A new Cawthray project

The French have a very different attitude to houses from us, the English; when an elderly person dies here, it is quite normal for their house to be passed on to their children, one of whom moves in, keeping everything exactly as it was.

So when Alice’s uncle died, leaving no children, his house passed to his brother and sisters, who knew they’d have to sell it, but who wanted it to stay in the family. Alice and Kieran were the obvious choice, so they were made an offer they couldn’t refuse. 

Built in 1934, it’s a beautiful, art deco house in a village not far from Dax. It has arch topped windows, spacious rooms and a big, but manageable, garden.

Sounds too good to be true? Well, yes, in a way. Uncle B had lived in the house for 30-some years, but had done zero maintenance in that time; in fact, all he’d done was to fill the place with junk and memorabilia of his many voyages to far flung places. There was almost no room even to walk in the house, due to “stuff” absolutely everywhere. It’s taken the family months to clear the majority of it and even now there’s enough furniture, crockery, glassware, paintings, books and more besides, to furnish another two homes. What remains has been claimed by various family members, but until this weekend was still cluttering the house, making it impossible to do any work.

Kieran and Alice invited us over for a couple of days busman’s holiday, so we packed the camper with working clothes and tools. It’s great to see Kieran so fired up about the project; he, of course, has all the skills he’ll need, having worked with Nick for so many years. Alice, on the other hand, has never done any DIY, so it’s going to be a steep learning curve for her. She’s keen to learn, however, which is a good start.

Nick and Kieran spent Friday doing what they love best – demolition. The big kitchen had been divided into three small rooms, so the walls came down, leaving us better able to see what will be a beautiful dining kitchen. That done, they spent the rest of the time clearing furniture etc. into the garage.

My job was window renovation; the frames are oak, and so are solid even after all the years of neglect; however, there’s almost no paint left on most of them and very little putty around the glass. Several panes were broken and had been patched up (for years!) with old calendars. Kieran got glass offcuts, as you have to order in advance if you want glass cut to size, and putty, so I set to work replacing the broken panes and starting to reputty the rest. Kieran assures me I’ll have some help, which is just as well as I could spend the next 5 years just working on the windows if I’m on my own!

Alice started sanding the inside of windows; I think the poor girl has just realised the enormity of the task they’ve taken on.

We came home on Saturday night, tired and feeling our age after a heavy couple of days. The weather had taken a nosedive while we were away, from a sunny 27°C on Thursday to a wet, windy 10° on Friday, but nothing had prepared us for the journey home. The rain became heavier and heavier as the wind got stronger and stronger, the wipers couldn’t cope with the deluge as we crawled along, the sides of the camper buffeted by the wind. In one village every road was under water, the drains couldn’t cope at all; there were huge plumes of water spraying from our wheels all through the village and some houses looked as though they may well have been flooding. It had eased off a bit by the time we arrived home, but the rain gauge had recorded 76mm in the preceding 48 hours. Very strange weather for September!

Coup de foudre

It was that time of year again; so much to harvest and process from the garden; tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, peppers, beans……… And it’s been so hot for so long, seriously hot, 45°C in the shade one day. So we get up early to work in the garden for as long as we can, then spend the afternoons blanching, freezing, drying and bottling our produce.
It was also the season for thunderstorms.

And so it was that I was in the arrière cuisine one day, chopping veg for ratatouille, vaguely aware of a bit of thunder rumbling around, but it didn’t sound very close; when suddenly there was the most enormous crack. I dived for cover, wondering who’d been shot. When I’d recovered a bit I had a look out of the window; everything looked quite normal and two men walking up the road were unarmed and harmless looking. One of them asked if I was ok, as apparently he’d just seen one bolt of lightning land just in front of the house and another just behind; oh, and had I seen a white cat anywhere?
We looked around the house; no burning smells, the only apparent damage was to the internet box, which was completely dead. Later that night we discovered that most of the lights in the house had been frazzled and two days later that the water heater had also suffered and was no longer working.
Of course August, when this happened, is holiday season; businesses are closed and it’s impossible to get anything done. Everywhere I phoned I had to leave a message, most promising to ring back at the beginning of September, though only two actually did so. Fortunately the electrician who wired the house had taken his holiday early and rang back within a week; he fixed the lights and was able to repair the water heater when the part arrived; he ordered it with express delivery so it “only” took 10 days. Thank goodness we’ve got a second water heater in the gite, so we didn’t have to visit neighbours, begging for showers.
All in all, we were lucky, it could have been a lot worse. It rained a bit here, but some places nearby had hailstones, leaving fields full of maize shredded and vineyards, almost ready for the harvest, stripped bare of both leaves and grapes; such a sorry sight.

I wrote this blog weeks ago, before we’d discovered that the lightning had also fried the mother board on the PC I use to post it; so I had to wait for Kieran to visit and replace the damaged part.