A whole new look

When I asked Joel, our builder, what our chances were of having the crepi finished before the party, he looked doubtful. It would depend largely on the weather; it can’t be done if it’s raining, or if it’s too hot and then of course, he’d be on holiday for 2 or 3 weeks from the end of July. I had visions of a party around the scaffolding.

But he’s a good bloke and we got home from Auch to find scaffolding erected around the house; Joel arrived the following day to say the the heatwave was over, so he and his men would start the next morning. It would still be hot by the afternoon, so they’d be here at 6am.

At 6.03 the vans began to arrive, loaded with bags and bags of the stuff for the first coat, a mixer and a sprayer. By lunchtime the first coat was on the side of the house. The following day they did the base coat on the front; the chaufferie didn’t need a base coat. They decided to work Saturday that week, getting the finish coat onto the side, then Monday top coated the rest. One would spray the product onto the wall while the other three smoothed it over; it had to rest a while then, till it was the right consistency for the final rub, and it was done!

I’m sure we’ll very soon get used to it, but for the time being, we keep going outside to stand and admire our lovely house.

In the meantime, the heatwave may be over, but it hasn’t rained in weeks. We keep emptying the water storage tank that fills from the fosse, the rain butts are dry and we’ve pumped everything out of the old fosse, that now catches rainwater. The plants were looking very dry; it was time to plumb the well, there’s about a metre of water, 15m down.

We bought yet another pump and miles of pipe and pumped the water into the storage tank by the potager; we can pump the well twice a day as it takes a while to refill, but we have plenty of water now.

Joel est venu faire le crepi la semaine dernière. Lui et ses ouvriers ont bien travaillé, de 6h du matin, et nous sommes très contents avec le finisson. La maison est très jolie maintenant.




12th European Cyclotourism Week (or A week in the life of a don’t wanabe translator)

When I was volunteered, at the cycle club AGM, last January, as official representative of translation company for the 12th European Cyclotourism week in Auch,  I really had no idea what I was letting myself in for! Nick offered his services as one of a team of 300 volunteers too, doing whatever was needed. It turned out to be a very interesting, if totally exhausting, nine days.

There were three cycle routes each days, marked with arrows, of around 50, 100 and 150km, that took in roads, countryside and villages all around Auch. Lunches could be ordered in advance and there were several fast food stands on the site, entertainment in the evenings in the form of traditional music and dance troupes, a jazz band, as well as a screen to watch the tour de France and the football.

Wednesday 6th

We went to a meeting at the “camp site” in Auch, for anyone involved in parking, driving, etc., as Nick was to drive the shuttle between the camp site and the showers a kilometre away. It didn’t look much like a camp site; more a big field.

Friday 8th

I arrived in Auch by 8am, to start work welcoming the 3000 or so expected cyclists. The site was transformed; toilet blocks lined up along one edge and named avenues and numbered parking/camping spaces were all neatly marked out. There was a big tent for the reception area and a series of smaller marquees at the far end of the site, for fast food stands and shops selling local produce and cycling-related stuff. My responsibility was the non-French contingent; the Belgians, Swiss and English were no bother, slightly more difficult were the Ukrainians and the Poles, nearly 300 of them in total, very few of whom spoke any English or French, so communication involved a great deal of sign language and mime. I had Fabienne, a French woman who speaks excellent English to help me for part of the time. We finished about 8pm.

Nick arrived in the camper in the afternoon, learnt the route for the shuttle and started guiding people to their allotted camping emplacement, a hot task, cycling back and forth in 34ºC heat.

Saturday 9th

We started work at 7am, Nick driving and cycling again, me welcoming people, sorting and explaining the various bits of paper in  their dossiers. I was given a speech to translate for Sunday’s opening ceremony.

A Ukrainian lady fell in Lourdes, she got back to the site, but wasn’t well. I got one of the organisers to call the ambulance, me translating from French to English, then a young Ukrainian translating to her own language for the patient; convoluted, but it worked. The woman was taken to hospital, where she was diagnosed as having broken ribs and vertebrae.

Finished 11pm.

Sunday 10th

This was the hottest day, at 37ºC in the shade. Having manned the departure point from 7am, I was invited to go with Fred to follow the route by car, calling at Lupiac, where our club were providing refreshments. A day off, I thought; but we had a call to say people were missing some of the signing in Auch, so turned round to go back. There were already four arrows at the junction, but it was on a big descent and people simply weren’t seeing them. So while Fred went back to base to pick up more signs, I directed cyclists to the right road.

In Lupiac, the birthplace of Dartagnan, a team of Musketeers had been hired to entertain the cyclists with fencing demonstrations, as they ate their lunch, which lent a great atmosphere to the place. En route back to Auch, we encountered several people in difficulty due to the heat, and even one man in a car, whose wife had called to ask him to pick her up; he couldn’t find her and was running short of petrol (she turned up  eventually). We gave out water, food and salt as we made our way back, me panicking slightly that, though I’d translated the speech, I hadn’t had time even to read it through.

I got back in time to have a quick shower and head to the opening ceremony, but having had virtually nothing to eat all day, started feeling faint; I had a banana and ran, arriving to find everyone waiting for me, very embarrassing.

Monday 11th

Monday was cooler, after a big storm overnight. We were given the afternoon off, once Nick had finished driving the minibus, so we went home to water the garden.

Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th

Cool, cloudy days with drenching showers, but Nick and I managed to have a ride on Tuesday afternoon and stay dry. We were getting quite used to getting up at 6am by now and Nick enjoyed his daily trip to the nearby bakery for breakfast.

Thursday 14th

The day started uneventfully and Lionel, one of the organisers, asked if I’d like to go around the route with him in the van. Surely this would be an easier day than the last time, I thought. An hour in and he received a call to say that a young Polish lad had had an accident and they were waiting for the ambulance. At the lunch stop we heard that he was being admitted to hospital and they needed a translator; by this stage I knew most of the Poles and Ukrainians who spoke either English or French and was soon able to spot a Polish lady whose English was fairly good. We explained the situation, and she agreed to go with us. We put her bike in the van and headed for the hospital, where we discovered that someone else was doing the translating, though she had to get back to work soon after.

The young man, only 17 years old, had descended a hill too fast, missed the turn at the bottom and gone face first into a tree; he was in quite a mess, but there was nothing for us to do for the time being. We went back to the site, taking his friend, who, luckily for us, spoke excellent English, not knowing if he’d need to be transferred to Toulouse. We waited for what seemed an eternity, then heard that he’d be staying in Auch, so back to the hospital with the friend, her fiancé and the boy’s uncle; there were emails from his mother (in Poland) to translate when we arrived, but we finally got to see the doctor, who explained that he’d fractured his skull, had several facial fractures and had broken his collarbone. They weren’t sure about his neck yet and would have to re-scan that in a few days, though happily he hadn’t suffered brain damage and was able to move his arms and legs and to speak and won’t need surgery for the fractures. We sorted for his mother to fly over and one of the organisers was looking into arranging accommodation for her. A very long, very emotional day, though if he hadn’t been wearing a helmet I think it could have been a lot worse.

Friday 15th

I was given a day off (for good behaviour?), so Fabienne and I rode the day’s short route, 50km. It was the best weather of the week, through beautiful countryside and pretty villages.

The closing ceremony over in the evening, Nick and I collapsed, definitely ready to come home the following day.

I’m happy to say that this is an international event, so won’t be held in France again for a good few years and when it does return, it won’t be in the Gers. If nothing else, this experience had given me a huge amount of admiration for real translators.







Bureaucracy gone French!

It seems a while since I posted anything about the progress of work on the house. We’re all too well aware that it’s only a few weeks till our housewarming party, by which time we really ought to have moved in, but feel as though we’re moving at a snail’s pace, even though we work, most days, from morning to night.

The tiling is all finished, grouted and the cement bloom cleaned off with acid. The garden is in a much better state than in previous years. The kitchen is nearly fitted; Nick and Kieran fitted the chimney to the cooker hood last week. They were going to fit the sink, but it’s a resin one, the same as a friend’s and prone to the same problems of staining as the one in the gite; so plan B – we bought a black granite composite sink on Saturday instead, which I hope will be fitted soon. As sink fitting wasn’t a viable option last week, the lads filled in the time putting together the wash basin unit for the bathroom; it has no legs, so is currently stood on bricks until we decide exactly what height to make it.

You might notice from the photos that, in spite of there being glass panels in the door, no light comes into the hall. When we fitted the door, it rained shortly afterwards and the rain poured straight in, so we decided we’d have to build a porch. I went to the mairie to ask which sort of planning permission we’d need. In typical French fashion, there are different forms for any number of types of permission, all to be filled in in triplicate at least. The lady at the mairie asked if we’d finished the original building work. No, I replied. So we’d need this form, sheaves of paper to be filled in and accompanied by detailed drawings of the porch, including every possible dimension, numerous photos, detailing where each one is in relation to neighbours’ houses, distances from them and the road, etc., etc. It took us three evenings to fill the forms in, which I took to the mairie, then we waited. Eventually the reply came back – refused. Because we’d filled in the wrong forms. I went back to the mairie; the lady said she hadn’t known we hadn’t finished the other works yet(!!??) Had she known, she’d have told me to fill in different ones. I kept my cool, outwardly at least and collected a new sheaf of paperwork, very similar to the previous one, but didn’t this paragraph in the rejection letter mean that we’d need an architect? No, you don’t need an architect for this, said in a “don’t be silly” tone of voice.

Why, I wondered, couldn’t I just re-submit at least those pages that were duplicates, surely they must still have them in Auch (the centre). I phoned Auch; they told me that normally they’d have been sent back to my mairie. So back again to collect the half of my dossier that had been sent back, resisting the temptation to ask where the other half might be. Another two nights of head scratching form filling and we sent off the next lot.

The postman brought a recorded letter this morning; another rejection. He’s a lovely guy who likes to practice his English with us, so we asked him to help decipher the jargon; even he struggled, but we think it’s been refused this time because we needed an architect to do something.

Sometimes banging my head against a brick wall sounds very appealing!