I feel totally at home, but my home is nothing like this
I sit here on an upholstered dining chair at a wooden table in front of a television. I have my laptop, phones, magazines. I have wine, water and wasabi peas. There’s a flushing toilet. This is luxury
I realised as I let myself into my neighbour’s charming apartment that I have become very comfortable here. I want for nothing and his charges are very reasonable. The fact that I can get a phone signal and use his wifi means that I can even stay in touch with Baz and C
Meanwhile our own house is shrouded in scaffolding. The sight stopped me in my tracks when I arrived, even though it was planned. Inside I was surprised and impressed to see that the builders have reinstated the little Formica kitchen table and 2 chairs that we had ‘bunged’ into the garage, presumably as somewhere to sit and take a proper break
Someone on a British TV programme this week described the French way of life as ‘gentle and civilised’. I realise that ‘frustrating’ will be another adjective I’ll continue to use, but both Baz and I thought this was a perfect description. There is merit in upholding traditions and rituals, in maintaining the order that has prevailed. In the UK we have some stunning villages – there is no doubt of that – but in France the villages still largely live and breathe, many communities exist in much the same way as they have for a very long time, and older people generally seem less isolated and lonely
Perhaps I am wrong about that, but most people are deeply sociable and enjoy the company of others. I have just read Blog-sur-Aude’s post (coteetcampagne) about just the same thing – community spirit, available company, shared interests: a village bench where people sit if they choose company. These days millions of people in the UK have nowhere to meet up with others and often no daily connection with their community. A gentler and more civilised way of life would solve so many social problems
But tonight, I’ll just curl up alone with my comforts
After my recent rant which I removed from blogland on the advice of my more sensible other half I now believe hope that roof work may commence in late March or April. This is SUCH good news and has buoyed me up no end
And plumbing? Well, who cares?
Yes, I am feeling rather upbeat about this French folie, which can only mean one thing: that I have been away from it for too long and have forgotten the reality. There has been rather a lot of rain since my last visit and I sometimes ponder the amount of water going into the plastic barrel on the stairs, wondering if it’s overflowing and cascading over the steps. But then I banish that thought and replace it with the idea of opening the shutters and flooding the house with east-west light. Of course, it’s not as easy as that because the windows and shutters are all swollen and rusted in situ, but it’s a happier thought than rainwater p***ing through the roof, isn’t it
In a strange twist – and there is no seamless way to add this to my post – I need to talk about beetroot. I started to crave the stuff a few years back and now I will happily drink cartons of beetroot juice, eat beetroot soup at lunch, and even dunk my beetroot falafel as well (thank you, Waitrose, for spotting this bizarre gap in the market. I would never normally buy falafel!)
So, what does this mean? I guess either my liver must be in great shape or it’s really struggling. Does anyone else share my beetroot addiction? Or will no-one else admit to its mysterious pink side-effects?!
A friend came to visit from Provence on Tuesday. She arrived mid-afternoon, bearing bread, cheese and champagne (she even brought champagne flutes) so I abandoned yanking fabric from the walls and we enjoyed a lovely boozy afternoon snack. Her plan was to stay overnight but due to car trouble she has been here for two. This has been priceless because she had brought her work clothes and she helped me with the dirtiest jobs possible – clearing things from the attic, and bagging up about half a tonne of charbonne from the second floor (we carried it down all the stairs to drop it in the garage with the other several tonnes). It would have been impossible for me to do alone and it took the entire afternoon, working solidly. We looked like Dickensian chimney sweeps when we finished, but it is a relief to have achieved it. Of course, the house is once again filthy throughout, covered in black dust!
The other unexpected bonus is that she has been staying at a quirky B and B down the road, an enormous house which I have wanted to go inside ever since I first came here. We went down to check her in and the owner, Guy, very kindly offered to show us around. It has amazing original belle epoch ceilings and is a masterpiece of recycling. He even has a terrace with a fantastic view of the mountains, something we can never have
This incredible paper sculpture dominates the courtyard. It was made by a Brazilian artist who stayed at Guy’s house. He was full of ideas, and suggested using our courtyard to screen films, projecting them onto the huge wall. Well, we just have to do that, don’t we!
Guy knew the lady who owned our house. Apparently she fell totally in love with the house but her husband would not move from Castelnaudary. So she never got to live in it, which was a source of great sadness to her. He was clearly very fond of her, and he spoke about how she was a very attractive lady, not very tall, and always well-dressed. She didn’t walk well towards the end, he said. A few years back she was paying Taxe d’Habitation because there was furniture in the house, and she called him to ask him to clear the everything out. It must have been terribly difficult for her, because she was giving up on her dream of living there. Apparently she hoped that whoever bought the house would be in love with it the same way, so it seems that fate has played a part here
All 3 of us camping together in one room was the practical solution as none of us knew what to expect from a night in such a large and totally empty old house. Even the slightest noises we made echoed, so we assumed that we would all get fairly spooked during the night. In fact, we were surprised that there was no creaking and no strange sounds at all overnight, other than on Sunday night when some drunken neighbour played his music until 3 am and occasionally added heartfelt vocals
The house definitely has a sunny disposition. Because of this, even the enormous spiders didn’t freak us out. I tried to sweep our bedroom using the broom which was in the hallway, but my heart wasn’t really in it so Baz took over. As he swept the handle snapped off and we saw that it was riddled with woodworm….
We slung a line over the stairs for our wet clothes and towels from the swimming pool. Luxury it wasn’t, but there was nowhere else clean enough to put anything, so we felt it was excusable
On Saturday we all pitched in and scrubbed the floor of a smaller bedroom and we moved our stuff into there on Sunday so that we could start removing the filthy artificial silk fabric off the walls of the Jewel Room. This took us to a whole new level of grime, as we were engulfed in filth. I was gagging, desperately trying not to vomit. Some of the electrics have been positioned over the fabric so we could only do some of the walls, but clearly there is more wallpaper than plaster underneath. We have found patterns from the 50s and the 30s so far, and it is something of a miracle that the chimney breast had not caught fire at any time, because the entire thing appears to be charred and brittle throughout.
In other news, the cellar is flooded. Baz and I ventured down the worn stone steps on Saturday morning to trace where the strong ‘damp’ smell was coming from and Voila! – several feet of standing water. It doesn’t seem to be effluent and it can’t have been flooded too long because someone has been in there to replace joists below the ground floor within the last few years.
Now this might all sound a bit doom and gloom, but it’s really not. This was an initial fact-finding mission and were will re-group and return to face up to the problems. The important thing is that Baz and C have now seen the house – and they love it. It’s summer now so they didn’t care about the lack of home comforts or the inches of dust everywhere, just the sun and the atmosphere in the town. And they know, as I do, that this house has a beautiful bone structure – despite the inevitable osteoporosis
The intended completion date is now 20th August. We are excited and relieved, but we will have to let the notaire sign for us as we cannot get over until the week after. The timing means that we will take possession just a few days before my 50th birthday, which is pretty fantastic.
The plan is to go over and ‘camp’ with sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses for a few days. It’s one way to find out if the toilet works(!), and it will help prepare me for the weeks that I go over alone to get the repairs etc underway. Now the sleepless nights will start, as I start to panic about whether Baz will see potential in the building or be disappointed, and if it is as I remember it…..
I had a ton of things to do today but it’s been very hard to apply myself. We set up our account with Credit Agricole, Baz having had an ‘interview’ on 27th July. He just told me off for putting our French address on the payment instruction to the bank, as we don’t actually own it yet. I know he’s right but I just couldn’t resist, so I hope it doesn’t bite us.
We are very aware that August, the month of doing nothing in France, is almost upon us and we still don’t have a date for completion. On top of that I am away for a week. In the absence of real progress I’ve been struggling to keep my mind on work so I occasionally break off to Google stuff. It’s mainly harmless, but it can lead to me buying bits and pieces, as well as to schemes in my mind becoming grander. Or more time-consuming, at least.
We have both looked at the photos so many times now, and despite having quite a lot of them, it’s all getting a but tiresome. I wish I had taken a bloody tape measure with me to the viewing as we are constantly trying to guess the dimensions of rooms. Last night we were trying to figure out what size the courtyard is, based on various possible dimensions of the floor tiles. Obviously we don’t actually know the sizes of the tiles, the doors, or anything. So we’re still none the wiser…
Today, nearly 5 weeks after having the offer accepted on the house in Quillan we have finally been able to return the Procuration and pay the 10% of the purchase price to the Notaire. I am so excited I could just explode. These are a few of the photos I took when I viewed the house, but there are a lot more! It feels like a crazy derelict film set and there is no sign of anyone having done anything to it since 1970-ish. The design on the walls in the so-called ‘Club Room’ (6th picture – will explain later) is actually fabric rather than paper. The same thing has been done in the ‘Jewel’ room (with the stained glass French doors to balcony). This is love. True love. I can see the next few years of my life being spent trying to restore this amazing house, and I cannot wait! The fireplaces look to be in pretty good decorative nick except for the black one in the salon, which someone has tried to forcibly remove, and so broken in the attempt. I am sure we can get something done to reinforce it. I also found a small area of hand painted design on one wall, which may be the last remaining trace of the original 17th century building. I am sure the fireplaces are later and that someone remodelled the entire place into a very grand house in the late 18th century, but hopefully I will be able to find out more once we have the paperwork and the keys.