Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The latest trip to France - a long weekend


Some good news first thing - the huge IKEA order that has been much delayed did actually arrive at the house in France yesterday.  Last week it was stopped by snow in Nantes - not a common excuse in France.

Jerome arrived mid morning and we went off to Oxford to get our rental van - a brand new and rather snazzy Mercedes sprinter, with only 98 miles on the clock.  It does have a £900 insurance excess so we had better be careful with it.

Back home and it takes about an hour to pack it fully.  We don't manage to get everything in it from the garage and the plan I had to go and buy some more stuff from a local secondhand hand yard was impossible.  I may have to do another van trip before Easter - or try and buy something suitable when I'm in France to finish the rooms.

Armed with a pile of CDs to last us the whole time we are away, we set off early evening.  An uneventful journey except for Jerome putting us into the queue for the Bilboa ferry at one point.  It turned out our van was bigger than I had paid for and an extra £48 is needed to cover this.

While having a couple of drinks in the bar, we watched a short video about Brittany which featured girls in traditional costume.  I should email Ellie and suggest she gets such an outfit to welcome her guests when she is running her gites.  She would look great.


After a big breakfast, Jerome takes the first half of the journey and I do the second.  The van is no slower than my usual landrover and we make St Jean by 12:30 or so.  A brief shop and then down to the house.  Jerome is suitably impressed.

At 2:30, we meet Dave, our estate agent from last year, and we go and see a derelict barn in a village about 25 kms from our house.  It is perfect for what Jerome has in mind - three big fields for yurts, a small pigeonier for them to convert first and the huge barn to work on for years.  A snip at £32k.

The rather stunning two floors

Some of the land attached

From the bottom of the attached field

Back at the house around 5:30 and time to unpack about half the van.  Then off to St Jean for dinner at Le Cabanon - one of my favourites


Grant is round at 8:30 to meet the builders who are going to be working on the roof today.  While I discuss the current state of the project, Jerome is able to put together the first two sofas on his own.  Grant helps us to move in the wardrobes and the place is already looking better.

Then Jerome and I have a trip to Emmaeus where I find another chest of drawers and a cot, plus the usual box of bits and pieces costing no more than E3 each.  During the afternoon, we are able to set up the lounge much more how it will be.  I am very happy with this.

Laer on we visit the brocante in St Jean, where I buy some linen sheets to protect the new furniture and Jerome tries to interest his mum in helping him buy the barn.  Next door to the brocante, we buy 3 litres of red wine for E4 from the local cave.  Dinner is at Le Scorlion, where the dessert is exceptional.


Its rains all day today without respite so we stay in and work on the house.  I have set up a couple of the rooms ready for Wife's visit in two weeks time, and have conducted more paint tests which have allowed me to finally make my choice for the treatment of the doors.  Meanwhile Jerome started on the final bedroom and we were able to remove all the wallpaper and fill all the holes ready for painting in March.

Dinner tonight was a Jerome special - a mixed fruit de mer with rice and a salad.  We also drank about 2 litres of wine and watched two episodes of The Wire from a few years ago.


Grant is round again this morning to try and work out the problem we have had with the new shower.  This turns out to be a trapped pipe and is soon sorted out. 

Jerome and I visited Saintes and bought some very cheap sun loungers from Mr Bricolage, plus some bits and bobs from a brocante.  Then it is back to the house for a last tidy up and sort out. 

On the way back to Caen, we call in the Ikea at Tour, the first time I have ever shopped in an Ikea.  I buy lots of cheap coat hangers, a couple of cushions and see a great sink unit that would be perfect for the kitchen in Les Petits Chats.  Dinner is at McDonalds in Caen.

Overall, a really excellent few days - so much done, so much to do

Monday, 21 January 2013

Our friend Ellie is buying in France!

Out of the blue, an email from our friend Ellie with lots of major news.  She and her husband have seperated, she is living in Malvern with a friend, and is buying a gite complex in Brittany, not far from where Wife and I stay.  When I email her back straight away with our equivalent news, she is extremely surprised! 

Later we have a chat on the phone and the various details emerge.  Hopefully she will have moved by April and maybe we can call in and see her on the way to our place in late May.  So we are both trying to learn French at the moment - though my recent progress has rather come to a halt - so much for new years resolutions to do 20 minutes a day.

I am just finishing the prep for my latest French trip.  IKEA are supposed to be delivering furniture any day now and I am travelling to France with Jerome and a van to move the furniture we have accumulated here.  Once this trip is done, things will have taken a huge leap forward to us being ready with everything by Easter.

I have been mainly thinking about masonry projects for the house e.g. the terrace for Les Petits Chats that I hope to build this autumn.  At the moment, I hope to do that work myself and am studying a huge book on the subject

I wonder if the bathroom will be finished by when we get down?

Django Unchained - rare for us to see a current film

An extremely rare event, we have been to see a current movie; Tarantino's Django Unchained - maybe the last new-release movie we saw was Inglorious Basterds?

I have read a number of very detailed articles on this film - especially a long interview with James Fox.  But the various charges made for and against the movie are beyond my area of expertise.  I thought virtually all the male leads were superb in it.  Indeed the only really poor performance was Tarantino's cameo.

I was also very impressed by the maid - not perhaps as brilliant as Jennifer Aniston's french maid from a movie of a few years back, but not bad  

Monday, 14 January 2013

Belated review of 2012

I guess the event that will dominate our thoughts about 2012 may well be the illness that is affecting Wife's brother.  This is at an advance stage already and though the treatment he is having has partially reversed its course, the long term view (perhaps two years out) is nothing but bad.  Of course I have a lot of experience of cancer from my family, but whatever lessons I may feel I learnt from these experiences have to be re-learnt by anyone who approaches it new.

The second most important thing is probably Daughter's decision to quit working in Management Consultancy, take a year off to travel and then return to University to do a PhD.  As I write this, she has been accepted at Cambridge, but is waiting on Oxford's decision.  And then she will need financing for the 3-4 years.

Next comes the purchase of our house in France -  a potentially transformative project pointing the way forward to our long term future perhaps.

Then there is the capture of my huge Thames barbel - I still can't believe I actually caught a barbel-chub brace weighing 21lbs that day.  I don't suppose I will ever get tired of looking at this picture.  I haven't been fishing since July when I hurt my leg (after which the rivers have been in flood for months)

Another highlight was the video channels that I set up on youtube - the fishing one has had about 2,000 views even though I caught virtually no fish.  My favourite is episode 10, "Rain", one of the most realistic fishing videos ever made in my view.  I was also "trolled" by someone who considers me one of the worst fisherman to ever put a video on youtube.

Musically, I have continued my move into the outer reaches of modern music, mainly off the back of what I read in The Wire, or download off emusic.com.  Lots of electronically enhanced cello music this year.  Best live gig was probably Acid Mothers Temple in Oxford, but then I didn't really see many shows.  The surprise was seeing Dead Can Dance again, though I wasn't as impressed by this show as I have been in the past.

I was definitely feeling my age in 2012.  The viral infection that badly affected my knee in the summer was a first indication of what old age might feel like.  Then the really bad flu that took 6 weeks to shift around Christmas. 

For 2013

I hope the refurbishment of the French property goes well and that we get a satisfactory number of bookings to make it all worthwhile (or at least cover the annual costs)

Hopefully the trading will have a good year

and the combination of the above will encourage Wife to cut down her work

That Daughter will get the place and the financing that she wants

And that Wife's brother will have an OK year?

Four more days in France

Down to France for a few days decorating.  This trip was supposed to tie in with the IKEA furniture delivery but that didn't happen.  Various excuses made - including the unusual one for France that the delivery van got stuck in snow near Niort.

My main task is the repaint of most of the downstairs away from the splodgy orange and yellow that the walls are painted now, to a single cream colour.  This takes the first two days of the trip, but is a very worthwhile change - very pleased with it in fact.

Before the repaint - just arrived and using the log fire to warm the house up

And after - a rather nice cream paint by Farrow and Ball

This will be the indoor dining area eventually

Another major task was putting together some of the bathroom units ready for installation in a couple of weeks time - better I do this than pay the plumber to do it.  This kit is the white pieces of wood on the photo above.

Then there is one of the longer term projects to consider - the creation of a beautiful terrace outside the kitchen of Petits Chats.  The whole concrete area will have to come out and then a series of nice steps built.  Finally, a terrace probably of stone trimming gravel will be built under the tree and backing onto the wall.  This could well be stunning when it is done - but at the moment, it is planned for later October this year.

And in trips to various brocantes (including three near Saintes) I was able to pick up some nice bits of furniture.

Actually the chest of drawers below is rather woodworm eaten and had to be treated and about 300 holes filed.  It was then painted in Annie Sloan old white and will be finished off on a later trip.  It will go into the blue room that I decorated on my last visit.

The cupboard below is a real fixer-upper.  It only cost E20, needs the shelves re-doing inside and some repairs to the top.  The door doesn't fit properly, and there is no door catch.  But other than that it's fine.  This might go in the kitchen of Petit Chats or the bathroom - not sure yet

Finally, a rather nice cupboard that I found at Emmaus for E15.  I have repainted the sides in duck egg blue and the top in the same cream as the walls downstairs, keeping the flower motive that was already on it.  It may go in the upstairs bathroom where I have been trying out various ideas to tone down the current modern look of the room.

Just one meal out this trip - a rather nice meal at Le Cabanon of fish soup, then veal kidneys flamed in cognac and a chocolate mousse. 

And no trips out anywhere new - too busy working on the house.

Still, it has to be said, one of the nicest weeks I have had for ages (or at least since I was down here in November)

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Daughter's next travelling

After what seems like such a short time home, Daughter is off on the next leg of her travels - three months or so in the far east.

She starts with a tour round Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.  Then she has a few weeks at one of the beach resorts (this is the main bit when she is fending for herself on this trip), then finally travels to Chang Mai for a four week yoga-teacher-training course.

As always, she confidently strides away at the airport leaving her dad hoping she keeps safe and doesn't get arrested!

In the meantime, I am off to France for a few days