Rent  A  Traditional  Country
Farmhouse  in  South-West  France

Week 8

Start the week here

Day 56, Sunday 25th April

The sun is shining, again! I start early as the Boss was not too well last night so I leave her sleeping in what will be a rented gite in south west France. She denies its to do with the wine.

Build up the internal walls removing a few more stones from the field of rocks, but not enough to make a real difference.



The "vegetable" patch!

I dig over the already dug over vegetable patch, to help break down the clay soil. Later, we plant another tree small and digging the hole is another workout without the gym. I also manage to finally contact an electrician who is meeting us tomorrow, just before lunch. Perhaps we will get some results, but just in case, I now know where to buy a generator.

We plant another tree. The moles come in really useful, as they leave the only useable soil. So I now have a daily task. Collect all the moles hills and save them for tree planting. Long live molely.

And if you rent a gte in south west France, the sun is still shining

Day 55, Saturday 24th April

A blue and cloudless sky under which to fetch the croissants. Only one each as the Boss says she's putting on weight despite the exercise. We're taking the day off as our social engagements are a bit like London buses; nothing for ages and then they appear in a bunch. We spend most of the day taking it easy and enjoying the sunshine.

I go to the site to meet Mr Earring and a stone mason to look at the corner of the barn. To my untrained eye, the corner of the barn looks like its going to collapse at any moment and part of the roof may come with it. With large pieces of "Charantaise" stone, the local stone, as the base for the corners, it needs a good mason. How one tells is not too easy. We'll see if Mr Earring can come up trumps.

In the early evening, we've been invited to our farmer neighbours for a drink and later we are going out to dinner to celebrate a friends birthday. The farmers wife actually speaks some English and understands our French very well. We drink Pineau which he made himself and I can get used to the stuff despite hating spirits. He tells me how to make it and as its pretty easy, who knows? They give us a bottle to take with us; visitors get ready.

The dinner out is really French traditional combined with a flair for presentation. At €43 per head (£30 each) including drinks, pricey but well worth it. That's another place to revisit. And as we rested today, tomorrow is a work day.

But no lie in tomorrow

Day 54, Friday 23rd April

Again, a complete change overnight. The sky is a cloudless blue and the air is clear. Too good to work the entire day inside. In the morning, more wall building using stones. If we build enough extra height on the walls, perhaps we'll use all the stones and the "garden" will be stone free. Fat chance. We'll save the stone clearing until some friends arrive. They'll probably leave as ex friends.

In the afternoon, we have to visit the local rubbish dump, the decheterie to get rid of the accumulated scrap iron and building rubble. It is organised along what I am told is now a European standard. Reverse up to an appropriate skip marked metal, garden waste, building materials, etc and move the rubbish from the back of the van and drop it into the skip. No steps to climb or other manoeuvres to make. The attendant checks we are from an appropriate commune to be using "his" tip.

Then we go to check on the price of insulated plaster board, which will help us shop around. Later, so that we actually get some sun, we dig over what will be the vegetable patch. Hard work, but the soil is just right for this. Another day and it would have baked solid. Any rain and it is impossible. The Boss spends some time raking to level the area used by JCB's and cement deliveries. Great exercise for the stomach muscles and she says she will have more of a six-pack than me. So I get raking too.

We've been lent a satellite aerial and a decoder for a few months. Unfortunately its an old analogue one and the only channels we can get are BBC1, ITV News, Sky News and CNN. However, this means we can rush home to watch Neighbours and then the news which is novel. I thought I missed the news, but having seen it, do I really care? And after seeing Norwich City promoted; life is definitely better without TV.

There's lots of debate locally about which channels are free to air. It seems some people can get BBC2, BBC News 24, ITV and all the French terrestrial channels and some music ones as well. However, the decoder suppliers seems to guard their secrets so they can charge handsomely for the privilege of a one hour installation and set-up.

I'll bet dealing with a satellite dish provider, is easier than dealing with EDF

Day 53, Thursday 22nd April

It rained heavily overnight. The day is dark grey and still drizzling at times. The kitchen has water all over the floor and around the sides. The water table had risen above the cut telephone tube and run into the house. After a few unprintable words, the Boss reminds me of my favourite saying; "If it was all easy, everyone would be doing it"!

I have decided to get a local electrician to provide the temporary electricity connection. This is so EDF cannot say I've got the wrong type of widgets and refuse to connect us. Easier said than done. There are several local ones, but they do not carry mobiles, so you are phoning them at home. Miss them at lunch time, or they are out in the evening, and its just bad luck as they don't seem to have answer phones. Are we in a time warp, stuck in the eighties?

Eventually I find an electrician with a mobile, but he is on vacation from next Monday, for a week. This really IS an EDF conspiracy. Nothing for it but to continue building up the walls, in the dark interior, with almost no daylight. I now understand why the moles keep coming up for air.

Back to Bricomarche, the local DIY store, to get silicone to seal the telephone tube. I see the guy that told me off and say the usual bonjour not adding "Messiur Brico" which I've nicknamed him. Then I ask him (in my best French) how he is. He says good and asks about me. He finishes with an enormous grin and says, in English "Its good?" And now I'm sure of great service every time, as long as I remember the Brico protocol.

In the afternoon we meet another construction company to talk about the barn. An English guy with a French girlfriend. Call it prejudice, but a man with an earring in each ear simply cannot be taken seriously.

We learn a bit more about the planning process and ways to deal with issues of planning delays, getting the commune (local authority) to pay for the drainage work needed at the side of the road and how to get over the legal requirement for an architect if the floor area exceeds 175sq meters. But Mr Earring comes across as dodgy. We decide to test them with a few issues.

Finally, we walk over sodden ground to get to the car and its still grey, dark and drizzling. Maybe its the weather getting me down, but I'm beginning to feel we are not getting anywhere.

But; tomorrow is another day

Day 52, Wednesday 21st April

What a difference a day makes. The sky is blue and by 11:00 I'm working in a T-shirt. We are now building the interior walls to the height of where the ceiling will be. Perhaps the pictures will tell a better story.

Anyway, the process is easy. Collect some rocks, carry them upstairs, fill a bucket with cement, mixed by hand; now if only we had ..., and carry that upstairs. Then do what a bricklayer in the UK would do, except with odd sized and shaped stones. Some of the "stones" dug up when putting the septic tank in, are actually clay, but so hard, it is difficult to tell the difference.

By 11:30 we have to go and buy more cement. The guy in the DIY store; Mr Brico, tells me off in the nicest possible way, because I don't do things the French way. I greet him and ask for two bags of cement. What I should do is greet him, talk about the weather, football, the price of eggs, and then just before leaving say, "Oh yes, and can I have two bags of cement". But at least I got a smile out of him, which is progress. Wait till my next visit Mr Brico.

In the afternoon a four day classic car rally passes through a local village so we stop for a late lunch and sit in the sun and watch what seems to be mostly Porches roar through. Not exactly exciting, but if you are a 911 (that's 911 the car) fan, you missed something special.

And then out of guilt, back to site to build up a little more wall. After a really warm sunny day, the clouds are gathering as we drive home.

I just hope the water table stays below the cut telephone tube

Day 51, Tuesday 20th April

Its not so grey, but still damp. The ground is so wet and clay based, that walking across the site your boots get heavier and heavier with each step you take. The compensation is its a workout and no gym membership needed.

France Telecom (FT to their friends) due to arrive between 10:00 and 12:00. By 10:30 the rain has stopped, and at 10:45, Mr FT arrives. He connects his cable to the cord inside the tube, so neatly arranged in the famous trench. Mr FT feeds the cable, while I pull the cord from inside the house. Then the cord breaks.

With the trench filled in, the only option is to dig up the tube at about the point we estimate the cord broke. Easier said than done. Just getting through the clay used to fill the trench was a mammoth task. By the time I (not FT; we're now getting familiar) had reached the tube, I was below the water table and I was shovelling out water, with fresh arriving as quickly as I could shovel.

Eventually FT braved the cold water, cut the tube and pushed the cable through from that point. However now I have a break in the tube, below the water table and higher than the house. Putting the tube back into the ground, will mean each time it rains, water will run down the tube into the kitchen! This plus the overhead cable connection took over four hours.

Some things are never easy. Now, I have to build a small sunken inspection chamber, where the tube can sit protected from the rain and above the water table. But at least we have a telephone line. It seems like a lifeline to the rest of the world, which we always had, but on a mobile, after we had our first bill, not used very much. We celebrate, first with a "thé au lait", shared with Mr (back to some respect) FT, and then with a call to England. Mr FT's launderer will not be best pleased to see him covered in clay, but France Telecom delivered, on time.

And after a very late lunch, more hole filling, with the light fading fast. By late evening the sky is clear.

I forecast a better day tomorrow

Day 50, Monday 19th April

Fifty days since we set out out. I guess we've had some ups and downs, "But the downs have been few" (courtesy Gladys Knight). For me, a small up is fresh milk (as opposed to long life), which is not that common. So we often end up using full cream milk as that's all the Boss can find. Vive la cholesterol and fat.

Today is another down. The weather is dark grey and has been raining what seems like all night. The site is sodden and I'm rather glad that we managed to get some water into the septic tank, as the water table seems to be about two inches; sorry, 51mm below the surface.

We go to a larger local town and ask for a "Declaration de Travaux". This time we actually get what we want. All I need now is two hours with the dictionary and some aspirin.

More hole filling in between showers of rain and not a lot else. Now if we had electricity, ... 

Oh well, tomorrow is France Telecom day