Les poissons en France

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Les Architectes

We are going through a hectic period. We had arranged to see a couple of architects and we had one on Tuesday morning and one on Wednesday morning. I do get a sense of fate and destiny about this house, or is it that coincidences do occur in life? When we got here we found that one of our neighbours was English and the woman, Lesley, went to our school and her brother was in our class. Now we find that the Architect who came first on Tuesday knows our house as he spent time here in his youth. Hence he remembers the house as it was and he told us some stories about it. He told us that in the courtyard was a small pool for the ducks and the water from the sink in the kitchen used to just pour out of a hole in the wall and presumably into the duck pond. The bulge in the rear wall has always been like it is. He also explained that the rainwater that collects in the tank under the terrasse was OK to drink. He told us of the time his brother, after milking the cows, poured milk into the water in the cistern!! It seems unbelievable that we should find an architect so connected to the house.

Having dealt with Architect number one, we spent the rest of the day in the garden in lovely sunny weather - at the end of November! We went to see Rene in hospital in Cahors and returned at about 7pm. To our consternation we had no water in the house. The water is supplied by the commune and so there is no emergency number to phone. We jokingly said that at least we had the water in the cistern. Sue suggested I phoned our neighbours Jean-Jaques and Nadine who are now in Paris. I did and asked if interruptions in the supply were normal. Definitely no! JJ said he would get his cousin who lives in the local village to phone us to help. However JJ phoned back to say that his cousin had no water also! 'If there is no water in the morning, go to the Marie, and if it is shut, phone the Mayor!!!' Thankfully, the water came back on later.

The second architect was OK and, in his favour, he said he liked modern interiors. We have taken to Architect number one but we just have to await their estimates and their suggestions before we can proceed further.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Garden Force

We can't believe how good the weather is staying. Our thermometer by the front door, in the full sun, was showing 30c at mid-day. We took full advantage of this good weather to work in the garden. Sue got a bonfire going to burn up branches which I had previously cut in the courtyard. Whilst she was doing this, I was removing the small tree stumps left in the courtyard. Then I started attacking the trees along the top boundary hedge of the front 'garden'. I realised that I need to see about getting the chain saw sharpened, or a new chain. It was struggling to cut cleanly and quickly.

We'd like to think we can get going on the house and we have found some more architects. We have got one coming tomorrow and another the next day. We have also been told of a Project Manager (Maitre d'Oeuvre) who is good , who can draw up the plans and get the Permis de Construire and then organise trades. So we will pursue him as well. We have also started buying our Digger! I was looking at french ebay and we bid for a mini-digger being sold by a dealer in Folkstone in the UK. We were successful and he is sending the digger on a pallet by a carrier; we will get delivery within 5 to 10 working days. Sue is expecting me to be straight out on to the garden digging out paths and beds. Hope the weather stays fine. Sounds like I'm going to be out there all hours!!!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Keep the Camp Fire Burning

We have got to know a couple who live about a mile away in the hinterland. They have gutted their house and are " surviving" in their barn. Its very primitive like living in a shed ( dont want to make too much of this as we could be in the same boat/shed sometime but hopefully it wont be at the end of November). Anyway I felt sorry for them and invited them round for a meal and a"warm". In fact it wasn't the slightest bit cold last night but in their honour we got the house really toastie. The open fire was timed to be roaring away as they arrived and I had made a special effort with the meal (as you do when people are coming ). The lights of their car were seen coming up the road and then Disaster Sruck! We had a power cut. Oh dont worry it wont be long have a drink, and another. It then became obvious that this could go on for an indefinite time. Talk about thinking on your feet. We had some "instruments" hanging on the recess of the fire which John wanted to throw away in our initial clear out. I rescued them from him saying "you never know if we get one of these fabled French power cuts we might be glad of them". Well they came into their own and we had homemade soup, Pork chops with a cheese and mustard topping, ratatouille and potato wedges (the cauliflower with walnut topping never made it nor did the white chocolate bread pudding). Cheese was nice! The electricity came on three hours later in time for the coffee. I would have panicked a lot more than I did if this had happened in England, this laid back society must be good for me but I hope this doesn't happen when you all come to see us. I dont think I am that relaxed!!!!!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Culture Vulture - dig it.

Yesterday, Friday 24th, was very busy. We started off by popping in to the Notaire who is in the process of organising the exchange of the bit of land we own the other side of our neighbours house for their bit of land which is the other side of our house.
We then went for our weekly french lesson with a very nice english lady. She is very thorough and knowledgable; she also teaches english to french students and french to french youngsters!

Following the lesson, we went off on our search for a mini-digger. We feel that we have enough work here to justify buying our own equipment. We are proposing to move a lot of earth (and rocks) in the courtyard, around the barn, in and around the pigsty, as well as creating miles of paths in the gardens before we start creating all of the beds. (Phew!) We went to a depot we found on the internet where they do up and resell mini-diggers. We eventually found them ( they had moved to a new address) and they were in the middle of celebrating the move to a new site and building, supplying food and drinks to new and old customers! A very nice bloke who owned the business showed us his stock. He wasn't wearing a Camel overcoat, only a black one! We are looking at about 12,000 euros (including the french version of vat which is levied at 19.5%). However, a deal can be done! They will deliver for free, we could hire it for say 3 days to see if it is OK, and maybe if we pay a bit in readies so as to reduce the amount of vat we have to pay?........ but not too much! We will follow up a new machine we saw on ebay which seemed to be offered new, delivered, tax included, for only 9,000 euro, but that seems far too cheap by the prices we have seen in our searches.

After some shopping and the mini-digger search we had to rush back home, grab some food before we went off to Cahors to see Rene. Then.... we went to a concert at the School of Music, which didn't start till 9 o'clock. It was a very 'interesting' start to our pursuit of a fuller social life following the years of being consumed by our business. The concert was Jazz Improvisations and was introduced as being free jazz, and it was very free!!! A lady playing the double bass and a man on the trumpet. They were both brilliant musicians but what they played was very avant-guard; the 'noises' they were making had similarities to some experimental electronic music. I was a bit worried as, whilst I am quite happy to accommodate this type of 'new' music I didn't think Sue would like it. I don't think we can say she liked it, but watching the performers at the same time as listening to the music meant that it could be appreciated as a performance rather that just taking it as a piece of music. Certainly more culture to be followed up!!!!

More power please!

We have been investigating our electricity system and, apart from not knowing what it is costing us, we can't have 3 heaters on at the same time as the oven and some rings on the electric cooker. The French system works by fixing the power you use according to the tarif you are on. We went to the electricity offices of EDF to sort out a bigger power rating and information on what it is costing us and an engineer was organised for Thursday morning. He duly arrived and we can now be warm and have hot food at the same time!

Whilst we were waiting for the engineer, I was clearing out one of our lofts. There were some old bits of wood, a couple of old window frames and some bricks abandoned, plus there was a small window-sized hole in the wall!!! I swept out the loft, removed the rubbish and then managed to put my foot through a weak spot in the floor. Luckily there was no major damage to the flooring or to me. Once I got over this hiccup, I blocked up the opening in an attempt to keep the house warmer. Ironically, last night (Friday) it was incredibly warm; nearly 17c!!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


We've just recovered from our computer crashing. A nice aquaintance up the road sent us an email with an attachment of a menu for a Christmas get-together for english ex-pats. Normally I would steer clear of this sort of thing. The english en-mass in a foreign country can be just too embarassing. However, in an attempt to broaden our social circle, I am biting the bullet and we are going. (More of this in due course). The point of mentioning this is that I was unable to open the attachment. And...the next morning the operating system on the computer was infected. We ended up wiping all of our information off of the computer. When we saw our 'friend' later he said 'Oh yes, I've had that trouble too!!!!!'

We have had a letter back from the Architect today with an estimate for the renovation of the house and his fees and it wasn't an arm and a leg, it was both arms and both legs!! However this has refocused our minds back to our original idea that we will do as much as possible ourselves. We will renew our effort to find a mini-digger. We have to get proper plans drawn up but then we will either do things ourselves or do our own Project Management. View this space.

It has been raining off and on now for about 5 days and there are lots of soggy leaves everywhere. But we don't mind Autumn starting in the middle of November.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The Things you Find

Autumn has arrived quickly but we have had some lovely colours. The leaves have finally gone dark brown but, because we have not had any rain lately, they are still on the trees.

We have been making use of this dry spell to work outdoors on the garden. I have cut down the small scrubby trees that have been allowed to grow in the courtyard area. This has opened it up and lets the grass drove to the side of the house link up with the back garden.

Sue has been clearing the brambles and saplings which have created a 10 to 15 ft. 'border' along the top edge of the front garden. This has led to the uncovering of ancient agricultural equipment abandoned, I expect, from whenever the auction to clear the house was held. Presumably, this equipment we have found had no value and wasn't sold. We will investigate the junk dealers before we dump it!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

La Vie Francaise

It is interesting to see how gradually the weather and french customs work their way into your life. I was intrigued to see Sue starting to act like a french housewife and hang the bedding out of the window.

I cut the last bit of grass today, motivated by the weather forecast of rain tomorrow. This afternoon saw another trip to the dump as I continue clearing the second 'cave'. We were just about to finish for the day, at about 4.30 when a monsieur came walking up the lane. He turned out to be one of our neighbours, Bernard, introducing himself and, we suspect scouting us as potential customers. He is a painter and decorator and he claimed to have done work for previous owners of the house. He certainly was pleasant and didn't want to stop chatting. We didn't mind, however, as we feel we need to integrate into the local community. we are going to have to invite some of the locals for an apero .

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Rendez vous with the Architect

It has seemed an age waiting for the meeting with the architect, however it turned out to be worth the wait. It transpired that he does all the local council work , like schools and hospitals etc. but he is interested in doing up old houses. We left a picture of the house with his secretary when we called in the office and we just think he was fed up with doing square boxes and thought our house would make a nice change. He seems as busy as all the other architects we pursued but we must have hit him on a good day. Having said that I think we are in for a very long haul and a very big bill. Cela ne fait rien ( san fairy ann) with our new laid back approach to life what does it matter!!
I have been referring to the architect but infact they are a double act - his wife came along as well. She was great and on my wave length. We pointed out cracks in the walls and the fact that the back wall was bowing and nothing seemed to to phase them. They have gone away with lots of pictures and our rough sketches and we await developments.
Whilst we were waiting for Mrs Architect to join us Mr Architect was explaining a number of technical points and he got carried away with enthusiasm and talked faster and faster. John nodded and grunted at apparently suitable times but I was thinking to myself there is no way that he understands what he is saying. When we got outside my thoughts were confirmed, he just has the knack of pretending he understands but I have got wise to him now.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Autumn at Last

All my life I've said I hate Autumn because to me it heralds winter. Well here it isn't like that. I have been watching the trees for weeks and they just didn't change colour or lose their leaves. Until last Tuesday that is, when within two days we had bronze and yellow hillsides. Sorry my photography doesn't do the scenery credit.

Rene remains very poorly it is very distressing to see her just existing, however we are trying to carry on life normally - she would approve of this approach.

Hence we have attacked " the barrels". We have been trying to clear out the "caves" on the ground floor of our house. They have been used as stables,sheds and rubbish dumps over the years. Its like an archealogical dig as you unearth all sorts of things like shafts and wheels from a cart, the full tack from the horse that pulled it and the wine barrels. The little one bit the dust (or the flames) and the huge one is still not dismantled despite a whole morning of effort from John.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Nuts and Bolts of Life

We continue to try to sort out the administrative side of life in France. We went today to finally sign and pay for the car insurance we have been driving under since we bought the french car. Surprisingly (?) the price has risen by 50% but we didn't make a fuss for this first year. A lot of shopping around will be done before it is renewed next year!

We then went to see an english speaking accountant as we are worried about being ready for our tax returns in France from next January. So we were pleasantly pleased when he told us that we won't be liable to french tax until 2008 when we will have to submit returns for the year 2007. We might have spent it all by then, looking at what is needed to be done on the house!!!

We have booked our first lesson with an english lady who lives nearby who teaches both english to the french, and french to the english. Whilst we are often told by the french that we speak good french, it is not always easy to understand what they are saying or to make ourselves understood. It is my wish to be fluent (?) within 2 years. It is Sue's wish to get by.

Finally, we took delivery of our sit-on mower. It took me 5 hours to mow the front 'lawn' so, once I have learnt how to drive it, the mower should make life a lot easier. It will also double as a 'tractor' to pull a small trailer if we ever buy one ! The start of our Construction fleet.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Marking Time

We are going in to Cahors hospital every day to see Rene although she appears to deteriorate each time we see her. We have made an appointment to see 'the doctor' this afternoon to try to get a picture of how her condition will change so that we can organise our lives accordingly.

We have been having glorious, clear, sunny days and cold, crisp nights. The temperatures have been around 12 to 15 c at the back of the house but we have felt a lot warmer on our verandah at the front of the house. So yesterday we bought another thermometer and put it on the wall next to the front door. We have just been out to look at it, (it is 7am) and it shows a temp. of 31c yesterday; there is a lot of warmth in the sun! As it is it has not been a cold night; the temperature now, at 7am, is 12c - lovely for mid-November.

We are in the process of clearing les caves and I have a load to take to the dump and I have got to mow the grass again. We have been scouring the french internet and ebay.fr for ride on mowers and mini diggers. We are going to end up with our own construction company!?

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Time to warm up

These 2 nights of frosts have forced us to light up the fire in the large chimenie in our entrance area. To our surprise, a good 85% of the smoke went up the chimney and not in to the room! Needless to say, the rooms on the ground floor have lots of scrap wood to get rid of.

As it happens, the weather today was warmer; we didn't start with a frost and it was really warm at mid-day. This morning I took a load of scrap metal to the dump, part of what I anticipate to be an ongoing process.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

What's this White stuff

The weather here has been unseasonally good according to our french neighbours so it came as a bit of a shock to wake up to a frost! Our thermometer which is on the back of the house and so a bit sheltered from the extremes of the weather only showed a minimum of 0 c for last night but it was a good white frost. However, by lunchtime we were able to sit outside on the verandah. There has not been a cloud in the sky so we are expecting another frost tonight.

It is a bit difficult to get cracking on jobs as we are going in to Cahors every afternoon to the hospital but we did start to try to find an Architect. Of the 3 we contacted today 2 are too busy and not taking more work till Spring next year. Looks like we might have to look further afield! In the meantime we'll concentrate on clearing out the ground floor rooms (the 'caves') and planning the garden.

Yesterday we were going round the house finalising our thoughts on how we wanted the layout of the rooms. This involved going up into the lofts which we plan to make into bedrooms. One of the 2 lofts has access through a little door into the pigeonier. The floor had a good layer of bird droppings and quite a few owl pellets. There was then a small ladder up through a hatch in the ceiling up into the next level. Here, on one wall were the proverbial 'pigeon holes', a bit like a postmans sorting rack. There was also more owl pellets and, as I was shinning my torch up into the roof of the pigeonier the owl flew down and then out of the open stone window which you can see at the top. As he was flying down he made me duck; it seemed like he was coming straight down at me! We fear that he (?) is bound to be disturbed when we have the roofs done etc. but hopefully he will return to the top of the pigeonier later.