Sunday 30 April 2006

Home from Home

So here I am back again after 5 days in France. Took quite a lot of pictures before my battery ran out and I'm here to tell you that the otter is in fact a coypu!


Not a brilliant picture it's true, but adequate for the purposes of identification. There are at least three of them, the whole family was out for a snack one afternoon in the sunshine and didn't run off particularly fast at my approach.

I kept a diary while I was away but I'm not going to put it here immediately for two reasons, one of which is that I'm working from Paul's laboratory today (long off-topic story) and forgot to bring it with me and secondly because unless someone comments or emails me to say they want to read it I might not bother. So get those votes on the back of a postcard now.

The quick summary of the trip is that the mission was accomplished, we now have water, electricity and telephone connected and things are progressing satisfactorily.

Monday 24 April 2006

This one's for Candice

My packing list for today:

Ticket, passport, keys (for both houses and car!), money; all these items are essential. Everything else is optional.

Bedding - pillows, sleeping bag and extra blankets.

Cooking equipment - gas ring and refills and large filled water container (in case there's a problem with SAUR), emergency rations, tea bags, marmite, comfort foods. Half a pack of green scrubby sponges bought in bulk in Tesco. Most other essentials like pots and pans are already there from the Irish house.

Tools - I must take allen keys. Manda's tool kit (that is, not Paul's tool kit) Phone chargers (car and mains). Camera. Binoculars. Torch.

Administrative - Bank details, utility provider addresses and telephone numbers, contact details for roofing contractors. My telephone/address book. French/English dictionary. Maps. My EHIC lives in my wallet with the money.

Gardening - seed potatoes, some herb plants, I still haven't decided what, the garden mulch strips bought in Lidl this week, some netting and old cds for scaring wildlife and some trees. Paul thinks I can take them all but I wouldn't get anything else in the car if I did.

Personal - t-shirts and knickers for five days, my industrial boots (as well as my worn out driving shoes) two pairs of jeans, soft trousers, sponge bag and hairbrush not that I expect to wash much, ew. Warm woollies, hat and gloves. Books. CDs for when the electricity is turned on!

Would be nice - to remember to take the little candlestick I bought for the house several months ago, also maybe some other candlesticks and candles. Who knows when the electricity will actually connect?

Could this be the most essential bit? - SOS Help is an English language crisis and listening service. If you are worried, anxious or confused... If you are feeling lonely or sad... If you are suicidal... It may help to talk things over, call 01 46 21 46 46 between 3 - 11pm every day.

It's a branch of SOS Amitie, a sort of French version of the Samaritans and it also has links with that well known British charity.

Sunday 23 April 2006


The usual panic about travelling is setting in. I've booked with LDlines, £40 return can't be bad, but I will have to sit up overnight (or sleep on the dirty floor, which I hate doing) as they are undersupplied with cabins.

Plans for when I arrive, well, getting the water and electricity connected are the tasks that still take priority after my disastrous failure in March. I also have to source a french telephone (Leclerc I hope) and find the socket at the house to plug it into, because I'm buggered if I can ever remember seeing one there.

We went to an army surplus store yesterday and bought me a single ring gas camping stove so I can heat some beans for my suppers. It's a miracle of modern design running of a 227g tube of butane like a big lighter but must be frightfully inefficient and bad for the environment so I shall be looking out for a more conventional cooker pretty damn quick. Another Rayburn would be marvellous but although they come up secondhand at bargain prices you have to be there fast before it's snapped up by another Brit. and I won't be there long enough to find one this time.

I'll be taking a few plants to start the gardens, some potato seed tubers to be planted in hay/straw under a plastic mulch sheet and netting and old AOL cds to create a barrier over my willows to discourage the deer. I'd like a reliable strimmer but I'm scared to buy one, they're not particularly cheap and the models available in the DIYs and garden centres seem excessively fragile and prone to breakdown. I'll get some prices from the supermarkets in France, in the past their prices have seemed to be a little better than their British equivalents.

oh, and I'll get a picture of that otter this time. Honest.

Wednesday 19 April 2006

Building Excitement

I'm beginning to get rather excited by the thought of moving to France for the summer. Although many of the tasks ahead are quite extensive there are some simpler things to be done that will improve the quality of life quite quickly and dramatically.


This wallpaper adorns the walls of the two small rooms that have been built into the loft space above the room with the woodburner in it. Viewed like this it doesn't look too bad (I'm already wondering if I should preserve it for posterity) but as decoration for the principal bedroom I fear it may cause nausea and lack of sleep. So it has to go.

There are other decoration tasks. The blue paint in the 'snug' is glossy and dirty. As an effect I rather like it but it's a modern paint which will increase condensation and dampness and may hasten the decay of the cob walls as a result. The middle room downstairs, previously used as a bedroom as far as I can tell, but destined to be a dining room for the next year or so, needs the wallpaper stripping completely and a suitable wash put on the bare plaster. The pink nylon carpet won't even do for killing grass as it's of the sort that decays into fluff, yellow spongy bits and streamers of indestructible plastic straw. The damp and decaying 'lounge' is currently full of tools and detritus retrieved from Ireland. This needs a good clear out even if we're not using it as habitation immediately. I don't want to set a precedent for having wheelbarrows in the house.

There's not much point in getting too carried away at this point because rewiring, heating and a good deal of repair work needs to be carried out and it would be foolish to spend a lot on an expensive finish that would be ruined by later alterations but something needs to be done for harmony and comfort over the summer.

The next trip is now booked for 24th - 29th April and I have room in the car if anyone wants to join me.

I've also been trying to build some more information into the party website. Trouble is, I find it dreadfully boring and if I find it boring to write then it will surely be boring to read. Still by the end of today I hope to have a few more details of places of interest around Normandy. The final directions will be published just before I leave for the summer in June.

Sunday 9 April 2006

Practical Lime Course

We spent Friday last in Devon at Mike Wye's Lime Course in Buckland Filleigh. It was a good day covering basics in wall building with stone and cob, lime mortar, render, plaster and washes with plenty of hands on opportunities and advice from real experts. It now seems possible to contemplate the repairs necessary to the main house and even the rebuilding of various structures that have failed completely.

bus stop
The view from the window of our bedroom in the pub.

It was a long drive down on the Thursday night and we stayed at a pub near to the course, reputed to be the sixth most haunted building in Britain. We didn't know that but still didn't sleep too well even though the room was comfortable and pleasant. The pub is the The Devil's Stone Inn in Shebbear and the lunch was laid on there for the members of the Lime course on Friday. They did a passably good vegan lunch for us so we were pleased and pass on our recommendations.

Party news - about 18 have accepted the invitation to the house warming so far. One or two people have spaces in cars and if you'd like me to try and match you up then let me know by email. We've had a few drop outs because of pressure of work and/or financial problems which are sad but inevitable but the most interesting excuse was that the World Cup of some sport or other might be having a match that weekend. I'm trying not to be offended. If you really can't make that weekend but would still like to visit in the summer I will be in residence until October at least so let me know when you're arriving. Paul will be there some of the time but will have to put in an appearance at work from time to time.

Finally I'd just like to note that it is the anniversary of my sister's death today. Bee was just 43 when she died suddenly and unexpectedly. It is partly due to losing her that we decided that waiting for a country home was no longer an option. I think she would have approved of La Rupallerie even though I doubt we could ever have persuaded her to visit it. Wish it was still possible to try.

Tuesday 4 April 2006


It's been a while since I updated this blog. I haven't been back to France and other things have been taking priority, but after some visits to friends it's become clear that there are aspects to the situation that can confuse. So here are some answers to some frequently asked questions.


The first question is always "When are you going to move over there permanently?" and the answer is simply that we're not, for the time being. Paul has a job that pays to support everything and also provides some personal satisfaction. He's not giving everything up just yet to become a subsistence farmer. While we have ties in two places neither location is going to become the main residence, we will move from place to place as is possible and appropriate. And with that in mind the plans for this year are becoming clearer; I will make a couple more short trips and then take residence in France from June to October and Paul will join me when he can.

So a second question is often killed on the lips "Are you splitting up?". No, we're not, but it's obviously going to put stress on our relationship. We're looking at this year as a trial, to see how things go, to find out how best to manage looking after the cat, the orchids, each other if everything is in the wrong place all the time.

And "what are we going to do with all those buildings?". In the short term, pray that they don't all fall down. Until the Irish house is sold there is little in the way of funds for major renovations and there will be little enough when it is. We have some time to assess priorities and immediate remedial work will happen if I can locate reliable tradespeople. There is no way that we can personally do all the necessary work to the required standard and we've no intention of trying. That said, I'm keen to learn to work with cob and lime renders and the Studio building will be my playground for this. It's going to be a very long term project.

"When will we get a tractor, and can I drive it?". We'll need a tractor p.d.q. and as I understand it anyone can drive it on our land but if they land on their head there will be no insurance so it's entirely at your own risk. Unfortunately neither of us has any experience buying tractors so it's definitely a trial to come, something else for my list for the summer months.

After that, nearly everything has to be answered with hand waving and hope. We don't know yet, but we will find out.