Thursday, 31 October 2013

Renovation Project - Help, I've fell down a hole!!!!!!

Renovation Project - Help, I've fell down a hole!!!!!!

We continue to work on the fireplace today but have an exciting night planned, we are going to a party, I can’t wait, after the last couple of weeks I really need to let my hair down.

We are going to drive to the party but it is in the town so we can have a glass of wine and walk home, you don’t really see many taxis in the area but it will be a nice walk.

The party is in the house of a friend (who happens to live near the mayor, so this is how we have an invitation to meet him at Christmas)

We have a fab time at the party and I decide to stay away from the wine so that I will not get drunk, somehow this doesn’t happen and I think that maybe drinking a lot of gin and tonics is just as dangerous as drinking lots of wine, i.e. I’m really drunk by the end of the night!

Surprisingly so is John, we are the last to leave and say our goodbyes, we have had such a good night, as we are leaving, all of the street lights are switched off and it is pitch black, we have to walk straight down and follow the road round, being very careful of the large storm drains at the side of the road, we are talking about these as I feel the air rush past me, OMG I have disappeared!!!!!!

I am lay on my back shouting come and get me, but nobody can see me!!!!!

John finds me, I have managed to fall in the storm drain, I am so glad I am drunk (I think I may have caused major injury had I been sober!) John pulls me out and I shake myself down and check for any holes or broken bits, but all seems well.

We are all laughing, we start to walk home and follow the road straight down, as the road turns I tell John that we need to follow it but he is insistent that we need to walk straight. My hip hurts and I am sure it is the wrong way, after a drunken conversation we decide the safest thing is to go back! In the morning we see that if we had continued straight we would’ve ended up in the forest, I do have no sense of direction, but once drunk I am like a homing pigeon, he really needs to listen to me!!!!!!

We arrive back at the house and stay the night.

In the morning we wake and have a fantastic hangover breakfast of vol au vonts, lemon cake and sausage rolls, my hip is now hurting quite a lot and by the end of the day I have a bruise that covers the entire side of my hip and thigh (thank goodness I was drunk). It takes a few days for the pain to go, John is now terrified to go out with me and asks why I can’t be normal, but as I point out if I was normal, would he want to go out with me and I make life so much more exciting by the fact that he never knows what is going to happen, though to be honest even I am now a bit concerned as to what will happen on my next trip out......

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Renovation project - We finally have our big original fire place!

Renovation project - We finally have our big original fire place!

Today we are going to try to build our beautiful original fire place (yes I do realise that sounds strange) if you remember when we first moved in we were really excited that we were going to find an old fire place, after all every house in France has a big granite fire place, for some reason ours had been covered up!

We could hear the hollow when we tapped on the wall, so we took off all of the plaster and cement to find an inconsistent stone wall and just a big opening, disappointing didn’t even nearly cover how we felt!!!!!

We must be the only house in France that didn’t have a big granite fire place.

But we have decided to build a fire place that would look original, we have a big old oak beam that will make the mantel piece and we will plaster up to the old stone and make the plaster cover round to where we are leaving the old door way uncovered.

The first step is to decide where we want the mantel piece to go, we want it quite high up so that the log burner can be fully seen and the exposed stone work can still be seen.

The oak beam ways a tonne and we have to keep lifting it into place, John has to use his grinder and a selection of tools to chip out enough to stone to secure the beam.We also use the new chainsaw to cut the beam to size, this is the chainsaw that we need to cut our logs for the fire for winter, this is the chainsaw that John loves, this is also the chainsaw that blew up whilst cutting the beam, you wouldn’t believe how much smoke could come out of one small power tool!

This is a dirty, difficult job but we manage, the beam in place looks fantastic, next is to build a frame for the plaster board, we have not been able to find fire board as yet, but we do know that it is available. We also have to make sure that this part of the chimney is accessible as this is where we have our air distribution system.

Once it is all in place we can see the beginnings of the fire place we had hoped to find originally, and once the plaster is on, no one will know it is new.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Renovation project - obtaining planning permission in France

Renovation project - obtaining planning permission in France

We try to get to the shops before lunch as I have a meeting with the planning office today, yes a scary thing at the best of times, but trying to do it in a foreign language is very scary.

I am kicking myself as I met with them last year but never got around to completing the paper work, and last year there was an officer that spoke English, this year it is a woman who doesn’t.

We have got to apply for planning permission to change some of the windows. I take a friend with me, for 
just in case, but I manage most of the meeting with very little translation help required.

We have to complete a DECLARATION PREALABLE to state what work we are going to do, we are changing 2 windows like for like and 2 skylight windows for maybe bigger windows.

The paper work appears immense and I have taken photos along with me. It turns out that I need 3 photo’s of what it looks like now and then I have to somehow show what it will look like when it is completed, the easiest way of doing this, is to attach tracing paper over the photo with the drawn on after picture.

The measurements have to be exact and a description of the colour and material, once handed in it will take a month for the decisions to come through.

We have been informed by others that if it is like for like and the same material planning permission is not required, one of these people lives near the mayor and he gave this info. But to be on the safe side we will follow the advice given by the planning office, as the same mayor may not always be in office!

This is one of the biggest tips we can ever give, France does love paperwork and beaurocacy, FOLLOW IT!!!!!! If you can speak French (or at least show you are trying) the officers do seem to be very helpful.
Many people complain about the paperwork and how difficult things are, but if you think about it, if somebody came in to your local planning office, could not speak your language, how helpful would the staff be (and if you were in the queue behind them, how patient would you be?????).

I have also discussed the plans for the B&B and have been given the, DECLARATION EN MARIE DE LOCATION DE CHAMBRE D’HOTE, again we have been told this is not necessary as we will only have 2 rooms and will not be providing food, other than breakfast. But again, we want to do things right and we want to get on the right side of the town hall and mayor. We will have to wait a little while before we complete this as the mayor may want to come and visit, we do not want him here while his suit could get covered in dust, that would not be a good first impression, plus we have just found out we will be going to a Christmas party with him and his family, so we may get to know him a bit first (it never does you any harm to make friends with the mayor of the town!)

Top tips
  • If you are going to do any work on a property check to see if you need planning permission
  • Try to speak to the planning office in their own language (you are in that country after all)
  • Try to make friends with the Mayor  (wine seems to help) 

Monday, 28 October 2013

Renovation Project - I am scraping crap again!!!!!!!

Renovation Project - I am scraping crap again!!!!!!!

The plastering is done, most of the wood is stripped for the kitchen doors, so now its let’s sit down and think what is the most horrible job I can do next, Ah yes that’s it, pull all the old lino off the stairs and start to scrape a hundred years of muck off them!!!!!

I complained about the kitchen floor, because that was so time consuming and gross, I wasn’t very struck on stripping the wood for the kitchen doors, stripping the front door made me ill with the fumes, but compared to the stairs they were a piece of cake!

I cannot believe how unglamorous my life actually is, I seem to spend all of my time in crap, oh to have a carpet............

But now I console myself with the fact that the stairs will look fantastic (if you remember I did this on the kitchen floor right up until we decided to tile over it!)

John puts the doors together, we will treat and stain them once we had them hanging for a while, but joy of joys and because this is us, nothing is that simple, would you believe we have forgotten the hinges, little metal things that mean nothing can go up!

I don’t know which is worse having no kitchen cupboard doors or doors that cannot be fitted.

So tomorrow it’s a trip to the shops, at least I can get away from the crap for a short while!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Renovation project - Painting and plastering in France (again!)

Renovation project - Painting and plastering in France (again!)

It feels strange to be home, the past couple of weeks have been like a whirlwind, but john had been so busy whilst I was away.

He has repainted the kitchen, ready for the units to be finished and it is looking good, we still have all of the paint that we bought in the UK, as we have said before you have to be careful when using products form a different country but luckily paint is one of the products that can be used, we have tried to use only French products in the house but French paint is very expensive and does not cover well, next to the plaster, paint is the only thing we have really missed, we have tried French paint once and it was like painting with milk.

When we were in the UK we used to go to trade shops, which made life so easy, but not as easy as it is now, as there are places available to buy trade paint on line, such as Trade Paint Direct, they even deliver!!!!!!!

I do miss the ease of getting what we want so easily, France has not yet got to the stage of having everything available 24 hours a day, but as I said we do have a big supply in the barn, I just hope there is enough to finish the house.

The biggest job John has completed though is finishing a lot of the plastering, the hall wall is plastered, the stairs are plastered and the living room wall has been finished.

We had had a problem with one wall in the kitchen where patches of the plaster had blown, but John has sorted this. Soon it will be time to paint all of the downstairs (it's a pity you can’t hear John moan as I say this, every time I say we are nearly finished he comes up with a list of jobs that need doing, he is sooooo pessimistic, but seeing as how I have now been saying we are almost finished for the last 6 months, maybe it is a little bit understandable!)

Friday, 25 October 2013

Renovation project - How fast can I get back to the UK from France?

Renovation project - How fast can I get back to the UK from France?

I am so glad that we finished the ceiling yesterday as I received a call saying that my grans funeral will be on Thursday, that is 2 days away.

I check for flights and the only flight to the UK is today and leaves in an hour, we live 2 hours away from the airport! I then check the ferries and there is 1 leaving this afternoon, my daughter says she will drive to Plymouth to pick me up if I get this ferry.

This is the first time I have not panicked about leaving, maybe due to the fact that I only had enough time to throw something’s into a bag and set off.

I leave John at the ferry terminal and have a very sad sail over to the UK.

Getting off the ferry as a foot passenger is very different to driving through and the security is tighter than the airport, police are there with sniffer dogs checking everybody as they leave, the dog gets really excited at one man’s case and he is explaining that there may be chocolate in there, and he has to open it and now there maybe sesame seeds in a bag, I am gutted as I go through as I really wanted to stay and watch! I have no idea whether he made it past the guards or not!!!!

Once outside my daughter calls and says the weather and roads have been terrible and she is running late, no problem as I can sit in the terminal at Plymouth, but this closes soon, the staff are fabulous and leave me locked in to the terminal with the security patrolling regularly.

She arrives and I drive the car back as the journey has just taken her 6 hours, it takes the same amount of time to get back to my parents as the sat nav got us lost in Plymouth and the weather was dreadful again.
It is so nice to be back, I knew my gran didn’t have long left and I always said I would be there for my mum if she needed me, it took longer than planned but we do know now that if we need to get back the longest it will take is 12 hours.

The funeral was lovely, I won’t go in to any detail as this is private even for me, but I am sure my gran would’ve been really impressed with it.

There's a generation missing
5 generations of one family, goodbye gran
I spend a few days with my family before booking a flight home, my daughter drives me to the airport, I really don’t know what I would’ve done without her over the past few days and I cannot tell her enough how much I love her and miss her.

The death and the funeral really bring it home that we are not there for our families, this is quite difficult and we consider that in our year in France there has been a birth, a death, serious illness and our one year anniversary here, have we made the right decision, should we have left everybody and everything behind us, are we being selfish following our dreams?

These are questions you will ask yourself many times if you make a move like this and you do need to talk about it, with each other and with your family.

But we know we have made the right decision, we can get back if we need to and they can come and stay with us if they need to. We moved for a reason and if we were in the UK we wouldn’t be seeing that much more of our family as we would have to be working long hours to be able to afford to live in the UK and the stress would probably kill us off long before it is time for us to go.

So you may question yourself and your sanity but we know, as do our families that we made the right decision, even though I am in tears on the flight back over on my own, and then when I come out of customs at the airport and see John waiting for me, the flood gates open again, but I am home now.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Renovation Project - Plastering the living room ceiling

Renovation Project - Plastering the living room ceiling

Its back to work again today and it’s a tough day, we are going to plaster the living room ceiling, John has brought some plaster from the UK, so no moaning today.

We have not used English plaster as it is different to French plaster and is not lime based, but as we are only using it on new plaster board and not near the stone walls there will be no problem. If you are going to do a project like this be very careful, as using products from different countries may not be suitable (even if they are much easier to use!)There is a reason you cannot be certain products!!!

I have the horrible job of mixing the plaster and feeding john, and for once it is not food! I have to feed him the plaster, this means he can keep going and not have to waste time making up plaster or scooping it out of the bucket.

A big tip is to always wear a face mask when mixing plaster, the look may not be good but the dust is much worse!!!!!!!!!!

Mixing plaster is not an easy job (Oh OK, neither is putting it on the ceiling). We are almost finished and have just one patch left to do, I vote that we leave it till the morning, but it is a split decision, (John didn’t!) so we finish off, I feel like I am dying.

A big long soak in the bath makes me feel a little bit more human, but looking at our wonderful ceiling and knowing we will be starting on the living room makes me feel much better

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Family days out in Brittany

Family days out in Brittany

We have a lovely weekend planned my parents are coming to visit with my brother and sister in law. My parents have never been to France (apart from one very unfortunate trip many years ago, but I don’t think they would appreciate the details going on here!).

Though the weekend is tinged with sadness, there was a death in the family yesterday, we knew it was going to happen but nothing really prepares you for the news. I am just so glad that my parents are still coming to visit as I think this is probably the best thing they could do.

So yesterday was spent trying to get the house to look its best, no easy task when we still have piles of dirt and rubbish, it seems no matter how many times you go to the tip or sweep up, the dirt and dust is always there!

But we do our best and we book a room at a local B&B that is accessible, unfortunately our house will never be accessible due to the age of the house, and the fact that we really love our turned staircase, to make it accessible we would have to ensure that there are bedrooms on the ground floor and this is just not an option.

I’m so excited when they arrive, I want to show them everything (well what I really want is to set my mum to work in the garden so that she can make it like hers in the UK, but maybe I should wait till the next visit)

We have a wonderful couple of days visiting Morlaix and introducing my parents to the sit at a cafe, have a drink and people watch way of life.

We visit Carantec in the beautiful sunshine, and even get to paddle in the sea; yes it really was that warm! We also introduce my mum to the delight that is a sweet crepe.

We drive on to Saint Pol de Leon; we have never been here before and have always said that we must visit on our way to or from Roscoff ferry port. Saint Pol De Leon is a beautiful place and there are 2 large churches/cathedrals there. We light candles for my gran and wander around.

There is a very strange display of small boxes which each contain skulls (Saint Pol de Leon Cathedral, I have added the wiki link to read about the church, maybe because I am a bit lazy or because it is written so well).

The weather changes as we leave, and on the way home the heavens open, the thunder and lightning explode and we feel like we are driving across rivers on the roads. It’s good that the visitors get to experience so much of Brittany in just 48 hours!  

I take my mum around the lake and we do the photo shoot, you really cannot visit Huelgoat without having your photo taken on the rock, I think there is actually a law about it somewhere!

Our firstnight is spent eating at Hotel du Lac and I manage to use my best French and get the order wrong. Luckily we realise before the waitress leaves, but the meal is amazing, I have done it before but I will recommend the confit du canard again, it really is nice.

I also do my first big dinner, we have the table ready and I have cooked for 6, it is only as I am getting ready to lay the table that I realise we only have 2 forks, bugger at this rate we will be giving spoons out for dinner, luckily a quick call to Sheila solves our problems and I pop down and borrow a set of cutlery, we do have a nice canteen of cutlery in the UK and this will definitely be coming back with us on our next visit!

The weekend is over as quickly as it began and we are no sooner saying hello than we are saying good bye, once again the house is very quiet, I’m just so glad that they got to visit and enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Buying English goods in France

Buying English goods in France 

You’ve made the move and you are really happy or maybe you are working abroad, life is good but Christmas is coming up soon and there will always be that little bit of home that you miss,

The Paxo stuffing with your Christmas dinner 

The mince pies for your visitors or 

the traditional Christmas Pud!

No matter where you are in the world, whatever your local delicacies something’s just don’t beat traditional Christmas fayre.

The big question is where do you buy it from? Many shops in France sell a selection of English Items, but never the ones you want or maybe you just don’t want to be seen as the expat that can’t live without the English Brands.

There is an easy answer British Corner Shop sells and delivers worldwide; they even have an Irish selection, an American selection and a Scottish selection.

If you haven’t used them before click on the advert at the side of this post (with absolutely no obligation!!!!!!!!) and just browse what they have to offer.

What’s in it for us you may ask? We get points every time a person uses an ad on the blog and this will go towards keeping us here, please help we really don’t want to go back!!!!!!!!!

Disclaimer: this is a featured post

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Renovation project - Stay away from the light

Renovation project - Stay away from the light

We’re not on to the living room yet, I am getting ahead of myself again, today is spent with me doing a horrible dirty job, but one that will make a big difference I hope. I am stripping down the front door, we have a beautiful old wooden door with a window with metal rails in it, this door has been painted so many times and we want to remove the paint and bring it back to wonderful new wood.

I have the electric sander a big tin of paint stripper and a few hand tools; don’t you just love the adverts that show how easy it is to strip wood? But believe me it is not this simple, it is knackering trying t get in to all of the little intricate bits; it also isn’t helped by the fact that John is using the sander to sand down the plaster in the kitchen ready for painting and it keeps getting clogged up. So the result is sand a little bit, watch the smoke come out of it, listen to it sound like it is going to blow up and then bang it very hard on the floor and start again!

A big tip is do not use the sander to sand down plaster joints unless you are ready to consign it to the bin afterwards!!!! (This is one of the reasons why we bought a cheap sander as we do not feel so bad about breaking it, because the kitchen was done in a fraction of the time it would’ve taken to do it by hand!)
John gets a couple of coats of white paint on the kitchen walls and ceiling, finally the room is a clean, dust free box, we will be able to eat without a dust condiment!

We have a nice night planned tonight, we are off to Sheila’s and Brian’s to watch the football, or roughly translated, John and Brian will shout at the TV and Sheila and I will drink some very nice wine!!!!!

We have a lovely meal and afterwards Sheila and I take the dog for a walk around the lake, it is going dark as we set off but Sheila knows the route well, or so we thought, we find out that in the pitch black everything looks slightly different! 

We are at that point of do we go on through a pitch black patch of forest or do we go all the way back, round a pitch black lake, hmmm  decisions, decisions. Once again we discuss why we didn’t think to bring a telephone or a torch, we carry on walking, linking arms at this point, we cannot see the edge of the path or the where the trees join the lake, the dog is running ahead so we know we are still on dry land, then we bump into somebody, literally my heart jumps, just what I need after my near stroke the other week!!!! 

But it turns out to be a wooden post that Sheila recognises, we are near the end of the walk, we have to turn right very soon, not to soon or that would be straight into the lake, we are tentatively putting one foot forward, then we see it, a light OMG we are so relieved, we just have to walk into the light, 2 weeks ago I was being told to stay away from the light, now we have to make it to the light, we find the turning and yes we are heading to the light, I hope that it is the right light and we don’t have St Peter sat at a gate!!!!!

It’s not Saint Peter and we are heading towards the road, we are safe, we are now laughing like maniacs, wondering whether we should tell anybody about how stupid we are, I say we keep it to ourselves and I will only tell the people who read the blog!!!!!!!

Back at the house we have a glass of wine and continue with our evening, safe in the knowledge that we will never walk the dog around the lake at that time of night without a torch!!!!!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Renovation project - we're getting there!!!!!!

Renovation project - we're getting there!!!!!!

The next few days have been a hive of activity, the wall between the boiler and the sink unit is in place, the sink unit has been put back and joy of joys we now have a working sink in the kitchen!!!!!!!

We had already bought the splash backs for the kitchen, these are aluminium boards that will go all around the work tops, but first it is getting the worktop back in place, it has bowed a little bit so to make sure we have it fitted correctly we need to have some weight on one corner, the only suitable tool to do this is me! So I have to stand on it whilst John screws it in to place, this is a little nerve wracking for me but it really does 
test the strength of the cupboards!

The work top is now fitted, the splash back is in place and so it’s time to make the wall units, these are made the same as the floor units, one very large cupboard. We will have to make a smaller cupboard to go inside to cover the consumer unit, but this is a job that can wait until we are ready to have an artisan come out and certificate the electrics.

But the kitchen is heading towards finalisation. We are on the home run now and next stop is the living room,