Sunday, 25 November 2012

Back home


I travelled back to the UK on the very late ferry from Caen to Portmouth.  Though I have had a really good time in France, I was actually very keen to get back to the UK so that Wife and I could have a detailed look at things.

So after a quick trip out to Oxford for breakfast and some shopping, we are soon back home and have loads of video and photos to look at - especially the grenier plans to review.

But I hadn't told Wife about my plans to re-decorate one of the bedrooms, so that was quite a surprise.  Thankfully, she is very pleased with the new look.  As indeed am I - the before and after photos still look very dramatic to me


and after


Some searching on ebay has revealed one or two sellers of the sorts of doors that could be suitable for the French property.  Indeed, there is one seller who has some that are virtually the perfect size for the space we have.  A bit of sorting out of the cost of couriers, and I have acquired the doors for just over £100.  They are due to arrive here on Wednesday.  They will need some work though as they are supposed to be glazed when I am planning to fit wooden panels instead.  But that could be quite a nice woodwork task.

I have also worked through the website one last time and have sent my last changes through to our designer.  Hopefully he will process these first thing on Monday and we can go live later that day.

Finally, I have begun to schedule all the work necessary this week in respect of the house.  As always, there is quite a lot to do.

France 5 - Tuesday to Friday


Much colder overnight than it has been - clear skies and the thermometer in the kitchen says it is just 4 degrees outside, versus 15 inside. 

First thing I continue to sort out the kitchen.  The Clementes had left quite a lot of stuff in one of the little sheds outside and I have been cleaning this up gradually.  I have also bought more glasses and plates and these are gradually finding homes.

Then it is off to Saintes and an attempt to find a couple of places that sell bathroom stuff.  First off is the place Dave took me to a couple of months back.  This turns out to be fantastically expensive in my view but has a couple of things I like.

The shower above was nearly 2,000 euros, while the very nice unit below is nearly 1,000 euros - far more than I intended to pay.

So it is off to one of the big DIY chains - the local equivalents of B&Q.  This is much more like it, with a shower I actually prefer to the more expensive one and priced at 599 euros.

I also had a look at various floor covering options and quite like these sort of laminated fake wood coverings.

During the afternoon I travelled back to St Jean and the brocante there, where I bought another 200 euros worth of stuff.  Two doors which have turned out to be a bit small, four chairs, a couple of pictures and various glass and china items.

More work on the bedroom this afternoon.  The walls are now painted white and I have cleaned up the room ready for the top coat tomorrow. 

This evening I went out for dinner to the nearby Chateau de Leleard with Gill.  We had hoped to go with Richard and his wife but their son is still not out of hospital and they have had to stay with him tonight.  We are the only customers (!) but the food is very good - I had foie gras with a pineapple chutney, veal in cognac with tagliatelle and a chocolate mousse. 

The Chateau de Leleard - presumably it will be busier in the summer


At one time I had thought that maybe today I would make it out somewhere such as the Isle d'Oleron, but instead I am pushing on with the decorating.  The bedroom is painted blue today and very nice it looks too.  Music is provided during the 10 hours by Gallon Drunk, Swans and Throwing Muses.  By 5:30 my hand is cramping from holding the brush.

Dinner was steak and chips again, watching the 3rd episode of "Fresh Meat" and a couple of "Big Bang Theory" followed by a documentary on the Voyager spacecrafts.  Rather spookily, this last programme was produced by someone called Christopher Riley - at moments like this it does make you wonder what might have become of him


Working by 7:00, I have cleaned the blue room and have set it up with some of the furniture I have here - the twins beds I bought from Gill, plus two lamps and a painting also from her.  Then there is a table I bought at Emmaus and a mirror I brought over from the UK.  Overall, I think it looks very good. 

Afterwards I have a quick trip out to the boulangerie for a baguette and a chocolate eclair.  There has been a frost overnight and the donkey does some rather plaintive braying when I am scrapping ice off the car.

Richard arrives at 10:00 and we have a quick look at the wall where he is going to knock the whole through to the greniers.  He seems quite impressed with the room painting and we discuss the wonders of chalk paint together. 

Then it is off to Saintes to the Brico Depot where we can't take away the units I like as they are waiting for new stock to arrive.  But at Bricolage, I can buy the shower and the floor coverings I have selected should be ok.

Back at the house, we have a review of the planned work schedule, do a bit more garden planning and then Richard is off.  We have tentative plans to meet in a few weeks time.  In the meantime, he will start on one or two things soon.

I had a test of the fireplace this afternoon, including the convection heating of the upstairs, which is actually remarkably effective.  During the afternoon one of the neighbour's cats puts in an appearance.

My final house work is to finish taking the photos that go with the detailed measurements and job lists that I have been preparing for the past week. 

My last meal in France tonight.  I briefly thought of going out into St Jean but in the end ate more chips and watched two programmes in the BBC series "Human, all too human" on Heidegger and Sartre.  Both had a really good selection of interviewees


So we have owned our house for more than a week now and the end of my trip has come round already.  The house has all its shutters closed, the water is turned off and the radiators are all on their winter, anti-frost settings. 

One of my last acts is to take down the "sold by Leggets" sign from the end of the drive.  The donkey gives a long bray which I take to signal her support for us.

France 4 - Sunday to Monday


Up at 7:00 this morning doing some filing of the plaster after my epic wallpaper removal of yesterday.  Then off to Loulay, a small village the other side of St Jean for a brocante market that I'd found details of on the internet last week.

Basically the whole of the east side of the village has been set aside for the market and there were maybe 300 stands in total.  I had a budget of 200 euros for the trip and a decent enough list of things I wanted to buy if I saw them.

After two hours browsing, my main pruchases were two bar stools for the kitchen, 10 volumes of Asterix the Gaul (in French of course), three or four other books on the local area, half a dozen jugs, some glass things, two paintings, and so on.

One item on my list is to buy a set of "statement" doors to seperate the main house from the refurbishment project.  I want these to be two doors that than lock in the middle.  One guy had exactly what I wanted but they had already been sold.  They would have been perfect (though I have no idea if they would have fitted or not).  They do look really nice

So here is my booty from Loulay brocante market.  I am very pleased with this indeed.

And below are the two stools in their new location at the bar by the kitchen

After lunch I went for a quick walk round our little hamlet.  People were out doing gardening jobs mainly - burning leaves, etc.  In the field opposite, there is a donkey who has been occasionally braying the last couple of days - surprisingly loudly it must be said.  She is rather cute though.

The nearest vines have been picked of course and are now looking very autumnal.  It won't be long before these are cut back I expect.

The view below shows our house, partially hidden by the trees in the foreground with St Hilaire church in the distance to the left.

Some nice piles of wood outside the neighbours' houses

By the early evening I had finished removing the wallpaper from the bedroom upstairs.  Another 6 hours of work, but very satisfying.  Tomorrow afternoon I should be able to sand it all down and then do the white emulsion coat that I want to act as the base for the top coat.


At 8:00 I am in St Jean only to discover that the Leclerc actually opens at 9:00.  So I have time for a drink at Ellis Park and a read of The Sunday Times international edition.

At 9:30 I am at Gill's where I meet Richard and we move the other stuff I bought from Gill.  Two mattresses for the single beds, a double bed headboard, a large white kitchen table and the dark cupboard.  Then off back to the house for a long meeting about the various projects we have in mind for this winter (and the next)

First up, the downstairs bathroom.  That is now just a plumbing and electrics job now I am going to do the decorating and should only be a day or twos work.  We have tentatively planned to meet again on Thursday and go to Saintes to buy the stuff for this.  Tomorrow I have to go down and select it all.

Then we have a look at some other small jobs - the lock on the main door, the tap in the bathroom upstairs, one electrical thing.  All fairly straight forward.

Then onto the big project - the grenier conversion.  I have a new plan that Richard hasn't seen yet and we go round the loft working out what I now have in mind.  He seems happy it is all very possible.  He also suggests that we get rid of the bathroom downstairs entirely and make the lounge bigger instead - that could work very well.

His survey of the loft is largely the same as mine.  But he surprises me by removing the velux roof unit and climbing out onto the roof proper to have a good look at where the water is coming in.  Overall this doesn't seem to be too bad and at least I now know that the roof is solid if Richard is prepared to trust it.

Outside, we have a look at the idea of a new terrace at the far end of the garden, we discuss the pool shutdown and also the removal of various plants, including a tree that might be damaging the pool. 

In all, we spend about 4 hours on it and make some very good progress I think.

After lunch, I take some more photos of the house

These are the little cats that "Les petits chats" is named after.  £20 from a reclamation yard near Burford.

The Clementes left us a large knife sharpening stone - should be useful

Then it is back to work on the bedroom upstairs.  All the prep has now been done and the room can be painted white tomorrow

I have also set up the kitchen to look far more like it will do going forward.  The glass-fronted cupboards have been filled with glass stuff and some plates, etc, and look really nice.  The herb picture that I paid 2 euros for at Loulay looks good as well.  And I now have a complete set of matching chairs to go round the table (another thing the Clementes decided to leave)

Finally, I have set up another of the bedrooms into something like the trim we want it in and it looks pretty good.  I will repaint this room eventually but perhaps not till next winter.

France 3 - Friday to Saturday


An excellent night's sleep for my first night in our French house.

My first challenge today is locking the door.  I was warned yesterday that there is a "nack" to it and that was certainly the case.  It took me the best part of 20 minutes to successfully lock the door.  However in that time I did work out what the problem is - the door is not hung exactly plum and so the bolts of the lock don't slide fully into place and that stops the lock rotating.  Removing one of the bolts did help quite a bit, but ideally this just needs to be fixed properly.  You can't annoy your holiday customers by having a tricky front door.

This morning's trip out was to the Intermarche and Bricolage on the north west side of St Jean.  A couple of hours have produced a reasonable DIY kit for the house.  On the way back, I called in at the local boulangerie in St Hilaire and bought my first ever things from there - absolutely delicious as I expected.  I also discovered that St Hilaire has its own pool, supermarket, bank and pharmacy.

Back home and more sorting out.  My initial aim is to prepare a list of everything that has to be done in each room.  Then this can be prioritised and allocated to the various visits over the winter. 

The sun streams in on the lounge - stuff is slowly getting sorted.  Most of the visible items are things I bought from Gill.

Mid morning I decide to have a good look round the grenier.  The Clementes have taken most of the stuff from here but have left a number of storage units - a couple of which I will probably use in the garage / workshop.  Looking round in detail, and the basic walls and roof seem ok, except for one patch of the roof where water is coming in, close to an old chimney.  Ideally my plan will be that the bedroom walls will be the exposed stone - it certainly looks good enough to use going forward.  My other plan of a new bathroom upstairs also looks do-able it seems to me.  But all this awaits Richard's visit next Monday

Definitely has the look of a decent renovation project!

This area above will be the bathroom!

After a delicious lunch of bread, cheese and ham, I have a visit from Dominique, the insurance manager from AXA.  We examine the French windows, which might have to have shutters put on them, then look at the grenier plans, which will increase our insurance costs as we will have more "principal rooms".  Finally I wanted to quiz him about public liability for people renting from us.  He has covered all my queries ok.  Also he knows Richard well and is pleased that Richard will be looking after things for us.

By the evening I have had a very full day of doing stuff.  Dinner is a piece of steak with chips, and a couple of beers.  I have bought a DVD player with a USB attachment so can watch some of the stuff I brought with me.  Tonight I watch an episode of "Fresh meat" and a couple of episodes of "The Big Bang Theory".  Both are very good - just the thing to relax with after a hard day's work!


An event to commemorate 40 years of the organisation is being held at Emmaus this morning and a large crowd has gathered just before the 9:30 opening.  Once again I am surprised by the large amount of old tools that are available at such events - and I mean very old tools.  I bought two coffee tables and a corner wall unit, plus a number of glass decanters and a couple of old lights - total cost about 50 euros.

Then it is off to St Jean for the weekly market.  There I buy some honey for Wife, some grapes and strawberries and then sit outside Ellis Park reading the paper.  I don't see any of the Brits I know.

Back at the house and it is time to tackle my first big project.  I have decided to try and re-decorate the room we like least at the house - the one we have always referred to as the "African" room.  A quick test of whether it would be possible to over paint the horrible brown' flocked wallpaper reveals that it won't be.  So I then face the issue of stripping it all off.

I actually rather enjoy this work though it takes me about 8 hours to do about two-thirds of the entire room.  I can listen to loud music - today mostly Gallon Drunk - and am not bothered by anyone or anything.

Before the stripping starts

and during

Another few hours work should see the paper removed. Then I need to fill the various cracks and other blemishes that have appeared and give the walls a coat of white emulsion to act as a base for the top coat.  This will hopefully occur in the next day or so.

Dinner tonight is a test of the electric oven as I cook a pizza.  Another episode of "Fresh Meat" - the one where they hold their house party.  Thinking about the house book for next year - all the stuff we need to tell guests.  Maybe this could be done as a PDF and sent to them before their stay?

France 2 - we have bought our house!


Early news is that the Clementes - the vendors - will not be ready for me to move in today after the completion meeting.  They are apparently determined to clean the place after moving the last of their stuff out.  But the completion meeting can go ahead as planned.

So I have a quiet morning.  Mostly I spend it at Gill's, looking through the stuff she wants to sell, or just crashed out in my room reading a book of Sherlock Holmes stories.  The brocante in St Jean opens briefly and I buy a table and a picture which I don't think I can collect for a few days. 

At 1:30 I meet Dave, his wife Cathy and his boss, Suzanne.  Then it is off to the Notaires.  This is actually quite a hard meeting in some respects as I have to concentrate really hard to make sure I continue to get the jist of what is being discussed.  One lawyer is able to translate stuff for me though.  But in the end, all seems ok.  I initial and sign about 50 sheets of paper and that is that.  I leave with one piece of paper from the Notaire - the attestation that acts as our proof of purchase until the new deed is ready in March.  All done by 3:14 - pi time again

Back to Gill's and then finally I can drive down to the house to drop off everything that I have brought with me.  The Clementes are still busy packing the last of their stuff, but do help me drop off everything into the master bedroom upstairs.  We have a brief walk round together as they point out all the things they had agreed to leave plus a load of stuff they don't want to take with them but not need me to pay for - mostly tvs it would seem, but also some quite useful stuff such as the microwave, a desk and some chaits from the boy's room, a unit for the tv in the lounge to stand on, and so on.  But by 5:30 I am done and leave them to it.  I will return tomorrow after lunch and that will be the final handover meeting.

I called in at Emmaus on the way back to St Jean and bought a small table - they are having some sort of bigger event this Saturday so I might go to that.  I also have time to collect my stuff from the St Jean brocante. 

Back at Gill's and I now have a good idea of what I want to but from her - the two single beds, the white table and blanket box, the various light fittings, quite a few candle holders, two pictures, a large cupboard and matching side table, a LMS railway clock, etc. 

I spoke to Wife briefly to say it was all done - as perhaps could have been predicted, she is rather wishing she had come across with me now.

I have a celebratory dinner at Le Cabanon - a delicious fish soup, an entrecote with chips, and a chocolate mousse, washed down with a really nice bottle of a 2001 St Emilion, all for 40 euros.


So I have settled on everything I want from Gill and I am able to pack most of it into the Land rover this morning.  The rest will be moved next Monday when I can meet with Richard, our property manager, who has a transit van.

Then I have a trip to Saintes with Dave to sort out my telecom account with Orange.  I can take the kit away but the engineer can't visit for a couple of weeks and so I won't have internet access this visit.  It takes nearly 2 hours to do everything at Orange.  We are about 10th in a long queue and mostly sit around chatting while they slowly deal with the poeple ahead of us - this wouldn't happen in the UK!  As a result, we don't have time to pop in the DIY places in Saintes.  I will have to find those myself at some point.

Finally we can return to St Hilaire for our final meeting with the Clementes.  There are 22 keys for the property and I follow Michelle round the house trying to remember which key is which as she explains it all.  Meanwhile Dave agrees final meter readings for electricity and water with Gerard Clemente.  Even more stuff is being left behind than was discussed yesterday.

We leave for St Jean at the same time the Clementes leave for the last time.  I wonder if we will see them again.  They have moved to Poitiers, so perhaps not.

Dave has another thing he has to get to, so back at Gill's I do some more packing and then the two of us drive back to the house together for a visit and an unload of stuff.  Then back to St jean to drop Gill home and for me to pack a second load.  Hopefully the rest will move on Monday but Richard's son has had a really bad motocross accident - a broken femur - and this might affect Richard's plans. 

I have enough space in the car for a trip to the large Leclerc in St Jean and now have some kitchen equipment and food - plus 24 bottles of 1664 beer which should see through the week ok.

So now I have to start sorting everything out and getting stuck into my planned work for the next week. 

We own a house in France!

Initial grocery purchases

Initial kitchen utensils

The office will be the downstairs base camp for the next week

One very empty lounge which now looks much bigger than we thought - in the background, part of the metal beds I bought from Gill

The "asian" room - my planned sleeping place for the first few nights

The master bedroom - full of the stuff I brought from the UK

The autumnal looking house - lots of leaves have fallen in the garden