. He points at the beige desk. ‘What colour is beige in English?’ I point at the desk and tell him it’s the same colour, we all giggle and it’s good-natured and conspiratorial

Forty minutes and several (mainly unrelated) phone calls later, they are still both sitting with me and all three of us are still disillusioned with the horrible colour sheet, perplexed that the authentic existing colours of this house which has stood elegant and French in grey for four centuries are simply and suddenly out of fashion. And I am sure that the irony that the Mairie does not fit into this scheme does not escape either of them

My only hope, they say, is to complete the forms and explain in a heartfelt letter to the Mayor exactly why I don’t want to change anything, I only want to preserve what is here, and just hope that he will give an exceptional permit for this

I didn’t fall in love with an orange and green house. But I would quickly fall out of love with one, so I have to hope that reason prevails…

To be continued (but most likely not for a few months – I’ve obviously got a lot of paperwork, thinking and letter-writing to do). And there may be a spot of crying

L’Air de Pigeons

Smelly ‘pigeon angels’ swirl in the sunlight

When I stuffed both phones down the leg of my leggings I hadn’t expected them to drop straight through and escape via my right ankle, but this is exactly what is happening as I come down from the attic, a bin bag in each hand. It’s also the moment when Baz calls for an update on the house, and I have to waddle quickly down in order not to fall arse over iphone

Ah, the newly created attic space has surpassed expectations, thanks to the big Velux windows. Well, it is beautiful and calming, and light enough that I can now wander around without fear of debris, or unseen rotten floorboards. These windows reveal the church tower, the tops of the hills beyond. And of course, those taller than me will get proper views

The downside? The filth is indescribable. I mop a small area and find the original terracotta floor tiles, which are in pretty good shape. But the grime is thick and I have already moved several bucket loads before realising that the rough stone walls first need a stiff brushing down first. As I sweep I can see, smell and taste nothing but pigeon detritus. The debris swirls thickly around forming ‘pigeon angels’ in the sunlight and my head jerks back involuntarily from time to time, unsure whether I’ll sneeze or spew. Luckily, it’s the formerIMG_9082

As the church strikes six, I’ve done five solid hours of this and no-one would know I’ve been in here. I am sure that once the dust re-settles I will have made almost no progress

Of course, this is not the update Baz wants, so I tell him of the views he’ll get from the windows, and of the newly-discovered flooring

The only person who’ll tell you that pigeons don’t cause damage inside your house is an estate agent who can’t be arsed to go and close the shutters once you have committed to buy, and who leaves your house open to the elements for months until you finally get the key and can take control of what is left. I had frequent nightmares thanks to that stupid man. So in the worst possible way I feel vindicated when I see the resulting rot in their regular roost spots (oh yes, and I need to scrub all those bits as well!)pigeon loft.JPG

I open the shutter of a glass-less l’oeil de beouf window to let out some dust and heat, but a homesick pigeon is calling a friend, and I close the shutter, stressed

Chicken wire, that’s what we need

And the spiders evicted from the attic? They’ve all joined Quinn by the garage tap, and I realise that I don’t even mind them very much anymore – as long as they keep off the floorIMG_9119.JPG

 

 

Riches to Rags, Defiantly

I’m charmed by neglected things and the spirit of defiance

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There are cracks in our floor, but the tiles are almost more beautiful because of their imperfections. Theirs is an honest story of survival and service, the history of the house itself

Yes, I’m charmed by neglected things, always have been. Recently through necessity it’s French architectural salvage, though I’ll never turn down anything pretty or useful

Or in need of help

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Found in the garage – Pretty AND useful?

I have optimistically bought old radiators from Ebay, with no idea if they will function in France (or at all), and I can’t wait to see the plumber’s face when I show him my latest treasures!

But I am sure our very likeable builder now understands some of the vision for this house. Initially I was made aware by friends that he prefers to rip out and modernise everything (and this was borne out in our early meetings), but I have noticed a subtle change in his attitude – ‘un change de tête’ after further visits. Standing with me in the house, he admired the quality of the ironwork on a window one day, and he talked about how attractive the old shutters will be when sanded and refreshed – yet weeks before he might have suggested replacing them. I might be imagining it, but

I think the house is actually getting to him

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This house has a true riches to rags story, though no-one seems to know the details. And though it doesn’t need anyone’s approval but ours, I suspect that there lurks in our builder a real admiration of this strong survivor, cherished and valued for centuries before being left abandoned and neglected, exposed to the elements for decades. I think he now has a better understanding of why we are doing this and how hard we are prepared to work towards it

It can never again be pristine. Perhaps it never was, despite its grandeur. But pristine wouldn’t really do it for us – we’re not pristine either

How could anyone not love this house, if only for its total defiance?

 

 

 

 

The 24-hour Roof Terrace

A pop-up roof terrace but it couldn’t last

front roofFor one day only we had the roof terrace of our dreams. On Wednesday evening the guys left the front attic fully exposed to the sky, creating fantastic views of the hills, both east and west. It was stunningly beautiful and peaceful. I cried

front roofIt was the pop-up roof terrace that could never be, thanks to local restrictions. At least we were able to experience it, however briefly

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front roofBy the end of Thursday it was fully enclosed once more, before the rain arrived. All beams and boards had been replaced, and there was no trace of the terrace of the night before

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What a difference a day makes

Having lost this spectacular terrace, the attic space will be used for chilling in the evening with a drink – and a pool table?

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