Nick and Kieran have spent the last two days putting floorboards down on the joists above Nick’s workshop and the floor’s now finished!! The workshop is beginning to take shape; there’s still a wall to build at one end, and eventually, when we get planning permission, we’ll put windows in; but it’s nearly at a point where Nick can use it to house his tools and start making stuff. The lack of windows, now that it’s not open to the roof, does make it a bit on the dark side, so this afternoon, they installed some lighting. It feels like real progress.

I made enquiries at the Mairie about the plans we’ve been drawing up for the building work we want to do, only to discover that we have to get an architect to do them for us as the habitable area of the building will exceed 170 square metres. All that hard work wasted!

Last night was cold; when we got up this morning the first job was to light a fire, since any form of central heating is still a dream. But by lunchtime the sun had warmed things up so much that we went outside to have coffee. Doesn’t seem possible at the end of November! It made up for the last 4 or 5 days of gloom, cold and fog.

A hard weekend’s eating

We’re exhausted! It’s been a really tough weekend!

It started at Adrian’s yesterday, with lunch. Then off to the duck farm open day, for a tour of the farm, followed by aperitifs. A quick trip back to Adrian’s to feed the dogs, then out to the salle des fêtes for dinner, courtesy of said farm. The starters were a meal in themselves; huge quantities of foie gras, rillettes and other duck produce, followed by duck confit and beans, then dessert, coffee and armagnac. Of course, we needed all that to be able to cope with the journey home, in the dark, through the fog.

This morning saw us heading into Nogaro for the cycle club AGM; I’ve been to one French AGM before and hoped that the way it was run didn’t set the pattern, but unfortunately it did! Before the start, everyone was given an agenda booklet containing the details of how many rode the weekly club run every week for the last year, who rode which non-club event throughout the year, who went on the cycling holidays organised by the club, what the average attendances were for every event and, of course, the accounts. This booklet was then used as a script for the meeting, which lasted a full 2 hours (though I think I may have missed a bit when I fell asleep!) Afterwards, as a reward(?), aperitifs were served and we repaired to a local restaurant for a wonderful, four course lunch, plus the inevitable wine, coffee and gallons of armagnac.

We finished lunch just in time to pick Kieran up and go to our neighbours’, who’d invited us to dinner; roast chicken and pork, with all the traditional English trimmings and followed by chocolate pudding, cream and ice cream. I think we understand how those “foie gras” ducks feel now! We must have put on half a stone each this weekend; I think it’s bread and soup for the rest of the week till we recover:-)

The bad news is that it’s the patchwork club AGM tomorrow – oh joy!

Caption competition

Our resident trouble-maker has been up to her usual tricks. ‘It just came off in my hand’ allegedly.. I’m not convinced. A hooligan by any other name causes just as much trouble!

Captions, anyone?

Click on the photo to see the captions we’ve had.

A good day for language skills

“Can you phone round a few places to see where flooring grade chipboard is cheapest?”. It doesn’t sound like too hard a job; but I find numbers the hardest bit of the French language and understanding phone conversations in French the hardest type of communication. So it was without a great deal of enthusiasm that I set about my allotted task this morning, asking not just the price, but size, thickness, price per board and per square metre. I also had to learn, as I went along, the vocab for “tongue and grooved” as well as marine, or bathroom quality. So imagine my sense of achievement, an hour later, when I had a list of prices, sizes, thicknesses, etc., for no fewer than eight shops! It also turned out that the one closest to home was only a few centimes more expensive than the cheapest, many miles away.

So this afternoon Nick and Kieran have collected 20 sheets of flooring grade chipboard, to put on yesterday’s beams, to make a ceiling above Nick’s workshop. They have also applied for an account at the builder’s merchants, which will give us extra discount in future.

Next job; a trip to the doctor’s, to get certificates to allow us to join the cycling club.

So no photos today, folks; everything looks just as it did yesterday.


The start of a workshop ceiling

It couldn’t last forever; the glorious weather, that is. Today has been cold and foggy and pretty miserable, weather-wise. But that didn’t stop Nick and Kieran, who were on a mission today, to install the joists that will support the ceiling over Nick’s workshop. Kept going with never-ending cups of tea and chocolate cake, they managed to put all the joists in place before cold, hunger and exhaustion took over. The extra length, sticking out of the back wall of the house, still needs cutting off, but it was dark by the time they’d finished, so that will be a job for tomorrow.

Earth toilets – très ecolo!

Phew!!! The pit props came out of the doorway today and the house is still standing! What a relief! Nick and Kieran have completed the wall to partition Nick’s workshop from the corridor; there’s a large hole in it at the moment, which will be filled with glass bricks, to let some light through, but it’s beginning to look something like a room – well, if you have a good imagination, anyway.

This afternoon we went to the local eco-centre; a place dedicated to the promotion of eco-friendly living. It’s built of straw and other natural products and is heated by solar panels and is full of books on every aspect of living in an environmentally friendly manner.  They have advisors who will visit you and report on the best form of heating/insulation/building materials, etc, for your project, and because they’re not selling anything, the advice they give is impartial.

The high point of the trip, however, had to be a visit to the waterless loos. We approached with some degree of trepidation; after all, they are in a building several metres from the main body of the place, and were ready to turn tail at the least excuse. But we were very pleasantly surprised to find that they were immaculately clean and didn’t smell at all!  I don’t think we’ll be investing in one, though; that’s taking our “green” creds a bit far. After all, we don’t want to put off anyone who may want to visit.

Red tape rules – well, this is France!

To join the local cycling club, we need a certificate from the doctor (no, that’s not we need certifying!), to say that we’re fit enough to ride with them. It’s the same for any activity; even if all you want to do is go line dancing, you have to do the same! So I set off to the surgery this morning to register with a doctor (my French isn’t up to doing this sort of thing by phone). I made an appointment and the receptionist gave me a form to fill in. I failed at the first hurdle, however, by not having a social security number; so I was sent to see the CEPAM lady at the Mairie, but she couldn’t help because we haven’t got  forms S1 and our EHIC cards have been cancelled by the British authorities. We’ve sent the applications off, but they hasn’t arrived yet. When they do, I have to go back to the CEPAM lady with S1 forms, passports, birth certificates, marriage certificate, bank details, a utility bill and a wheelbarrow to carry them all in; she will then give us our “secu” numbers, and we’ll start on the tortuous process, or so I’ve heard, of getting our “cartes vitales”. Well, yes; we were warned that French bureaucracy is like nowhere else on earth.

Having spent the morning trailing round, making little progress, I felt I’d earned my afternoon off at the local patchwork and quilting club, but wasn’t quite prepared for the surprise Nick and Kieran had in store on my return. They’d bricked up the door from the kitchen while I was out, as well as building more of the walls to form Nick’s workshop and bricking up the fireplace in the blue bedroom. Of course this involved lots of cutting of breeze blocks and briquettes, so everything I’d cleaned earlier is now under a thick layer of dust again 🙁  But it’s progress; I’ll just have to adopt Quentin Crisp’s approach, that after 6 months, the dust gets no thicker. Shouldn’t be too difficult; I’ve never been much of a house-proud spouse anyway!

A trip to the distillery.

Nogaro, the town just down the road, is said to have the oldest Armagnac distillery in the region. It was a newer, more modern, distillery in the town, that had an open day today, so,  with hundreds of others, we went along. We had a tour of the huge stainless steel containers that each house many thousands of litres of grape juice, to ferment into wine, followed by a tour of the building where the barrels of the finished product are kept. There were thousands of barrels of armagnac; the oldest one I saw dated back to 1966!. Proudly displayed in another building were the copper stills, where the wine is distilled, before being put into the oak barrels that give it its colour. We saw the bottling plant and learnt the names of the twenty or so differently shaped bottles and it was here that everyone present was given a miniature bottle of armagnac to take home.

At 12.30, the MD of the company and the maire of Nogaro did the “mise en perce du tonneau” – they hammered a tap into a barrel of armagnac. As they did so, a great plume of armagnac spouted from the barrel onto the ground below, causing people to comment on the waste; so it was to everyone’s great amusement when it turned out that one of the official photographers had missed the shot;and  they had to put the bung back into the barrel, then go through the process a second time.

Once that was done, there were stands providing tastings of local wines, floc (a local aperitif – a mix of grape juice and armagnac) and, of course, armagnac. The air was heavy with alcohol, outside as well as in; I think you could probably have got quite merry just by breathing!

Later on, Nick and Kieran went climbing with the Nogaro club. They meet at the local indoor climbing wall on Wednesday evenings, but have occasional weekend outings to real rocks. They arrived home tired and hungry.

Busy, busy, busy.

It’s been a busy few days; we finished the spare room and Kieran has now moved into it.

To start on the next bedroom, we borrowed a plasterboard lifter from Jean, our neighbour; what a brilliant piece of kit! It lifts the plasterboards effortlessly to the ceiling and saves on hours of back breaking effort. Kieran did most of the ceiling on his own, using it. Nick took out the fireplace without a great deal of effort; not the most substantial item in the house.

But the biggest job this week has been raising the beam over what will, one day, be a doorway from our house to Nick’s workshop. This involved taking down the wall below a big oak beam, propping up the wall above the beam with pit props borrowed from another neighbour (they’re a generous lot around here), removing a chunk of wall above the beam, followed by the beam itself, then replacing the beam at a sensible height to allow people to walk under it. It was a bit tense at times, waiting to see if the whole house would collapse around our ears, but luckily it didn’t and we now have the space to put a door.

This is all part of a greater plan to build Nick’s workshop; he needs one to house all the new toys he’s bought recently and, he claims, to build all sorts of stuff for the house, ( a kitchen, for example, which would be useful). Kieran’s been practising his his bricklaying skills on one of the workshop walls; I think he’s missed his way in life – the wall’s beautifully straight and level!

A grand day out!

We’ve had a busy few days; we spent Thursday doing official stuff, so we’re on the road to being resident here (and paying French taxes) and have now got new number plates for the car. I’ve been told this blog should be more provocative and was looking forward to saying how unhelpful, officious and bloody-minded the officials we had to deal with had been, but in fact, they were nothing of the sort – the tax man even apologised for his lack of English!

Nick’s installed the wood burner in his workshop-to-be, complete with coffee making facilities and he and Kieran have been lumberjacking in a friend’s wood, so we’ve loads of wood for fires now. They’ve also removed the beams from the grange, to re-use them to replace the roof of the cabanon (potting shed) before winter sets in.

Today we had a day off and went into the Pyrenees for a walk. The sky was clear blue and it was warm enough not to need a coat. Most of France seemed to have had the same idea as us, but the National Park is a huge place; it never felt crowded, and the scenery was breathtaking; the colours in the trees, the dusting of snow on the peaks all around, the streams and waterfalls – magnificent! It was quite a hard walk though, for someone who’s done very little excercise for a while and I think my legs are going to hurt tomorrow.