Episode 7 STRANGE DAYS INDEED……………..

DSC00323renovation, restoration, recession

Autumn 2006

Fabulous, my major surgery meant lots of lovely time off work and enjoying the weather which for once was pretty good for the UK
I indulged myself with all this unexpected free time, buying lovely things for our new French house, not realising how long it would be before we would actually have dust and rubble free areas to put all these gorgeous little objets d’art and delicate vintage textiles.

Handy hint- It takes at least two years for the builder’s dust to disperse. Don’t even think of putting out your white bed linen yet…….

At home, life moved on
My daughter, who had quite given up any hope of hearing the patter of tiny feet found out that number one grandchild was on the way…………..must have been the paella and rose wine diet she had enjoyed on her August (builder’s mate/ trail round the DIY shops with mother) holiday.

My very tall father was settled into more suitable accommodation, the sloping roof in the first apartment we put him in having come close to giving him permanent brain damage.

My son was settling alarmingly easily into a layabout student lifestyle having managed to wade through most of his £1,000 bank overdraft in the first term, which apparently still remains an alcopops induced blur, although some of his friends still have the photos… I think he even went to the odd lecture.

All was looking good as we started making serious plans to get the French renovations under way and I cheerfully went back to work after almost three months sick leave to find that in my absence I had been moved to a different team, a different desk, and was now obliged to apply for promotion if I wanted to keep my job! Unbelievable………………….
Suddenly, bumbling along for another few years and picking up a decent civil service pension was no longer an option if I was to retain any integrity or sense of self worth, I had to go, and anyway our plans had changed dramatically. The great house we were renovating in the UK was too big with the kids gone and with climbing utility bills not cheap to heat. Big rooms, huge gardens with woodland and lovely views are great but not when most of your disposable income is going into maintaining the status quo

Things were looking tough in Britain, the crazy climb to the peak in property values had not only stopped, it was sliding inexorably down the other side of the mountain at a frightening pace and I felt that we could no longer be certain that the hard work and money we were putting into our UK house was guaranteed to bring a fat return in the future, so what to do now?
We could see that good properties in our adopted area of France were still holding their value and as our region is far less touristy and overrun with foreign housebuyers than such places as Provence there were still bargains to be had.
So we decided to burn our British boats and put our lovely house on the market, which meant months of keeping it unnaturally immaculate, not at my normal level of barely contained chaos

We both loved the sea, though I much preferred looking at it to swimming out till I was distant dot (Trevor!) so a seaside place was the next box to tick and would hopefully be a lucrative sideline in rentals if we picked the right area

The only thing keeping me sane was planning for the arrival of my grandchild and getting over to France as often as possible to liaise with the builder and hope that the work could soon progress.
Our brilliant builder Jean-Marc had to submit new copies of the plans as the first set went missing into some administrative black hole and the whole planning process had to start all over again.

I was itching to start some real work, even though there was little we could do before the structural stuff and rewiring & replumbing were completed so we went out and purchased a vat of that ubiquitous and popular French surface masker-…………………..crepie!!
This is a very interesting mixture of paint and what appears to be microscopic bits of grit that get into the smallest open cut or graze and act like a lethal loofah when you try to shower the stuff off, particularly if like me you are incapable of painting without getting it all over you.
Yes it fills cracks and blurs lumps and bumps but the finish is so unfriendly that you may as well line your walls with shards of broken glass, however this is not instantly obvious and for some reason, not mentioned as a potential health and safety issue when you purchase aforesaid substance.
As the cave was as dark as a tomb we decided that walloping the long wall in a light, bright colour would introduce some much needed light so we wielded a big brush each and got stuck in.
We had noticed that, although the rest of the external walls and the internal spine wall are made of lumps of stone and river pebbles,  the cave wall was made of breeze blocks, rather unusual in such an old dwelling, but at that stage we had no idea why that should be the case, so we merely put it down to French eccentricity and carried on walloping.
We were two thirds of the way down the 30 foot wall when we became aware that a gaggle of small children had gathered outside and were watching our progress with amusement., along with a couple of other folk who had peered in curiously to see what we were doing, they seemed bemused as to why we should be painting what had clearly always been a junk/boiler room and also rather concerned about our safety, and indeed our sanity in buying the house.
The children informed us solemnly that the place was haunted, the turgid tale being told with much gurning, gesturing and the utilisation of a small child to demonstrate a previous incumbent in their death throes. As we didn’t seem perturbed by this grisly tale, they decided we must also be “fou” and wandered off to confirm to their parents that indeed the new voisins Anglaise (English neighbours) were very strange.

We had heard no signs of life in the neighbouring house up until that point so were congratulating ourselves on the sound insulation of old stone walls when suddenly what appeared to be a party started up on the other side of the breeze blocks. Clearly we had just one layer of shaped cement between us and the neighbours on one side and if we could hear them, they could certainly hear our music so the utterly pointless painting stopped and insulation suddenly became a priority both in the cave and the kitchen/dining room above. The neighbours turned out to be a delightful young couple, but at least a generation too young to enjoy our taste in music.

On our last day, being both foolhardy and intrepid, I decided to climb out onto the roof of what we were now pretentiously and somewhat prematurely calling the dining room to try and imagine what the view from our planned roof terrace would look like- but the condition of the tiles suggested that this was not a good idea, particularly with the lack of handholds, the slope and the thirty foot drop into the courtyard below. Trev’s voice drifted up from below” I hope you’re not climbing out on that dodgy roof”
He knows me so well………………….
I settled for looking at the red soil and craggy broken teeth of the hills that cradled the village, listened to the river rushing below and registered the almost complete absence of any other sound How on earth I could leave this place and walk away? The feeling that I had finally come home was almost overwhelming.

I turned from the breathtaking view and my dreamy contemplations and looked at the building site behind me
Yes, we were quite, quite mad…………………………………….


About coteetcampagne

Artist, period home maker, renovator, restorer, Francophile. My mission is to save the old stuff, one beautiful piece at a time
This entry was posted in Renovation and restoration diary- France, What we did, how we did it and what we used and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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