So much for leaving UK for warmer climes! It has now officially been the wettest May since records began! June started with torrential rain, causing flooding across Europe. It felt like QC would slide down the hillside into the lake we were so waterlogged. An ark would have been more useful! Apart from a brief interval of 3 dry days, when the farmers were out in force frantically getting the hay cut, turned and baled, we have had thunderstorms every day with the accompanying deluges.( And powercuts!) Many of the newly sown fields had all the seeds washed away. Our grass was way down the list of priorities for the farmer and didn’t get cut, so much of it was flattened onto the ground. However, as I type, we have had 24hrs of dry, with a good outlook, and ours is now being cut. After all the wet, it is certainly very lush! June 20th and we finally get sun!
The sheer volume of rain during the downpours has caused problems, which have changed job priorities. Sometimes we seem to lurch from crisis to crisis. With the weather coming from the East, the rain was driving onto the side of the barn where the conversion is. Unfortunately it was driving under the roof tiles and pouring onto the top of the ceiling below. And then through, and onto the new kitchen and furniture stored there. The short term solution was tarpaulins. We spent the next two days up on the top of the conversion tacking up two 10m x 5m waterproof sheets, at an angle so that any rain coming through would run into the cow byres. So far, so good!
To the rear of the house, there is no guttering, and the rain just falls onto the ground. It was on the to-do list! Unfortunately, the ground is well and truly sodden. One torrential downpour left so much surface water that the soakaway filled up and the septic tank overflowed. As we had houseguests, this was crisis time again. No flushing the loo or letting bathwater out! Fortunately for us, our guests were one of the Stone Fairies and his wife. (They had had crises of their own so we had offered temporary refuge – their story to tell, not mine). “Fortunate” because he is a very hands on, practical sort of chap. No sooner had the rain stopped than he was up a ladder, putting up bargeboards and guttering. As this involved 2 people up 2 ladders it was obviously a job that R and I could not have done alone. I attempt most things, but ladders I just can’t do. So, what a star! Stone fairy AND gutter guru! We looked on and learnt! Hopefully we can repay the good deed with some fencing manpower – and woman power!
I started research for my new book in June. An erotic, bodice-ripping, bonkbuster of a novel. Entitled “A beginner’s guide to the quarries of Aquitaine”. We have visited more than 10 quarries and depots searching for the best (and cheapest) gravel for the terraces for the pool and house. As delivery costs alone varied between E64 and E140 per 13 tonnes, it was worth the hassle. Also, have you any idea just how many sorts and grades of gravel there are? I can now grade and categorise gravels and hard-core, all in French– talk about niche vocabulary! Now I need to work out how to get it into general conversation! Anyway, we have found the gravel that we want to use – it is much prettier than the utilitarian stuff we have been using in front of the barn and for infill and concrete. Instead of greys, it is shades of cream and sand. Nicely rounded, and dredged from the Dordogne river. For those of you not familiar with the finer points of roules, spot the difference!
This meant that we could get on and finally complete the terrace to the South of the house. We worked between downpours, shifting the huge blocks into the trench which frequently became a moat.
After wallowing and sliding around in all of that mud, I should have flawless skin! We then levelled the calcaire, hammered it down, and barrowed across the gravel to lay on top of the calcaire. When it dries out, the calcaire should set like concrete and hold the gravel. What a sense of achievement. We have created a terrace! And we are very very proud of ourselves. It is a little “rustique”, as some of the blocks have subsided somewhat (sunk) but I will brook NO CRITICISM!!!
As it gets full sun for most of the day, the original plan was to build a small covered terrace for shade – this was another job that the builder failed to do! So, in the short term, we have bought a (well, two) metal pergola with canvas canopy, which fixes to the wall of the house. And we intend to put it up ourselves. But then we realised that, once up, it would be impossible to paint the wall above it. So we moved that job to the top of the list. What hard work! The wall is covered with very rough render, so the paint has to be stippled into every indent. It took nearly 2 weeks to complete. Just one wall! But, in our defence, we were dodging showers! Which was actually a relief, because after an hour or so, my shoulders gave up the ability to actually hold a paintbrush any higher than waist high!
The other shock was the cost. The masonry paint cost E90 a pot. And the one wall took 4 pots to do in all. 3 more walls to go. When we come back in August, we shall hit B&Q on the Wednesday (with R’s pensioner discount) and stock up on the nearest colour match we can get. What’s a shade or 2 between walls? Guess what you’ll be doing in August, boys!
The other MAJOR step forward was the completion of the pool. YIPPEEEEEE! The surroundings have still to be landscaped, but that will happen when the fosse septique goes in for the barn. All of the spoil from that hole will go around the pool too. But the pool is now full and the pump functioning. And it looks fab. Even in the dismal grey and rain. We have had an inaugural dip, but the weather has been so miserable that it hasn’t been tempting us further. So it still doesn’t seem real that we actually have a pool.
The one exception was the night that Rod remembered that we had had a pool light installed. I was in bed – with hot water bottle! – when he rushed in and said to come and look. Worried that the pool had sprung a leak, or had a dead animal floating in, I rushed out. To see this.
Magic or what?
Who could resist?
When we finally made the big decision to come to France, I gave Rod this card,
which seemed to sum up our route forward. (Hence the title of one of the early posts) So, finally, we took a literal plunge, in our very own pool, aka the couple on the card!!! (Hence no photos). Live life!
I have also been scouring the small ads and vide-maisons (house contents sales as people return to UK). We have recently acquired: sheets and pillowcases from a closing B&B, 4 wooden sunloungers (in need of renovation, but will be fabulous), 4 plastic poolside loungers, 2 wardrobes, and all sorts of other bits and bobs.
On the worst of the days, we got on with decorating bedroom 3, which is now nearly complete. (It would have been complete if Rod could find where he’d put the brackets for the curtain poles!) The bedside tables were one of my vide maison buys, and I have painted them to match the bed frame. The cushion covers and bedspread we got from a local market in the French toile de jouy. It’s not my normal style, but I thought it would be good to have a different sort of feel to the room.
Only our bedroom to do now, but that can wait until the autumn, as 1. It’s only us in it, and 2. The builders “fix” on the leaking plumbing in the wall hasn’t sorted the problem and the plaster is still wet and encouraging mould. Yuk! After the shock of the cost of paint, the living room decorating can also wait until we can buy paint in UK – hopefully the weather will be such that we will be living outside anyway.
I have also, finally, found some kunekune pigs in France. They have been very difficult to track down, even via the British KuneKune Pig Society – of which I am now a member! A rare breed in UK, they are virtually non-existent in France. But we had them in Thirsk and loved having them around; they are friendly, easy to manage and don’t get to the intimidating size of the more common breeds, so I was on a mission to find some. There is a litter in Normandy, which means a 6 hour trip up there, but I can’t find any closer, so …………. As they are all siblings, we will need to castrate the boys – to avoid any incest situations. Phoning around the vets to get costings, well, that tested my French! I did find a DIY video on Youtube, but I think I’ll leave it to the professional – I don’t know which box in the barn holds my dissecting kit!! (And all that squealing!) So that we are prepared for potential pigs, this then gave us another job – to fence a pig area. At the bottom of the paddock, down by dingly dell, there is an old concrete pump house. Used previously to pump water from the lake up to the cows ( the right to do so died with the previous farmer years ago), it was invisible under a mound of brambles and nettles, dank, dark and full of rusting pump machinery, including a 1000l galvanised pressured tank. We had fun clearing all of that out!!!! But, down in the shade, it will make a marvellous pig sty. So, back to fencing again before the ground dries up and sets like concrete. Steroid injection for the shoulder anyone???
We are also close to getting some sheep – a couple of bog standard ones to bring on for the freezer, and 2 Dartmoor girls for breeding from. These are from the people we got the wooden farm gates from, so that is another big trip in the pipeline up to the Correze. But first we need to concrete the floor in the rear of the barn and section off a sheep area. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
Although the weather leaves a lot to be desired, it seems that is that time of year. The markets and street parties have begun. On Saturday it was the first of the Tables Gourmands in Lauzun. They set out trestle tables and chairs in the main street and the 2 restaurants provide food, the butcher sets up a bbq, the tabac runs a bar and vans do ice-creams, crepes etc. You take your basket of cutlery and crockery (wine too if not a fan of Cotes du Duras) and take your pick! As it was the first one, there was live music too. Although cool, it was dry, and the turnout was great – lots of people there that we knew – a fun way to spend an evening. These are now twice monthly. (The big one, which we went to last year, is the Gasconnade, in August. It just happens to be on Ed’s birthday this year, and Ed and Jules will be here………….. ) The following day was Serignac Peboudou fete. There was a vide grenier in the morning (yes, I picked up some more bits for the house – a wardrobe, table, two lamps) followed by drinks for the commune. The rum punch nearly wrote off the rest of the day for me! But then, I was drinking Rod’s too. After that, in the communal hall, a 3 course meal. Certainly beats cooking Sunday lunch! The picnic basket is earning it’s keep. As the weather forecast is looking good, we have also kindly been invited out 3 times this coming week. Who’d have thought it? Us? Party people? Need to rummage in boxes in the barn to find my recipe books for return hospitality. Now that we have a terrace to entertain on!!!!!!
Pixie has been a little tinker. She disappeared! We are used to her missing the occasional supper, but, by day 4 we had assumed the worst. We had been all around the area calling for her, and asking people, looking in ditches etc, to no avail. Then, on day 5, in she wandered, a little thinner and a bit more jumpy, but otherwise none the worse for wear. We wondered whether a strange dog – lots walk around the lake – had chased her and she had become disorientated. At least she came back – it did occur to us that she had had enough of the kittens and packed her spotted handkerchief and gone!
Oh, I see why!
The kittens are developing into being really agile hunters, just what a smallholding needs. So far their prey has been quite small, but, as it gets warmer, more and more “toys” come out into the grass. They are becoming quite adept at taking cicada’s in flight. One deposited this on the doorstep.
June 21st! And finally, the sun has come out. The temperature has shot up to mid 30’s. The pool is the perfect remedy for fencing-induced heatstroke !!!!