Aside from the random hot flushes and near constant discomfort from my operation scars, the last two years have left me feeling like I have been run over by life and left in the gutter in a heap.Still suffering random PMS (Post-Menopausal Shock) physical reaction, emotional incontinency and fuzzy mental meltdowns, I tried to get my head around all the stuff we needed to squeeze into this year’s tiny window of six weeks; which is all the time we can scrape together to spend working on our French properties.
WHY DOES TREVOR THINK HE CAN RELAX? WHY CAN’T I?
Finally, with some reservations, I had taken the new job offer; walking away from what would eventually have been a good civil service pension on the basis that in the short term I needed to earn more now to support two French properties and a renovation project!
Trevor’s holiday entitlement never seems to increase despite his years of service and although my new job is TECHNICALLY more flexible, I soon learned that if I spend more than a few days away, my cases fall into a black hole.
The saving graces are my legendary capacity to assimilate new skills without stopping for breath and my secretary, given to me almost as an afterthought but now trained up to be absolutely indispensable. I had discovered very quickly that there would be NO training, in-house or otherwise, for my new job and I would have to make it up as I went along, because no b****r else was going to knock themselves out to help me.
I risked a couple of weeks off anyway, a French “fix” being my new raison d’etre. In view of the limitations on what we could do inside the house at this stage, we went hunting for paint to unify our assortment of shutters and doors, which ranged in vintage from a few centuries old to 1980’s.
We finally agreed (or I browbeat Trevor) into a lovely matte pale blue grey with a hint of heliotrope (!) Sadly, when we went back to buy more for the dining room shutters, we found that the colour had been discontinued!!………..the first of many occasions when we ended up bashing our heads against this particular French DIY wall.
Although my Doctor isn’t happy, I am back to being builder’s mate and general nag to Trevor who still maintains an inexplicable tendency to relax in the sun rather than wield power tools every waking minute ( my natural inclination at present)
It is tempting to lie around, when you have a lovely terrace to relax on at last, even if the inside of the house leaves a lot to be desired. We have a lovely new ceiling in the dining area, covering the necessary steels inserted to prop up the terrace, and a doorway through to the shower room from the terrace bedroom. This in itself prompts some deep thought as to how we can, as we originally intended, squeeze a tiny en-suite shower room next to the tulip bedroom and a miniscule wash room next to the terrace room.
The original idea was to demolish the wall that divided the tulip room and the shower room, which at that point had the only window on that side of the house on that particular floor.
We had planned to create the two little en-suites and our builder had put in two good sized velux windows that now lit up the previously dark and depressing ( now just dusty and depressing) space dramatically.
It was now clear (literally) that what the house did need was two things-
Firstly as much light as possible needed to be introduced everywhere by whatever means possible!
Secondly we had to carefully assess how the hell we were going to unite the two disparate spaces that made up the house in order to create a liveable space that flowed comfortably.
The house had clearly been cobbled together piece by piece over many years, as and when urgent needs for space or electric wiring or plumbing arose. It’s existing layout just did not work.
A few snippets from the builder and our neighbours, plus some detective work on my part, indicated that the property had consisted until the mid-20th century of a one room wide, three storey dwelling, with a kitchen on the ground floor (currently the “garage/workshop”- and which explains the blackened walls and burnt beam in there) a single living/eating/everything else room above and on the second and top floor, which bizarrely has the oldest floorboards in the house, a bedroom which I believed had originally been some kind of servant’s sleeping platform many moons ago.
The middle floor was obviously a later addition, maybe in the late 19th century when the mish- mash of buildings in the outer circle of the village, where we are situated, actually became what is now a ring of residential houses. In the corner is half a stone fireplace (I kid you not) and this room is fitted with a loudspeaker system connecting it to the workshop below, which had enabled the lady of the house to summon her hardworking husband to dinner.
The stairway boasts a giant red button on the wall which we have decided was the air raid siren for the entire area.
The other side of the house (added in the 1950’s) was part of the adjacent part medieval barn, a joint enterprise with the neighbour beyond and in the documents passed to us by the vendor, it suggests that the two neighbours decided to split this barn in half and tack it onto their respective properties to increase their square footage.
The two sides of our ensuing folly of a house do not line up in any way. Although both sides have three floors, they are on different levels, even the ground floor!
In what was the barn, there is evidence of a large arched walkway through to the courtyards at the back with the original huge pins for the gate and a lintel suggesting a further very low doorway. This lintel and the ancient hand made nails in the wall suggest this part of the house may be 15th century.
The need for toilet facilities was solved a couple of decades ago by installing one in the cupboard by the front door, but you can’t open this door unless the front door is completely closed. Prior to this the gutter in the courtyard sufficed.
Despite the villages’ history this was most certainly never a grand house, indeed it wasn’t a house at all until the 19th century. What it is, is a fascinatingly ugly patchwork property and is going to take all my powers of imagination (and believe me these are considerable) to make into a lovely home.
It has taken Trevor years to admit that the task before us was so daunting he didn’t know where to start. Bloody good job that I have the vision