renovation, restoration, relations…………
A visit to the Mairie ( Mayor’s office)confirmed that there was no number 8 Rue de la Plage and never had been.
Yes, we had bought a house but it was now number 5. Apparently, Monsieur Mayor had decided that it would be a good idea to re number the entire village to reflect the fact that we were now in the 21st century and a bit of organisation and clarification was required. Fortunately in France, you buy a cadastral plot or plots..not an address
Panic over for now
The house was clear of junk, thanks to the vendor and clean thanks again to Fran.
And, although the job list was daunting and we were still in a state of disbelief that we actually owned a house in France, we were on a real adrenalin high.
We set up base camp, putting up air beds for ourselves and for my daughter & her husband who were joining us later in the week and with a selection of their music festival vintage camping chairs and a folding camping table in the sitting room, we stood back and surveyed our purchase.
I wandered around , strange how one’s memory plays tricks.
Some rooms looked exactly as I remembered, others seemed to have expanded or shrunk since our last pre-purchase trip in 2005. The interior courtyard seemed gloomy and depressing. We had enjoyed fabulous warm sunny weather in April 2005, this year it was dull, cool, wet and windy
We drove to Carcassonne airport, running a little late, to find Kirsten & Greg perched apprehensively on the wall outside. Apparently Greg had speculated that this was some kind of family in-joke and that no one would actually turn up to rescue them. He was wrapped against the indisputable side wind in a big, fur lined leather coat.
My daughter was dressed for the weather I had, in retrospect, foolishly advised her would be warm & sunny!
I was really apprehensive as we drove back to the village, Subconsciously I needed my family to love the place as much as I did and to validate our big decision to take on this potentially life changing adventure and support our plans.
To my amazement it was Greg, my strong and silent son-in law who doesn’t waste words or indulge in flights of fancy who “got it” straight away.
My lovely daughter Kirsten looked at our place quizzically and proceeded to make admiring comments about the house opposite which I have to admit is apparently much more your typical charming French village house.Kirsten is not big on imagination and even less big on camping although we did give them the “dining room” to sleep in with a whole floor between them and the leaky roof
Carpenter Greg however was fascinated by the simple construction of the stone buildings and the strong, functional joinery…….and fortunately fond of camping..
We felt obliged to do touristy things and eventually the weather improved , although not before my daughter nearly got blown off a wall at Rennes-Le-Château as my son in law encouraged her to pose for a picture against the dramatic back drop of the Aude valley.
We visited the market at Quillan where Kirsten bought a bracelet that subsequently turned her wrist green and Greg purchased a funky white golfing cap.
He took to wearing this rakishly back to front and teamed with wraparound shades which for some reason led to him being pursued around the city of Carcassonne by an expanding group of giggling French schoolgirls who followed him, pied piper style(you don’t see many big, bald, native Frenchmen) obviously convinced that he was someone famous whilst egging each other on to ask him for an autograph!
Surprisingly, this was not the highlight of the holiday, this was undoubtedly the thrill of laying his hands on a real German sten gun in the small military museum by the city walls. Pity my daughter stuffed up the photos.
We started to look at what could be repaired, restored or recycled in the house
Trev & Greg checked out and fixed the hardwood windows which were in surprisingly good condition, as were most of the shutters, and took down the hideous rubber folding door between the sitting room and kitchen whilst trying not to take down the interwoven electrics .
There was NOT the choice of DIY stores in France as there was across the channel with the chain stores that were mushrooming in the UK at that time but we did have a hardware store a few miles away run by two gentlemen, one of whom sports the longest waxed handlebar moustache I have ever seen outside depictions of characters from the Victorian music hall and the other who for some reason we christened Elvis.. Amazingly these guys remember us every year out of the thousands of customers that must pass through their doors.
In consideration of the unseasonably cool weather we bought a log burning stove from the guy without the moustache and asked if he could keep it at the store for now as we weren’t quite ready for it….
I feverishly tore off wallpaper looking for signs of antique panelling or medieval wall paintings.
I didn’t find any of those but I did find some stonking cracks in the plasterwork! This is what happens when you layer inflexible cement over bumpy ancient stone walls and weigh them down.
The three most common ways to acquire a presentable wall surface in France seem to be to strip what is there down to bare stone and either leave it bare but mortar the joints bizarrely(?) replaster in a “rustic “finish (WHY?) or plasterboard over everything so it’s perfectly flat (double why??!!) but I was determined that these were not the routes I was going to go down, the walls had suffered enough abuse over the centuries and I was not going to add to their burden. Minimum intervention is the key word here and although we will be leaving some stone exposed it won’t be jointed in an unnatural white or yellow!
We had a merry holiday, getting up in the middle of the night to re-inflate our sagging air beds.. cue muffled mutterings of “it’s your turn to blow it up”…” I did it last time”.. but you’re the man!”
In the eccentrically placed bedroom downstairs with the en-suite kitchen, at least the “kids” were dry! We, on the other hand, were soon to learn that our roof was not water tight.
I woke up with a start one night in the early hours dimly aware of the sound of monsoon level rain overhead and a “plink..plonk” sound being intermittently repeated around the room. I put on the loosely connected wall light, unaware of how close I was to electrocution as water met electricity
A quick scan round revealed several points of entry of what closely resembled tropical rainfall.
The plink/plonk noise was loudest where the large drops of water were splashing into the glass at Trevor’s side of the “bed”.
He was entirely oblivious to all this, anaesthetised by the bargain whisky he & Greg had been imbibing earlier & did not even flinch when drops of rain began to pitter patter onto his head. I leapt up and, ran downstairs in search of buckets and bowls to catch the water, oblivious, until the second trip down to the kitchen as new leaks sprung, to the the fact that I was naked and therefore inches away from frightening the life out of my son in law if he woke up and caught sight of this unimaginable apparition which was indeed the stuff of nightmares!
Fortunately, he slept through the potential cabaret as did Trevor, although he did stir briefly, opened one eye and said, “if you are going to run around naked with a bucket, would you mind fetching me some water”, then promptly went back to sleep.
I briefly considered granting his wish by hauling him and the mattress underneath the biggest drip, but decided that this was a little petty, anyway, he was too heavy.. O.K.?.
The following morning, with the sun shining & the catch receptacles virtually dried out, nobody believed me anyway.