Un petit séjour pour mon mari et sa mère

So last weekend saw hubby and grandma take a very short trip to France, with a view to meeting a plombier, a menuisier (joiner), and a plâtrier (plasterer). 

Le plombier spoke very good English and grandma wouldn’t let him go – had to show him Duolingo! He was called to sort out the leaking shower pipe that our former builder left us with, together with the hot water tank which doesn’t work properly (fitted by former builder too)

He replaced the pipe valve just in case – it hasn’t leaked at all! Much tighter fit now.  

Will quote re outside tap. Through kitchen units. Said he will drill in from the outside because the crèpi will break off if he drills from the inside. Re the drain – he said preferable to have one but with tiles it shouldn’t be a problem – just should’nt let the water lay on bare concrete as it soaks in. He will put an isolation tap in under the sink so we just turn it off when we’re not using it. 

Re shower – Hubby found receipt and plombier rang Bricorama for us and they have said take back the tap piece only and they will replace it. Receipt now clipped to the board in the kitchen and this must be our first job when we return in late July as 12 months is up on 4th August. They have none in stock at the moment but still sell them. Said they will be in stock by end of July. 

Le menuisier, Josh, has been in France 30 years. Covered area – the minimum height would be approx 2.2m. We could have the posts inset a little and would give more height. The crèpi needs doing first he thought – makes their job easier and less mess. He wouldn’t do the faux stone pillars – he would get Andy (the tiler) to do them and work together. They are filled with concrete and wire for strength. If we wanted wood he said they can be on studs which are very low to the ground but raised enough to stop water rising into the wood.

Shutters – again the crèpi needs to be on first – he needs to know the depth to have them fitting flush. He said the holes for hinges would not crack the crèpi. We want anodized metal hinges which match our existing shutter hinges – he said his supplier no longer offers anything but black. But he will buy the shutters from them and the fixings probably from Bâtiland as we know they have them. 

Stairs. He thinks he can sort (see pictures later) will cut a bit off the bottom and place at the top and then the bottom post would be adapted a little to fit flush. 
Balustrades – he can make some to fit – same colour but unlikely to be in beech! He will have them overlap the wood floor edge to hide the finish / edge of wooden floor.

Le plâtrier, manually plasters. Looks older when finished he says. More dimples than staccato. He doesn’t have a machine. He has to do one wall a day. Also can’t do it if over 30 degrees temp so July / August would be difficult. Paul explained the idea that we were trying to achieve the look of pigeoneer being older and the bungalow being the extension. He started suggesting one or more sides would look good in faux stone. Then the longer he was talking he started suggesting all in stone OR we would need to get a firm in to do the crepi with a machine. He is going to give us a price in a week or so for faux stone. He needs to chat with builders merchants. 

So all meetings were relatively positive. When things can begin is not so straight forward as it sounds like the crèpis must be done first. So another important job when we return is to find a professional crèpier. Answers on a postcard please😳

I received pictures of the garden, with many plants flourishing. Of course the grass needed cutting. 

And there was time for a bonfire 🔥 

Difficult to see, but the willows are growing. One day a willow arch. 


Our former builder (no longer employed) never fitted the stair rail and now we know why. Shoddy!!!

Let’s end positively with pictures of flourishing 🌱 


We’re looking forward to our summer in France now, with really just the finishing touches to the extension to organise. Our relationship with our former builder (Jeff Pittman) now over and even though he owes us money, we are moving on. Perhaps next year our extension will be finished but I’m not going to hold my breath. All in good time. Things do take longer in France. But hey ho!

Quatre différentes formes de maisons dans Le Lot et Garonne

Back in the UK and it’s not long before my thoughts return to France, and of course our little house. Last week I came across a new Chanel 4 program called “Escape to the Château”. In the program a couple are seen purchasing a chateau for €250,000 and attempting to restore it for £30,000. What a joke😫, in my experience, any type of building work in France is really expensive. My nephew is in the process updating his pool and tells me he wont get much change out of that amount.  From what I know of our extension costs, I’m confident that you can purchase a property much cheaper than you could have it newly built.  However, having said that once you have chosen and purchased your French home it becomes, somewhat of a baby that you want to nurture and develop.  Or, maybe that’s just me!!!!!!!!!!

So I’m going to share with you, four different types of properties you can purchase in our department of the Lot et Garonne, from newly built bungalows to grand châteaux.

Our house is a very small modern bungalow, plain and simple. But as my readers know it is in the process of getting a make-over through the addition of a new pigeonnier.

For many young working French families in our area the modern bungalow is the property of choice if they decide to branch out away from the rural family home. They are relatively cheap to build, well insulated and therefore cheap to run. Some are built as part of a small group of similar properties called a lotissement. On their own, like ours is, they can sometimes be referred to as a villa d’architecte.  Much more exotic title than bungalow.  However, any contemporary villa built in the last 50 years often has this title.  They can look like a box or take on a weird angular appearance.   Now if you’d asked me before we began our search for a French property, what my ideal would be, it certainly wouldn’t have been a modern one. But we fell for this one which was built as a gite in the grounds of a larger newly built home. It has a wonderful view over grape vines and prune trees beyond.

And it’s on mains drainage and not the dreaded fosse septique with all of its rules and regulations.  I know most of France cope perfectly well with these poo removers but I’m afraid from our experience of looking at some of the older properties quite frankly they send shivers down my spine. ~Anyway, we chose modern……. but what else is on offer?

Villereal farmhouse

What’s not to love about an old French farmhouse (Fermette/Ferm)? Yes, I swoon too. Crepis free pierre stone and the ubiquitous Wisteria gently caressing the shutters and front door.

And, I doff my hat to anyone who can (has the balls to) turn this …..

needs renovation

into this……..

renovated farmhouse

I adore the genoise roof line, the huge fire places and, of course, the old well in the garden. But what about being lady or gentleman of the manor. The maison de maître…

classicmaisondemaitre

The master’s house or maison de maître has a symmetrical façade with a central front door.  Many built in the 18th or 19th century were the home of the squire or minor landowner of the area.  They are not unique to the Lot et Garonne or Aquitaine region of France and they can be found all over France.  They are known for their formal and practical layout. They have high ceilings and each floor will often have four main rooms with the ground-floor reception rooms opening off a central entrance hall.

These houses were a status symbol and today, the larger ones are often incorrectly referred to as châteaux.  The owners, who will have had land, will have made their living from agricultural rent.  Following the French Revolution the maison de maître became the home for gentlemen farmers and vintners.

And of course, we can all imagine ourselves owners of a French château.  Can’t we?

For example this one is only 395,000 Euros.

chateau1395

This one is 595,000 Euros.

chateaupau530,00euros

And none of these are more than a 1,000,000 Euros

The grandeur, the elegance, the splendour.  A château is impressive, in appearance and style.  It can be a country residence surrounded by an estate or a moated, turreted seat with royal connections.  The word chateau or “chastel” dates to the 18th-century, therefore a chateau is not strictly speaking a ‘castle’. A castle would be a château fort. Castles were built in order to defend those contained within their walls and date back to much earlier times, as far back as the 10th century or earlier.  A castle would have battlements, fortified walls and arrow slits, being built to withstand a siege.

After the Revolution, the term came to describe any spectacular country house with towers set in its own landscaped grounds. They can often look like the maison de maître,  elegant with symmetrical facades, but with greater dimensions, land, elaborate stonework and cornicing. A château may also be a winemaking property, of which there are many close to us around Bordeaux.

In the meantime I’ll make do with my own little tower!

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Christmas dinner was!

To start onion tart.

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Then for the non veggies there was salmon on puy lentils whilst I had a mushroom risotto.

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Then pud was a lemon mouse.

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all finished off with lots and lots of Baileys with Scrabble as entertainment. What’s not to love:)

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Joli-laide ou Mignon-moche

What is pretty-ugly or cute-ugly or even oddly beautiful?

I recently came across this wonderful French expression “joli laide” or mignon-moche. Translated joli laide means pretty ugly and mignon moche means cute ugly. It appears that the French derive pleasure in what we English refer to as character.  I love it and the sentiment that you really need to look again at either a person or an object to recognise its true beauty.  Perfection is not all it’s cracked up to be and who doesn’t like things a bit rough around the edges – OK – only me then?

In the UK at the moment everything is vintage this and vintage that. The word vintage is used a lot these days to try to infuse character and charm into an object . If it isn’t vintage, it’s retro and if not retro it’s shabby chic. For me there has always been something special about odd beauty.  My love of tut as my gran would have called it (tut – meaning nonsense or rubbish) was in truth born from necessity due to lack of funds. Purchasing second-hand clothes goes back to my teens when I had no money. Second hand was cheap but it was also unusual, it was unique, it was cool. It set you apart from the mainstream. My friends and I would scour the second-hand clothes shops in Leeds.  These shops had interesting names like Skythrop and Boodlam, goodness knows where they got them from. I remember purchasing an unusual fur skin coat from a shop called The Find in Knaresborough, the idea makes me cringe now and I would never purchase real fur now.  But I wore this coat every day until someone told me what it actually was, how naive was I.  Vintage clothes and vintage jewellery didn’t really have much monetary value in those days and so it was more the emotional value of finding something really unique that no one else had that was important.  It was about a style that no one else could copy.  I mean I was the only one with a black and white stripped original Pac-a-Mac at the time and my friend was the only one wearing her dads 1940s demob suit.  Fotor061464330Pac-a-Mac was a brand from the late 1950s,image it became really popular in the 1960s and was taken up by the style icon of the day Mary Quant in bright colours and stripes as part of the style of the swinging sixties.

And Barbara, a French friend of mine has told me of a lovely expression for that oh so adorable run down dilapidated property that we all would love to own and turn into our dream house.

C’est délabré?

And this one is for sale now in the Lot et Garonne for only 19,000€

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So back to these wonderful “French phrases”!!

Joli-laide ou Mignon-moche

 In an article in the Guardian online I found someone who new of a similar term to `jolie laide’.  The phrase “mignon-moche” which translated means cute ugly, they had come across during a translation for French A-levels. Apparently It means something similar to “jolie-laide”.  This person thought that at some point someone had probably heard about the pretty-ugly phrase and tried to translate it back into French, choosing the wrong words. On the other hand I found another reference where someone else said they had used it for decades, yet their French teacher said it did not exist in France.  Anyway whatever its history I love it. And, what’s more France is full of examples.

la voiture Deux Chevaux par exemple.

Seen at Monflanquin spring faire

Seen at Monflanquin spring faire

Monflanquin Spring Faire

Monflanquin Spring Faire

And then there’s the dreamy Citroen DS

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Or Gérard Depardieu

I suppose if we break this phrase down the subject is required to be both jolie (pretty) and laide (ugly). I read somewhere that the laide comes from the outward appearance and that the jolie stems from what cannot be seen externally and therefore what is within.  Daphne Merkin in the NY Times 2005 suggests that as an idea it represents a triumph of personality over physiognomy.  Perhaps in some instances there is an intent to the incongruity of the jolie and the laide, perhaps the subject is shouting, “look at me!”.  “I deserve your attention!”.  Perhaps those features that are not conventionally regarded as beautiful can be used to attract attention.  It is not unsurprising that the French though have an expression that attempts to describe what is indescribable that which is intangible and unique to the beholder.

In other words:-

“beauté est dans l’œil du spectateur!”

Anyone know if the French do have an expression for the above?

The Little Red Tractor

So we are now the proud owners of a little red tractor. This was after having to pay 60€ a time for  grass cutting earlier in the year. Because the weather this year was so wet the grass just went mad.  We have often discussed getting either a push or a sit on lawn mower but to be honest we have always been a little scared.  Our lovely neighbour has always been very thoughtful and generous in offering us hers.  Would we make the right decision?  There is so much choice.  We worried that because we wouldn’t be using it much during the year it would probably go wrong or freeze up when we did want to use it. But we have finally taken the plunge.  The choice is immense; a difficult task as there are countless options to choose from, never mind do you purchase new or second-hand?

Well we finally took the plunge having been to Ikea and while casually looking around Leroy Merlin in Bordeaux.  imageBut how to get this humongous lump of metal to ourlittlehouseinfrance. Hummmmm???

Well the options were livraison (delivery) from Leroy Merlin store at the gob-smacking price of 370€ or! there was a camion (van) for hire at roughly 100€. We chose the camion.image

So vendredi matin off we set to Leroy Merlin in Bordeaux.  Initial horror as we were shown our new tractor at the store, it was still in a huge wooden crate.  We would never be able to move it.  Paul was handed a crow bar and then had to set to and prize it out of the crate.  Portable ramps appeared and it was pushed up into the van along with the pergola we also purchased (see next post).  I was shown around the van before we set off to confirm the damage that was already done to it.  I foolishly didn’t photo the mileometer, as this would have stopped the difficulty we had when we brought the van back.  They wanted to charge us for 50 kilometers more than we had done.  But we had made a note of the mileage anyway and they finally agreed and we were charged 82€ which was what we had anticipated.

After 4 trips to and from Bordeaux twice, we were jiggered.  So we imagined that once we got the little red tractor home we would be simply popping in some petrol and away we would go. Not a bit of it. First we had to put the seat on and fix the steering wheel on.  And when I say “we” I am using the royal we, so Paul.

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Then we had to fill the battery with battery acid. Then we had to charge the battery. OMG no battery charger. So we had to hot foot it to the local Tridome to purchase a battery charger. Then the battery needed charging for 6 hours.

Then we had to assemble the grass box, not easy as we didn’t have the correct spanners!!!!! image

Down to the shops again to purchase spanners. Nearly there.

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Finally turning the key and away the boys went.

imageimageimageimageimageimageSo all I had to do was sit and watch:)

Most photos courtesy grandma’s Ipad.

Half term and ramasser des pierres – to gather stones

walk 1

Well the week is almost over and it has been a bit of a blur.  Not because we have been that busy but because of the drizzly weather and we have also had a problem with the car which has restricted what we have been able to do.  The weather has been against us but true to form, now we are packing up to go today it has been glorious.  Because of the car, Wednesday meant a trip about 20 miles into Bergerac to the Audi garage, that we identified online, to check if we could establish what was the matter with the car.  We suspected that the wheel bearing in the front drivers side was the issue after checking the internet.  Anyway to cut a long story short “nous pensons que le roulement de roue est cassée” and were correct.  The French chap at Audi initailly said that this couldn’t be possible “ce n’est pas possible” as he asked how many miles the car had done and as we said only 30,000 he didn’t think it would break at that mileage.  But once up on the ramp he confirmed the worst was true and unfortunately the garage could only fix it next week.  No good to us as we are heading back on Saturday.   walk2

Had a lovely goats cheese quiche and good conversation at my friend B’s house.  The weather was good too for the hour or so I was there and we were able to eat outside.  Very French.  B has given us some baby trees which I have planted in the tree nursery.

Our neighbour, M, has painted her shutters the most lovely mushroom colour.  Ms shuttersIf that’s not farrow and ballFarrow and Ball “Cord No. 16”, I don’t know what is?  This is just the colour I was mooning over at home, thinking it would look very French when our shutters need a new lick of paint.  Oh dear, I thought, that’s it I don’t want to be the copycat neighbour.  That would be just freaky.  Anyway up-shot is M doen’t like the colour much anyway and is planning to chang it.  So F&B Cord  No. 16 could be mine after-all!

So most of the time we have been doing things around the house and in the garden.  Not the most exciting of half terms for my son.  In fact later today we will be going on a walk so I will take my camera with me.  Had a lovely long walk and saw our first snake.

Came across a small garden centre selling cacti called Le Petit Mexique.  With a lovely sign outside saying “En hommage a maman qui m’ a fait aimer les cactus”

Cactus farm

I was excited to see, what looked like a very unusual bird in the garden.  This lovely Hoopoe below:

Hoopoe

I must be turning into the log lady, love this collage I produced from a picture I took of a pile of wood.

walk wood

And I am still on the hunt for stones.  Ramasser des pierres.  Managed to pick up two this time on one of our walks.  I’m convinced that if I keep gathering stones whenever we are here that I’ll eventually have enough to build an old stone wall or rockery in the garden.  (In my dreams)

stones

And just to close here is a picture of a new prune tree looking very windswept that we have moved from under the Leylandii hedge and one of our healthy looking grape vines.  Lets see if they survive the next 7 weeks!

our grape vinesà bientôt:)