Monday, 25 March 2013

Jason Molina RIP

A music site has reported some sad news over the weekend - the death of Jason Molina. His record company says he died of "natural causes" but the implications seems to be that he died from organ failure due to alcoholism - he was 39.

I first heard him with the track "Steve Albini's blues" and I soon had all his cds (just about) from and other pay sites.  Didn't it Rain and Ghost remain two of my favourite albums ever.

I saw him twice in concert - once was a solo show in the upstairs of a pub in Shepherd's Bush (which I saw with Wife) and the other was a Magnolia Electric Company show in 2009.

He released his final recordings late last year and I am listening to them now - a sad a set of songs as you're ever likely to hear.

Rest In Peace

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Three weeks inn France Part 5


Jerome and Yvette duly arrived around 10:00 last night after a rainy drive down. 

A morning spent doing more jobs for 4 hours - the name plaque has gone up at the end of the drive and the lockboxes for the keys have been attached on a wall in the garage.  J and Y have a lie-in

We are joined by Dave the estate agent just after lunch for a visit to see Jerome's possible barn purchase.  On the way, we are delayed by the closure of a village while the entire front section of an aeroplane is moved through it.

Jerome's barn is better than I remember - huge potential if you have the time (which they do) and the money (which they don't).  The location really is stunning.

What a view (from the back of the barn)

Later we call in at the Emmaus near our house to consider the sort of things we might try and purchase for our suggested brocante business

Then in St Jean to look at possible painting sites, visit the cave for 2 litres of merlot, and the brocante shop to compare prices with Emmaus.

Dinner is at Le Cabanon in St Jean which has re-opened under new management - not bad but they don't do the kidneys flamed in the cognac that the previous owners did, and which is one of my all-time favourite dishes


The penultimate day of my three week visit - still lots of important stuff to do

We have the cleaners in today to do a preliminary deep clean before the rental season kicks off.  There are two of them but it will still take them two days this time.

Meanwhile Jerome has been set to work to demolish furniture, while I moved the garden stones.  The garage is now full of broken up stuff and yet another trip to the dump is required.

Dinner is at Le Scorlion - St Jean's finest.  I treated us all to a bottle of St Emilion with the meal - my all time favourite wine


Last morning - still lots of small stuff to do.  For instance, there is a lot of picture hanging to do, such as the landing upstairs. 

One last general tidy up by me and half a day's work by the cleaners and we are done for the trip

As always, it is quite tough to leave - there is a strong sense that the last three weeks have been among my happiest of the last few years.  Roll on next winter and perhaps another 8 - 10 weeks of work down here.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Three weeks in France Part 4


First task today - painting the skirting boards on the upstairs landing.  Generally the skirting boards in the house are made of a strange, bendy wood-plastic material and have often only been half-attached to the walls (not enough glue used).  In an ideal world, I would gradually replace them all, but that is a huge job, and given what happened with the downstairs bathroom, it could take forever.

An occasional break from painting to fit new fittings to the bathroom units upstairs.  This is another attermpt to try and tone down the heavy contemporary feel of this room.  Combined with the old furniture, the effect is ok.  But there is nothing to disguise the fact that the exisitng units are not very nice.

With our new satellite TV, I was able to watch the rugby tonight.  So far this trip, I have barely watched anything on tv.  I am usually too tired to even eat much!


Today I was initially focused on the white painting of the landing - lots of prep to do for this

Mid morning I drove up to the village of Le Gicq to attend the first brocante I've been to for a while.  It was nowhere near as good as last year's one in Loulay, but I did buy one or two things.  It rained most of the morning too, which rather put a dampner on things.  Not a good indication of whether we will be able to acquire enough stock for the idea we have to re-sell french stuff in the UK

An evening out at Grant and Karen's tonight - the first people I have talked to face-to-face in quite a while (excluding my attempts to speak french to the locals).  A very pleasant evening (and Karen's tour of their chambre d'hote complex gave me some things to think about)


There have been some big market moves brought on by developments in Cyprus.  This did distract me a little from the last big painting day - the upstairs landing

Also finished today was the back bedroom painting - second coats and touching up the room.  I will do a set up of this room soon, to take some photos for the website.

Radio listening today was mainly Don Letts' radio 6 show.  I haven't heard him before and rather enjoyed it.

The outdoor furniture has been finished and is now outside on the terrace.  It will be very nice there once the sun shines


More work on the landing from 5:00am onwards.  It is odd how it isn't light here till past 8:00!  I work for the first three hours, then go to the bakery and it is only just getting light

I have also finished the next coat of paint for the main stairs - this does look much better

And the pictures have been hung in the lounge

and the back bedroom has been furnished and some linen sorted out so I can take some photos (the main light fitting still needs doing though)

Finally, I have some prep work for the imminent arrival of Jerome and Yvette

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The most weird beard this trip

An evening out brings an end to the weird beard experiment.  Approximately 3 weeks growth is the maximum I get to - and there is a good chance that this will be the most it ever gets to.  I was gratified that it took a reasonable time to shave off too.

Some grey appearing too - I am getting older . . . .

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Constant DIY work and thoughts turn to Julia Kendall

With the constant DIY, hour after hour, day after day, it is only natural that thoughts turn to the sexiest DIYer of them all - Julia Kendall from DIY SOS.  Dressed in her trademark black combat trousers, she is the perfect DIY collaborator I feel. 

As the hours pass, progress is made slowly and steadily.  The zen-like application of paint gives way to thoughts of the lovely Julia . . . . .

Even if some of her designs are a bit weird!

Three weeks in France Part 3


I have started on the potentially awful task of putting a skirting board round the edge of the downstairs shower room.  As I write this, I have done 7 of the 15 pieces necessary but it has taken me the best part of an hour per piece and there has been much swearing in the sheer frustration of the constant tiny problems that stop it all fitting properly.  Much of this is due to working at the absolute limit of what the mitre saw can handle.  I can see there will have to be some short cuts taken in some way as I am approaching the toughest pieces and am probably going to have to budget two hours per piece as things get tricky

But on the upside today, Steve the electrician has put in a full 8 hour day and has done a remarkable amount.  The two chandelier lights that I bought from Gill back in November are in place.  The previous light fitting above the dining room table is now in the shower room.  Two new lights have gone up in the lounge.  The wiring in the shower room has been tidied up, as has the remarkably bad wiring above the sink in the kitchen.  And various other small things done too.  This has made a huge difference, as we suspected it would

I continued working on small jobs through the afternoon, while Grant worked on the boxing of the VMC unit.  He has finished the downstairs toilet and is half way through the bathroom upstairs.  So I shall be painting the toilet tomorrow - when not doing the skirting board


A quiet day with no visitors.  I spend it working on and off on the shower room and doing more smaller jobs.  Though I have also given most of the back bedroom its second coat of paint.

We have had a few idas about the use of the garage.  Having decided that we won't ever use it for storing a car, we are thinking about what would be required to turn it into a studio to support the painting courses that Jerome and Yvette are hoping to run in our house over the coming years.  If we have time newt week, I am going to suggest that maybe Jerome would like to break up all the furniture in the garage and we'll have a go at getting the space visible.  Then we might think about possibly putting a skylight in the roof and doing something with the walls (later in the year).

It could work well


Remarkably, we have had a flurry of snow this morning.  True it only lasts for 45 mins and then melts virtually straight away.  But I am assurred that any snow here is a rarity.

Grant is back today to finish the boxing in of the VMC pipe work and then do a clean of the outside stonework, when we might discover that the walls will need whitewashing, which would be a very time-consuming extra job.

In the morning, we also have the delivery of the new TV and washing machine and the new satellite dish is fitted and I now have Freeview.  This ensures that we have complied with the requirement to provide an English speaking TV service but it has to be said that the choice of channels is pretty crap.

Grant's cleaning is a success and we don't think any extra painting will be required.  It is a high tech operation combining chemical treatments with a high pressure Karcher water system, but the results are great.


After yesterday's snow, this morning is cold but blue skied.  So I can take some photos of the walls now they are looking really clean

I also get a visit from Rick and his local electrician friend who take a couple of hours to work out what was wrong with the light circuit in the back bedroom but do get it fixed in the end.  Apparently a neutral cable had been pinched by the work done on reinforcing the grenier roof.  So it wasn't to do directly with the new door at all.

I have just about finished the skirting board in the downstairs shower room and though it has taken about 25 hours to do, it does look really good.  What remains is some touching up of the paint - though I am getting very low on the blue.  The new linen chairs are working really well in each room I have put them in so far and the shower room is no exception.  I wish there had been 10 of them now.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Daughter is accepted to Oxford for her PhD with funding

An urgent skype message greats me at 5:30 this morning.  Daughter has been awarded full funding from Oxford for her PhD.  All her university and college fees plus an annual stipend of nearly £17,000 for each of the next four years starting this October.

I have a chat to Daughter who is understandably very excited (and which is therefore affecting her attempts at mindfull, living in the moment during her yoga course).  Afterwards I call Wife at just after 6:00am her time.  It has not escaped my notice that this probably saves Wife and I the best part of £30,000 compared to what our budgeting discussions had suggested some months ago.

So Daughter has accepted the funding and had to produce a short research proposal during the day today.  Then there are some formalities to accept the actual Oxford offer.  She will turn down Trinity, Cambridge then - I wonder how many people get offers from both?

And this will mean that Daughter will be living just 10 miles away.  We can see her more often without being in each others pockets . . .

On all counts, some of the best news ever.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Weird beard

It would be fair to say that Wife is not keen on whiskers.  But with three weeks away, I have the time to give it a good go.  My last shave was a few days before my departure and I still have more than two weeks to go.  This might be the last time I ever have such an opportunity so make the most of it. 

And this is how it is so far.

Is that a strong hint of grey on my chin?  It most certainly is

Three weeks in France - part 2


Grant is back for another day.  This morning we visited Saintes to choose a door for the upstairs connection into Les Petits Chats.  And buy lots more plaster board and associated stuff.

As I have been preparing the occasional IKEA chair and sorting out other stuff, a huge pile of rubbish has begun to build up by the garage.  I have christened it "cardboard mountain" and am keen to see how high I can grow it. 

Meanwhile Grant worked on the door upstairs - a slightly fiddly job as the door has to be cut down to fit and is unusually fitted together.  But as always, Grant does a fine job.  With this now done, I can start work on the decoration of the boy's room - my principal weekend job

Late afternoon, we met in the Gitem store in St Jean where I bought a TV and a washing machine and Grant helps me organise the installation of Freeview on Satellite.  This will be done next week, hopefully in time for the deciding matches in the rugby and the first Grand Prix of the year.

So four full days have gone.  I have done about 50 hours so far, long days that start about 5:30 and end mid-evening, driven on by listening to some downloaded radio shows by Gideon Coe and Marc Riley. 

Too tired most evenings to watch any TV or bother too much with elaborate food - mainly eating chicken with new potatoes, or pasta, wasshed down with merlot from the cave.  I usually manage an episode of Star Trek before bed at about 9:00pm


A slight change of plan and the decision to spend the day on some smaller jobs - the sort when I can get a few ticked off quickly.

First up was painting the ceiling in the kitchen to cover over the slightly greasy stains.  This is actually a tough job, requiring lots of odd neck positions.

I have noticed that the dining room has become base camp for the trip so far. 

Late afternoon I went briefly into St Jean calling in the cave for more merlot (2 litres for E4) and a quick visit into the brocante.  There I found 6 really beautiful linen covered chairs for just E120.  It will take three trips to get these home.

This is followed by a re-stock for food at Leclerc. 


There was a "vide grenier" in St Jean this morning and despite the poor weather, I have ventured out, in part to review what I could buy at such an event if Jerome and I were doing the brocante business we are discussing.  Overall, there would definitely have been a few boxes of stuff we could have acquired.  For the house, I bought some more bedside lights and a couple of earthware pots for the shower room.  One stand had about a dozen pots for about E3 each.  If we were buying for the business, I would have bought them all.

Next week there is the first of this year's main brocantes nearby at Le Gicq.  That will perhaps be the first real test of our buying possibilities - hopefully it will be like Loulay last year when I could have easily spent E500.

Back home and I am focused initially on getting at least one room near completion.  That room is the "poppy room" which now just needs a further spotlight attached to the main beam, which will be done when the electrician visits next week.  

More prep work on the back bedroom while listening to downloaded radio shows.  There is certainly a decent amount of good music about at the moment.


So it is time for the first paint of the back bedroom today - the first coat of Farrow and Ball's oddly named "Elephant's breath".  I have also brought the furniture in for a first look at what it could bem like.  The room will actually be better when the corridor is in place through to Petit Chats and then the room will be less long and narrow.  But I was pretty happy with the first layout.

Another 12 hours day today - calls to Jerome in the UK, Wife and Daughter.  Odd to be on my own for days at a time.

Three weeks in France - Part 1


A fast trip from Caen and I was at the house by about 1:00.  First thing to look at is the state of the grenier after the splurge of work that Grant organised over the past couple of weeks.  The old floorboards and shelving units have gone, the windows are fitted, various roof supports have been replaced and the tiles checked, and the damp patch appears to be drying out well. 

The next job in this area will be to install the wiring though the joists, lay the new floorboards and remove the mortar covering the original stone walls.  This might take place late April

Bedrooms 1 and 2 in the grenier, with the damp patch drying well in the far corner

Looking towards the upstairs bathroom from what will be bedroom 3

Bedroom 3

Also included in the recent work was the removal of the downstairs bathroom to create a bigger lounge.  This bathroom will be relocated downstairs by the bedroom

Looking towards what used to be the bathroom and now the extended lounge

Grant came round for a visit late afternoon after I had finished unpacking.  I am really pleased with the work done and the project is, remarkably, about a fifth done now.


A surprise at 7:45 as IKEA arrive early with the delivery of three outdoor tables and 18 matching chairs. I have to put 2 tables and 10 chairs together this trip, the rest can wait.

I have decided to start on the downstairs shower room first.  The tiling is the first job, which takes about 8 hours as it is a very fiddly location.  Then a paint of at least a small patch of the walls.  By the end of the first day, I have done about one wall of painting and am pretty happy with the colour chosen.

Tomorrow should see the walls finished.  But one job that will be hard is the fitting of skirting boards.  Today's survey reveals that most of the walls are off plumb and so some tricky cutting is going to be required.

Dinner tonight after a 14 hour working day is chicken and new potatoes washed down with some merlot from the cave in St Jean


This morning's early morning visit is from the people who are fitting the new shutters over the french windows.  This is an insurance requirement given the long time each year that the house is not occupied.  They seemed to have them fitted by about lunchtime but then an afternoon of adjustment takes place for reasons I am not clear about.

While this is going on, I have a visit from Martin, our website designer.  He is actually writing a novel at the moment (which is why he is house sitting in France) and was off to visit a friend nearby.  We discussed our proposed painting course website in some detail, reviewing lots of other (mostly poorer) examples.

Shutters open and closed.  It requires two dry days to enable me to paint them.  The weather forecast is not good for the next week or so

For the remainder of the day, I concentrated on painting the shower room and paid a visit to the local Emmaus picking up about E10 of stuff - the sort we might try to sell back in the UK


Today is the first of two days when Grant will be working at the house with me.  We intended to focus first on the two doorways in Les Petits Chats and then move onto the boxing in of the VMC air extraction system

But some thought has been going into the downstairs doorway and I have decided to actually block in the doorway entirely.  This will leave the access between the two halves of the house just through the upstairs, but also opens up the opportunity to have a really nice sized bathroom downstairs in LPC.  So that's what we work on first today.

The doorway before and after the new wall

Also today is a visit from the person who is to empty our septic tank.  Technically this should have been done by the vendors before completion as it is not legal in France to sell someone your own merde!  The tanker only just fits in the street to the side of the house and has to run its pipes in through the side gate.

A talk with Daughter in Thailand (just starting her yoga course) and with Wife at home.