Rent  A  Traditional  Country
Farmhouse  in  South-West  France

Week 4

Start the week here

Day 28, Sunday 28th March 2004

Rest day again. I was too tired to go the local and watch England France rugby, but I know someone with it on tape.

A friend has bought a satellite dish and decoder for all the "free to air" channels. This means the Boss can watch Neighbours and I can see the football scores on the day of the game. Somehow it's not the same seeing the league tables three weeks later. Just one thing with the decoder. The instructions are in French, the help-line has closed for the weekend, and despite valiant efforts we get nowhere. Oh well, Ipswich and Luton Town will have to reach the play-offs without my encouragement.

Although the sun is shining, its still cool, but the wind has stopped. Riding past the local park, I stop to watch a football game. If any of the local team (Bonne) are reading this, I'm sorry guys, but your game would make me look good!

Out to dinner tonight to eat duck. On every top chefs Christmas top ten list, and eaten regularly here. People often keep ducks for the pot. Oh well, a few more glasses of wine will help the aches and pains.

Soon we'll rent a holiday house. And so to week 5

Day 27, Saturday 27th March 2004

Weighed down with croissants, I begin the job of finally levelling the "kitchen" soil, before the hardcore goes in. The Boss arrives later after getting the weekend supplies, which of course means its time for a tea break. How I love that English custom!

By lunchtime, its warmer and the floor is ready for the hardcore. I hope my new laser levelling toy works, otherwise the kitchen floor will be higher or lower than the lounge and the man at B&Q will have some explaining to do. So I check the levels again.

After lunch, with all the stones and broken roof tiles around, you'd think hardcore would be easy. But the work is backbreaking, and a bucket load of stones seems to make little impact on the amount of soil showing. So once we're good and tired, we do our best to hide all the soil by moving the hardcore around and then its time to water the trees.

While winding the bucket up from the well, we have a little trouble. The handle moves but the spindle has come loose. A temporary repair works, only to reveal that the movement of the whole mechanism, is loosening the surrounding stones. After several expletives, we decide that its best not to lean over the edge until some serious repairs are done. However, we continue to use a piece of engineering, probably built over a hundred years ago. Now if we had a trench, and it was approved by EDF, perhaps ...

... no point in wondering

Day 26, Friday 26th March 2004

Slow start today, but no doubt we'll pay for that later. We get taken to the most organised and immaculately clean public rubbish dump in the world. Reverse up to the appropriate skip, which is below where you're standing, so you unload easily. There is a skip for everything. The man in charge lifts a piece of concrete out of my van, that two of us struggled to load, did a few power-lifts with it just for fun, and then carried it to the appropriate skip. He also writes out in English, the opening times for our local dump, as unfortunately this one is not it.

By that time, its too late to get back to site and do any work, so we stop for a coffee and then home for lunch and a siesta. In the afternoon, the local septic tank official arrives to make sure that work is being done correctly. She tells us the work is good quality, the soil will be fine, and that we will get a "certificate of conformity". This we'll need if we ever sell the house. She also says make sure the air vent is well above window height as the smell ... well I understood the gestures, without understanding the French.

And a little sequel to the digger story. During a lift of stones, there is a crack and a hydraulic cable breaks, leaking hydraulic fluid into our nice new sandpit. But the repair man is out in two hours and they had a second digger anyway. Lucky for our holiday house in south west France.



I'm sure the instructions said that bit goes somewhere else

 Although the sun is shining, the wind is blowing and it's bitterly cold. You can see we're getting soft already. We have almost levelled the "kitchen" and removed all the debris. Its time for another trip to the sandpit, where Miss Whiplash; er, sorry, the Boss and I shovel in 800kgs of sand which will stay in the van until we need it on the weekend. Having shovelled so much sand, the staff feel sorry for us and give us an account so that we can pay when we collect the final load. They don't know I'll be collecting sand and gravel probably for the next 12 months.

I still can't quite get used to the expectation of honesty everywhere. Our sand account is on the basis of an address we gave, no identification, no credit checking. And we still weigh every load of sand ourselves.

Why do you always get your camera out when I'm having a tea break?

The septic tank is empty and we are told to fill it with water. If there is heavy rain, the water table may actually lift the tank if its empty. But we don't have any water. Of course we could pump it from the well, but we don't have a pump. Even if we had a pump, we'd need electricity! Three thousand litres, wound up by hand 7 meters from the water table and then carried across the building site, in 25 litre loads? I think I'd rather go and shovel another 800kgs of sand. Anyway, we struggle with the cold and give up at five.

And tomorrow is croissant day

Day 25, Thursday 25th March 2004

Even more excitement today. Mr Septic's men have arrived with another digger, in order to speed up the work. And another lorry arrives with the actual septic tank on the back. What could once almost pass for lawn, now looks like a real building site.

Also, EDF, Electricitè de France are on the job. We are used to just picking up the phone, advising the electricity company and reading the meter, and voila. But actually getting the stuff connected, well that's a little more complicated. So tonight I'll read my French electricity book; using the dictionary for every second word.

At 12:00 the noise suddenly stops. That's how I know its time for lunch.

After lunch, another quick visit to the sawmill, and then back to the site. France Telecom senior guy arrives and we discuss getting the cable to the house. They agree it can go in the same trench as the electricity, and water. All we need now is the trench.



Perhaps we should have ordered a swimming pool, not a cess pool

Anyway, the septic tank is in and Mr Septic, is now called Sir. Not much use without water for the toilet. Come to think of it, a septic tank, without a bathroom, toilet, running water and those clever bacteria, is pretty useless. However this is progress on one of the big issues.


We now also have our electricity meter. But without a trench across the "lawn", to EDF specifications, no electricity. A little challenging to dig, because the lawn has the remains of a collapsed building in it, however, ....

.... that's for another day

Day 24, Wednesday 24th March 2004

Should be lots of excitement today. The day starts misty and cold.



The fog on the Tyne's all mine (the fog on the Dronne's all gone, doesn't work with this picture)

A JCB (well not actually a JCB, but a digger built in England) arrives, along with a truck with all the extras. But it's overheating and they discover a broken fan belt. So no digging this morning.

As its cold, I do some digging around the outside walls; using the traditional pick and shovel method, to keep myself warm. Thanks to my pocket computer still on UK time, I'm actually working an hour earlier than usual.

By the time the Boss arrives, its got to be time for tea. France Telecom duly arrive (half an hour early), but don't get too excited. The line installer tells us its too far from the pole to the house, so we'll need another pole. As he's a contractor, he only does lines, but will tell France Telecom and they'll organise the pole. So no phone just yet.

 By 4:00, the digger is fixed and work begins.


Those triffids weren't there this morning, when the fan belt broke

 By knocking off time, I have decided that the boss, will in future be known as Miss Whiplash (nothing to do with deviant practises). Stop for a breather or a cup of tea, and the tongue lashing is something that makes even the laziest workman jump to attention.


Miss Whiplash is getting worried about the size of the garden moles

And tomorrow? Is electricity too much to ask?

Day 23, Tuesday 23rd March 2004

Some friends we met here, have just signed their "Comprimis de Vente". They are buying a house and this means unless they pull out within seven days, they don't wait with finger crossed for the "exchange of contracts", no gazumping, and the fees are fixed. The boss will buy the good wine to celebrate. That's €1.99, not the 90 cents (58 pence to you) stuff.

 Before France Telecom arrive to install our telephone line, we need a telephone. Actually we also needed other building supplies, not so readily available locally. So we take a trip to Angouleme. Small city with lots of out of town hardware places and as you can see from the picture, the mayor works from a pokey little office. However lunch definitely calls for a trip to the town centre. Anyway, the boss "hasn't seen a real shop for weeks".

Not much more to say, except we got toilets on special offer, the damp proofing for the floor, and ordered 60sq meters of floor tiles, also at sale prices. You can see what the highlight of our week is!

We also managed to buy yesterdays English papers. Read the main part in about four minutes. Apart from high winds, nothing seems to have changed since we left. Now the sports section will take about two days. With England France rugby on Saturday, I really must find a friend who has satellite TV.

On the way back it pours with rain, as if I don't already know every roof leak. However, by 10:00 at night, the sky is cloudless and the lack of light pollution makes the stars seem even brighter.

Big day tomorrow; phone, septic tank, and who knows what else?

Day 22, Monday 22nd March 2004

Early start today as the septic tank man (Mr Septic as he has become known) is due to start today, and I don't want him to arrive, find us not there and then leave for another week. By 10:45 he has been called a lot worse than Mr Septic and he is definitely off the job. But at 11:00, he arrives with a delegation.

As it rained hard last night, there is lots of tramping about in the mud, discussion on the possibilities of the soil not being absorbent enough (you know, like Huggies nappies), and if we want to be certain, we can get a detailed soil analysis for €600, so we can be sure. Also where to put it. We could could put it over there, but there are newly planted trees in the way!

The official for the region, fills in the paperwork. Mr Septic says the soil sample is not necessary. As he comes highly recommended, the neighbours septic tank works, and he has installed literally hundreds of these (that's a lot of crap to be dealing with), we tell him to go ahead. Because we are not there tomorrow, he will arrive with digger in tow on Wednesday. I go into a corner and beg forgiveness for all the things I said about him.

The weather is cold, grey and damp; some how reminiscent of England. So its inside work again. Yvonne continues with the re-pointing. She is getting to be good at this, but her fingertips are slowly disintegrating with the shaping of wet mortar. Her explanation is that it's easier than using the specially purchased stainless steel trowel. The packet of Polyfilla we were given as a leaving present is nearly all gone, so we decide to buy 25kg bags in future.

I finish pressing down the 2.4 tons of sand so the lounge is now one big level sandpit. And yes, if you go back to last week and add it up, it does come to 2,400kgs; that's 2.4 metric tons. With hail, rain, sunshine and then more hail, the indoor light gets too poor to continue working and like real workmen, sorry; work-persons, we can't get wet, so we knock off early. There is also another advantage to the rain. We now know where all the leaks in the roof are.

I telephone "DDE" who are the font of all knowledge when it comes to building regulations and planning permissions. Despite my French, I now know that we only need a Declaration de Travaux, not the full blown planning application. I'm quite pleased that I managed that. All I need to do now is fill in the paperwork.

But that's tomorrow