Rent  A  Traditional  Country
Farmhouse  in  South-West  France

Week 11

Start the week here

Day 77, Sunday 16th May

I bought a cheap mountain bike so that friends visiting, if they feel energetic, can go out riding. I get up early and decide to try it out. A few adjustments to get the saddle and handlebar heights right and I'm off, with my cap on at 8:30.

An hour out and before I reach the final home straight, I have seen only two cars. And its getting hot. And the new bike is fine, thanks for asking. Its actually better than mine. The gears are better suited to the hills, its lighter and it has suspension, making it softer, allegedly, on ones rear.

We go into one of the larger local towns for lunch, and then on to a flower exhibition. I must have chilled out since being here as I would have created merry hell if I had to go and see flowers and shrubs on a Sunday. But that's all in the past and the Boss is worth it. And we're both wearing shorts. That's how you spot the Brits. They're wearing shorts and have milk-bottle colour legs.

In the evening we go to friends house for dinner, eat outside, and we are still outside by 10:00.

Maybe summers here at last

Day 76, Saturday 15th May

How can we possibly have been here 76 days already? Perhaps there's something wrong with my counting and I try and work out where the time has gone while driving to get the croissants.

As is the way, a later start, but a visit to a building materials supplier to get more plasterboard and fibreglass. They have a massive warehouse where I just drive in, load up and then stop and give my ticket to the cashier on the way out.

We unload and get the plasterboard downstairs, where I'll cut it before attempting the stairs. By the time we've unloaded and had tea in the blazing sun, its time for lunch. We eat outside and its too hot for me, even with a cap.

The Boss has her shorts on. I'm not sure France is ready for this, but what the heck? It's the 1st Division play-offs and the Rugby League cup-final today and instead of sitting watching sport and falling asleep in the chair, I'm on my way back to work. I thought we came out here to relax?

A friend comes to see progress and of course that means down tools, have a cup of tea and sit in the sun. But the next bit of plasterboard, the most complex shape yet, I am determined to get in place before we leave. We get invited back to her place for a drink on the way home, so we leave early; at 7.00. I don't think the Boss has yet got the hang of this taking it easy.



The view, getting greener every day

Two cold beers later, of a type which I'm told sometimes win things at the world brewing competitions, and the sun is still shining. I'm about as relaxed as its possible to be having not seen any sport all day.

To ensure complete relaxation, tomorrow is rest day

Day 75, Friday 14th May

As if by magic, the weather has changed overnight. It's still cool, but the sky is cloudless and although a little overcast, it looks promising.

I use a borrowed petrol strimmer to cut the grass, which seems to have been growing like mad. If you can help me find a metric equivalent of "an inch a day", which does not sound like a mouthful, I'd be grateful for comments on a postcard.

Strimming a "lawn" of nearly an acre is out of the question, so I do the bits around one of the trees and where we walk most often. The work isn't hard, but the repetitive nature of the movements makes me very stiff once I stop. The Boss has a new classic misquote. "We need a walk-on mower". Having spent an hour strimming and cut down what seems to be a few square meters of grass, we definitely need a walk-on mower.


No snakes in this bit Boss

More partition walls which are slow, as of course nothing is straight except the plasterboard. The roof beams are at varying intervals and heights, the wall corners are not at 90 degrees, and the main beams come and go at all sorts of directions and heights.

I try sanding a few of the beams just to see what they look like. Some look great, and on others, well it just highlights the extent of the rot. The neighbour comes over with a sample of metal studs, done exactly the way we did ours. I tell him to come and look, but not laugh, and he just looks confused.

What we did learn, was that it is desirable to insulate between the interior walls to reduce noise and that you can get fibreglass the exact width and thickness for this. Also, for strength, use some specially cut pieces to strengthen and limit movement. More useful information we will take on board.

With the sun still hot enough for a cap, we leave at 7:30

Day 74, Thursday 13th May

What ever happened to the weather overnight? Its cold, grey and I need a thermal top to keep warm.

As we're working inside again, the weather does not really make a difference to us while we work. Its just the wind howling through the holes in the wall and the tea breaks inside that make the real difference. The corner where we've got  stud wall and insulation is noticeably warmer than the rest of the upper floor. But its still cold.

The Boss has finished her plastering of the chimney breast that is being left as exposed stone. There is a lot of debate about the positions of the bathroom fittings. This is important to ensure that one can stand up in the shower, and use the sink without cracking your head on a beam.

For future renters of the house as a holiday home, we decide that having a shower bent double to avoid the beams, will not be the houses most memorable feature. It's a bit like a jigsaw, which the Boss is good at! If we put the shower there, you climb over the sink to reach the toilet; put it here and you can only use the sink if you're a midget.

After lots of fun and games, its time for tea, inside. Sparkie arrives to give us the prices for cable, second-hand roof tiles and wood for the roof. of course, he gets a tea, and as is the way, spends the next hour talking. While I do learn some new techniques, for plastering the outside, I get a little frustrated as this seems to be eating into my working day.

After he's gone the Boss says, yes he did take a lot of time, but I must remember the protocol. When I know as much fumier (that's horse manure) as she does, I too might get to be a boss.

And tomorrow, more stud walls

Day 73, Wednesday 12th May

The sun is shining and the weather is sweet. If you don't know the tune, perhaps you should try listening to a different kind of music.

I've got a little behind in writing our diary and I can't really remember what we did on Wednesday, so this is just a filler. I guess we did more metal studs, some fibreglass insulation and started to get the plasterboard up.

I know that in the afternoon, a late trip to Brico, to get more metal studs, was followed by a "panaché" or two. That's a lager shandy. Sitting in the sun, outside the bar, we must have looked so British; the locals still wearing their jumpers, and sitting inside.

I also remember talking to the neighbour, who is an expert on internal walls, but my French was not good enough to be sure. Perhaps he puts up stud walls for a living. He asked me about progress and I told him its slow, but moving. He asked about the walls and said he would bring some samples of stud wall to show me. His six year old daughter, learning English at school, introduced herself as the professor of English. She counted to ten, said, "Hello, goodbye," and went off to play.

Miss Whiplash made us work till about 7:30, and with the weather, we had to water the trees before leaving. They now look like trees instead of large stakes in the ground.

I bet it rains in the night

Day 72, Tuesday 11th May

An early start, so I can get to the saw mill, collect some wood and then get to the Marie (the Mayors and communes offices) for a meeting. At the saw mill, I buy what I need and check on wood for the roof when we get round to it.

For the roof we will use poplar, or something called Chalas and I don't know what this translates to. Poplar needs no treatment and is said to be good for 70 years without rotting. Should be long enough for me not to have to worry about the replacement. I get shown the stuff, which they have in stock any time we're ready. I leave the roofing wood, but buy what I need, fix it to the roof of the van and back to site to unload.

At the Marie, I am meeting the architect and a technical advisor regarding water coming through the barn wall. As the limit of our property is the barns back wall, and the communes road begins there, they have a vested interest.

They want to see the site for themselves so we all go in convoy. As the architect is the only one who is really bi-lingual, I listen to lots of discussion, pointing, gestures and some hums. I understand a lot of it but contribute little. After 45 minutes, we agree on part of the solution but they want the advice of an expert. So another meeting to be had.

I get on with plasterboard walls for the bathrooms. The Boss finished off the plastering of the second chimney where we are leaving the stones exposed. The Boss still has some mortar left by the time I've had enough, so I go and water the trees.

The neighbour is having a barbeque and he asks how the work is going. I tell him its moving forward, but slowly. I think he says he is a plasterer and fits plasterboard and will come and see how we're doing. I don't know how to say, only if you promise not to laugh. The books say plasterboard and metal studs can be fitted at 3 meters of wall per hour! If only.

Drive back to the rooms, at 7:30, still wearing only a T-shirt (and some trousers) and the window open.

I dream about erecting plasterboard at 3 meters an hour

Day 71, Monday 10th May

Monday comes around too quickly. Not because of Monday work blues, but because I have to start another week and worry about our schedule. As we've done most of the work in a completely different order to that planned, its hard to tell if we are on schedule or not. A quick back of a fag packet calculation suggests that we are probably right on schedule, but with no slack.

This week, I have one objective only. I want to have a flush toilet installed and working by the end of the week. That's not an easy target. Plasterboard walls, using metal stud work, waste pipes, and plumbing for water. In addition, I have decided to tile the floor before the sink, bidet and toilet go in, so there are less complex tile shapes to cut.

With this target in mind, I spend the morning fitting studs, and learning to use the special "scissors". The studs are cut with a cross between large scissors and wire cutters. There is a very definite knack to using these and it takes quite a while to develop. As the ceiling will slope, and the beams are odd shapes and not aligned, fitting studs is slow.

After lunch, we go for a shopping trip. If we are to fit tiles first, we had better buy some! By the time we have found what we want and ordered them for collection later in the week, its time for coffee. For the less disciplined amongst us (that's me), a patisserie goes with the coffee. Then back to site for a bit more stud work, while the Boss works on her water garden.


The sun has shone for much of the day, and we've had no rain. At 6:30 we stop for tea and sit outside, in the evening sun. The sunflowers seem to have grown another - er, 25 millimetres and the air is clear and still. The rows of sunflowers are now quite distinct.

But better start early tomorrow