Rent  A  Traditional  Country
Farmhouse  in  South-West  France

Week 13

Start the week here

Day 91, Sunday 30th May

Its drizzling, right on cue. Lucky that we finished the parts of the roof that we did, but there are the sections where we took the tiles off, that have not yet been worked on. Oh well, the sun should shine this afternoon, I hope.

The more energetic ones go walking. And then, with garden chairs in the back of the van, its an especially careful drive to the airport. Corners and sudden stops results in curses from the back, but they did a good job, so I just ignore the insults!

My lasting memory is the four men carrying the scaffold, strictly against all the safety guidelines. We each lifted a corner, and with one tall and one short guy at the front two corners, all we could do was walk in a circle, going in smaller and smaller circles, faster and faster. I was laughing so hard, eventually I dropped my corner which brought the rest to a halt.

Next week, we're alone again

Day 90, Saturday 29th May

Its still hot, and with more of the same, there's not much to say today. Except a stop at the local on the way home and more beer downed in our half hour visit, than they had sold in the previous fortnight. Nice to have friends who take their holidays helping with the building.

But they're off home tomorrow

Day 89, Friday 28th May

Every part of me has got fitter since being in France, except for my wrists and forearms. All the moving of tiles has resulted in aches in muscles I haven't used for more years than I care to remember. And its my turn on the roof.

Having stopped the work half way down the back of the house, we are stripping the tiles on the front so that by the time our friends leave, we have half the house waterproofed. The apex's won't be done as they need special sized tiles and old ones are proving hard to find, but this should not affect the weather proofing in the short-term.

 It's so hot today, that Pete and I are in shorts, soak our caps, wear sunglasses. We look like a spoof of the Blues Brothers. Once the insulation goes down, its one hour on, and ten minutes in the cooler (the kitchen).

The insulation is a bit like a space blanket. With 9 layers of different materials, the outer on both sides is like reinforced aluminium foil. Its light, thin and despite appearances, resistant to tearing, but impossible to walk on. We have to use the batons to walk on in order to get some grip.

The ladies leave after lunch to get Olly to the airport. But not before she is carried on Roastie's shoulder which is covered in sun cream and brown dust, which inevitably all rubbed off onto the front of her clean white travelling t-shirt. Explain that to your husband!

With the Boss gone I am delegated to water the trees and the flowers, under pain of death if I forget. Fortunately, I have a few friends who remind me. We work until 7 and then drive back in t-shirts, windows open, while Wells calls home. They're also having good weather. Well you can't have everything.

Tomorrow is the last working day for the gang

Day 88, Thursday 27th May

Its going to be hot. Just the weather for roofing. And the aches and pains have returned. Is it all the beer and wine, the macho attempts to work harder when there are four men there, or perhaps the others are just fitter than me. B*#@"}^%~.

The base of the chimney stack goes on and with a bit of fiddling, we get it level. The final boards go down and Steve 2 fashions some "flashing" from zinc.

Pete and I go to buy some new tiles. A palette of 500 tiles weighs about a ton so its lucky they are loaded by forklift. Then on to the sawmill, for more Chalas for roofing boards. Unlike my earlier impressions, I think Chalas, is just Poplar, but in fixed lengths but varying widths. This time we only load 30 sq meters as this is about all we can get into the van.

All the jumping in and out of the van, I forget to put my seatbelt on and get stopped by motorbike gendarmes. I pretend not to understand anything he says, but Pete helpfully translates! An on the spot fine of €90 and Pete gets let off the €45 for a passenger for his translation work. Also, a ticking off, but I've contributed to the local public coffers. S~%*

By the time we get back, the insulation is on and battens are in place. The heat coupled with the reflection form the insulation makes it impossible to work on the roof for more than an hour at a time. Roastie and Wells are recovering in the kitchen, which is a lot cooler than outside, even if you are in the shade. This bodes well for those renting the house in summer.

Another lunch in the sun with too much to eat making it difficult to start work again. Its my turn on the roof so that Roastie and Wells can show me the procedures they have developed for measuring, cutting, and especially for walking about without slipping off. This is a real issue as we have all rejected working wearing a safety harness as they are too restrictive and uncomfortable in the heat.

Mad dogs and English; er persons go out in the midday sun. Covered in sun cream, wearing sunglasses and with my cap soaked in water, it is still really hot. Its almost impossible to work facing the sun with the reflections from the insulation. Once I know the routine, I move on to lift the existing tiles for the next section of roof. I stack them further along the roof and then pass up new ones. 

The Boss and others form a chain again to pass up the new tiles, and then collect the remnants of broken tiles thrown from the roof, and stack them in the barn for future hardcore.

We also pile up the old roofing boards for the next door neighbour to use for his barbeque. By the time we leave, the roof at the rear of the house is completed half way along. Work will stop there so we can do the same end of the house at the front, making at least half of it water tight.

It's our last night all together as Olly goes home tomorrow. We go out to dinner to say thanks for all the hard work. So that only one person drives we all go in the van. I park right outside a packed restaurant and we all pile out. How many people can you get in a white van? No football on TV tonight, but the proprietor remembers Roastie and ensures we all get our complimentary rum at the end of the evening.

Roastie manages to drink more than his share of the rum; again

Day 87, Wednesday 26th May

Surprisingly, not too many sore heads this morning.

We have cleared one end of the roof of tiles, stripped off all the old roofing boards, and replaced the rotten joists. That still leaves the roof with some peaks and troughs but c'est la vie. The two Steve's work on the roof, measuring and marking roofing boards, and passing through the open roof to Pete, who cuts them and passes them back.



With this ventilation, my sun tan will be all striped

Because of the unevenness and the varying widths between the joists, each one is measured in situ. This makes it slow going. Also, with the wood damp, Desmond Decker (my Black and Decker power saw) finds the going a little tough.

The ladies have gone food shopping and arrive later. I take two of them to help load second-hand tiles, from Sparkie's place. The loading is easy, but we need a volunteer to sit in the back of the van and make sure none of the piles fall as we go round corners. Back to site and unload. And then its another lunch at site, in the sun.




Who's sent me another text message saying lunch break is over already?

Steve and Steve decide we need some longer nails and lots of them. I am beginning to feel like a professional shopper. Tiles in the morning, nails in the afternoon, and another hammer! I don't know how many nails are in 5kgs, but they are big boxes. When I get back, the first part of insulation is down and the reflection has significantly increased the heat for those working on the roof.

At some time in the past, the chimney fell into disuse and it just stopped at the roof. I work on levelling what was left of the chimney, so we can add a chimney stack on top of the stones forming the walls of the chimney.  This is slow as the walls of the chimney stack are not very thick and need to be built up gradually, with each layer setting before the next goes on.

And then its time for getting some battens to act as supports for the tiles on. So more wood passed up to the roof. After a while you begin to understand why the professionals use a special high lift fork-lift truck, for wood and tiles. Without a chain of people, it would be impossible.

By 7 o'clock, it seems the sunflowers have grown another 2cm (I've changed from centimetres to millimetres just to confuse you) and we are getting into a rhythm, which will speed progress tomorrow.

And the beer beckons

Day 86, Tuesday 25th May

The weather so far looks good and according to the farmer, the next two weeks should be OK for roofing.

Maggie and Olly are enjoying mixing and pouring cement so much they just carry on with yesterdays work. The Boss helps Pete and I with a chain getting roofing boards up the scaffold and onto the roof. Then I go with Sparkie to see some second hand tiles he wants to sell. We are trying to keep the roof looking old by re-using as many tiles as possible and buying matching old ones.

He lives nearby, has his own rather large plank cutter, sitting on concrete posts, perhaps courtesy of EDF! The tiles are on a palette of about 250 and I tell him I'll take them all. His tractor fork lift is about 20mm too low to load the palette into the van. Can you do the conversions yet? Twenty five point four millimetres to the inch. Just divide by 25 (in your head of course) to get the approximate equivalent in inches. Got it?

So it will need another trip with several pairs of hands. We also load up some thin squares of Poplar, "Populaire" over here, to use as supports for the tiles. Then its back to site thinking, that is another day the van has earned her keep. The Poplar is wet and needs to be carefully stacked out of the sun, to keep the batons straight. If they warp while drying, they'll break if straightened.

By this time, lunch is being prepared in the sun, at site.





"Don't think because I have my eyes closed, I don't know what you're up to"

In the afternoon, Maggie and the Boss, drive to Bergerac again, to collect Steve (yes, another one). Steve 1, now known as Roastie is getting slowly casseroled on the roof. He is covered in sun oil and surrounded by what looks like aluminium foil. Now he knows how the Christmas turkey feels. We decide to leave early to prepare the barbeque. The nickname comes from some ribbing about no roast potatoes on Sunday night, which in true infantile tradition, all the men pick up on and continue with throughout the week.

Late on Monday evening, after many drinks, Maggie proposed to Pete as its a leap year. He said yes. Probably afraid of the consequences if he didn't! So on the way back from Bergerac, Steve 2 (known as Wells so as not to confuse him with Steve 1) decides a celebration is in order.

They arrive back with 6 bottles of champagne, a bottle of Ricard and two pairs of shoes bought in a small town on route from the airport. The town has not had that much trade in a day since the French centenary. Five of the six bottles are consumed that night.

Hence, a slightly later start tomorrow

Day 85, Monday 24th May

With one side of the roof open to the elements, we rely on the weather and are watching it carefully.

Steve, Pete and I start the day at the sawmill, loading up "Chalat". This is semi-hardwood, not kiln dried and cut into thin planks of varying widths. Its wet as it has been standing outside in the rain, and heavy. We load 40sq meters onto the van. That's the roofing boards done. Then some oak beams. Thank goodness they're short ones as I can only just lift the smaller ones on my own. Then its off to the building supplier to get the roof insulation.

We are using a special insulating material, which is thinner than fibreglass, waterproof, lighter and requires no special precautions when using. It is expensive but very easy to handle. We also get some special cement with a plastisiser already mixed, a concrete chimney stack, another hammer and some nails.

Then a small challenge. My French credit card has a daily limit on it and the total is over the limit so the card is declined. I give the cashier my UK "gold" Visa card and this too is declined. With a van load of stuff, there is no way we are unloading now. I won't bore you with the details, but after the second phone call and third failure, perhaps it was just my imagination that a big lorry blocked our exit.

Finally resolved, we are about to head for the site, when we decide to stop for a coffee. As we do so, Maggie, Olly and the Boss arrive after trawling the market. As its market day, the sun is shining, and the place is heaving. We sit outside and people watch. We have coffee together but the pain au chocolat are all finished. So we finally get to site around 11:30.

Steeplejack Steve gets on the roof, with Pete and I passing up planks. We replace several beams, trying to level the roof as much as is possible without jacks; Acro's to those in the know. One main beam has split once upon a time and the repair has left that corner of the roof sagging. Well, it adds to the charm!

The ladies arrive and we have lunch on the now cut grass, which I can't quite call a lawn; yet.

In the afternoon, Steve sits on the roof measuring boards, passing them to Pete to cut and then Pete passes them back again. The ladies move the cement mixer outside. Then they mix, pour and shape a gully just below ground level, to push water away from the foundations and to provide a base for the pointing and rendering.



This caption could be "Carlsberg don't build houses, but if they did, ...", or it could be "Does my bum look big in this?"

The day ends with another excellent home cooked dinner. 

And as is the tradition when we're all together, a beer or three and some wine