Before contstructing the plateau steps, we had the new Fosse installed the filter system would require an area of 72 sq metres, consisting of four 12 metre long 100 mm diameter perforated pipes set parallel at 1.5 metres apart and 400 mm deep, and on gravel 150 mm deep covered with a porous membrane, then covered with soil.The contractor we employed agreed to level the area where the filter pipes had been laid and before the Fosse was commissioned.
Well, as you can see from the image, his perception of level to me looks like the winner of “The young ploughman of the year” competition. We had a bit of a disagreement and I would not recommend him. The Fosse and the filter system are very good, it’s the mess that you are left with to put right that’s the disappointment, especially after we were assured that “it will be level when finished” before giving him the job. At the finish of his work, he told us we needed to leave it for 2 months for the soil to sink and compress! We parted with me angry and him happy because of the money in his pocket.
Levelling the ground
…I started to cut into the soil to form the steps and get a rough idea of how it was going to look. Steps are normally 300 mm wide with a rise of 150 mm, but I felt that this was not going to be suitable for garden steps so I decided to make them 700 mm deep with a rise of 150 mm so that the sweep of the steps would curve around and rise gently. We had to balance out the time I spent on forming the steps with the levelling of the plateau, because if it rained before I got the foundations for the steps finished we would have a worse mess than we had now. As it turned out the summer of 2016 was great.
I spent the mornings and part of the afternoons working on the steps and the late afternoons/evenings on levelling the plateau. The terrain in Bretagne is rock and slate with some soil covering some of it, so doing anything below the topsoil is hard work, but as I needed rocks and slate for building the walls, I did not mind to start with but it becomes trying after a few weeks. The construction of the steps took around 8 weeks and the levelling slightly longer. Mrs Kindog was an absolute Trojan. The filter area had been cleared of the large rocks but the whole area would need to be cleared of all the small to medium size stones and rocks as we wanted the plateau grassed. Using stakes and a level we gradually worked our way across an area 2 mtrs by 2 mtrs sieving the soil of stone and then raking the soil level. It was a very tedious job but over the weeks we got the plateau level. The bottom step had to be flush with the ground level when finished so as to avoid anybody using the steps from tripping, so digging this one out and hard coring and shuttering it up ready for its concrete base took a bit of planning, but once done gave me encouragement to get the rest dug out and shuttered. I use 5 mm galvanised steel wire shape in a “tic tac toe” pattern to strengthen the base for the paving slabs. The hard core came from an internal wall that I removed. The risers were formed from some old aluminium garden staging shelving and some 8 mm plywood that I already had. I staked the aluminium into positions to hold the soil back and used the plywood that had 50 mm uprights to set it off from the aluminium forming a concrete upright. I repeated the process until I had all the steps formed and then cut the slabs and set them into position, then I coated the uprights with external masonry paint.
Using the rocks and large stones that we collected from people in the village and what we took out of the garden, I built the retaining wall just up to the second from top step before the bad weather started. I had intended to finish off the rest of the retaining wall in 2017 but plans change and it will have to wait till spring/summer 2018 before I can return to it, which is something I am really looking forward to.
We have achieved a lot, which gave us a good feeling. We had planned to do more but, as with all plans, they get modified as you move forward and problems occur which need to be addressed and solved or, as I have found, time supplies the solutions and it’s just how you adapt yourself.
I had started to convert the downstairs bathroom, study & W/C into a bedroom and en suite in 2016, then as the new year 2017 started I got back into it and spent the next 3 months finishing it off. I had planned to finish the steps and pathway that I had been building in the summer/autumn of 2016 but, as I said, plans change. Mrs K decided she would like to get some chickens, “just four little chicks” … Chicken Paradise. … Well four turned into seven: one adult Coucou de Rennes, two Faverolles and four Blue and Gold Marans. The plan was that as I had too much work planned, the best option would be to buy a ready made chicken coop, so we scanned the internet and found what we thought would be perfect. We had not acquired the chickens at this stage, just preparing to buying the coop. The description said the coop was big enough for six chickens. Well, when it arrived and we assembled it, yes big enough for six small chickens, so my planned work suddenly changed with a chicken coop being made the priority.
Mrs K had arranged to adopt an adult Coucou de Rennes that was being bullied by a cock and was in a bad way with both shoulders plucked of all it’s feathers. We collected the coucou chicken, and at this point I need to say “we have never had any chickens before”. We placed her in the coop, gave her some food and was just about to put some water in when she made a quick escape and into the cow field that’s next to our house. After 45 minutes we had managed to catch her. We had only owned the chicken 30 second before she got free and was running around in a cow field with freshly dumped soggy cow pats. Not my idea of fun, but we had a good laugh about it after we caught her.
The Coucou de Rennes are a fairly large chicken and this is when we decided that the coop would not be large enough. As I mentioned we had arranged to buy 4 Marans and would be picking them up when they would be 7 weeks old, in around 5 weeks time. Mrs K found out as much as she could about keeping chickens, we just want the chickens for the eggs they produce. I had seen images of a coop that I considered a good way of protecting them from Mr Raynard at night. It did not take too long before I had the skeleton constructed with a roosting area that has a ladder that you pull up at night to make it secure, so even if Mr Raynard manages to get into the coop he cannot get to the chickens. After another 2 weeks work I had the coop finished. I just needed to make a walled base to sit it on. A few concrete blocks and some concrete washing post that I had removed from the garden earlier made the perfect base. I had constructed the coop on a relatively flat part of our garden; the problem I had would be to move it into its final position. Two friends from Gouarec Ruthy baby and Barry came over to help us move it. I had planned to move it using four sack trucks, one on each corner, but when it came to it, this was just not going to work. Barry came to my rescue. He had two four-wheeled flat bed movers and thought that they would solve the problem. A scaffold plank under each end and the flat bed movers had the coop moved and in position within an hour – job complete. A very big thank you to Ruth & Barry.
Mrs K had decided that her favourite breed of chickens was the Faverolle. Having contacted a breeder asking if he had 4 that she could buy, he said that sorry but no. We then arranged to buy 4 Blue & Gold Marans, but would have to wait. Mrs K was then contacted to say that 2 Faverolles were available, so off we went to pick up the Faverolles. This is how the original 4 grew into 7 chickens. We had been told that when you get new chickens before integrating them with other chickens you keep them separate for a while, so they become used to one another. The Coucou (now named Mavis) had the website coop and the Faverolles the new coop. We then found out that larger chickens pick on the smaller ones, so until they are about the same size you have to keep them separate. So, 2 weeks later when we picked up the Marans, we would have to keep all three breeds apart until they reached adulthood (20/26 weeks) or similar stature. We had concerns about Mavis, as having been picked on we wondered if she was too traumatised ever to lay again. We waited 2 weeks for her to settle in her new environment with no egg arriving. Mrs K read about Cayenne pepper and how it encourages laying. “It works!” After a little added pepper to her food egg production started and has continued. We kept the chicks apart for best part of the summer and then integrated them all in the main coop and now we have egg-laying chickens. We have put a wire fence around the two coops which has become their … Chicken Paradise. …
A French Potager
I had been asked by a very good friend in the village, as we are both keen gardeners, if I would be interested in working a piece of land that another friend had on the outskirts of the village. He suggested maybe we could use it to grow some extra vegetables…..to read more click…..A French potage
Next Job the Plateau
When we had the Fosse installed we were left with a mess. I will not go into it, suffice to say, when you want something done and you can do it yourself, just get on and do it. After we levelled off the area we now call “the plateau”, we attempted to lay a lawn from seed without success, so I had a look on the internet and after a few inquires foundNantes Gazon and a guy called Benjamin Grossel. I can highly recommend him if you want grass turf. The quality and delivery service is exceptional. It comes at a price but, in my opinion, a very reasonable price and top quality turf. I needed around 100 sq mtrs. With the ground prepared (I only just finished it on the morning of delivery) I started to lay the turf. The turf comes in 1 sq mtr rolls 40 cm x 2500 cm; it took me 3 days to lay the whole area. It has now transformed the view from our patio and turned what was a mess into what will become a lovely seating area for 2018.
Le vieux chaval dessiner charrue
Our two friends from Gouarec Ruthy baby and Barry were very lucky on a trip to their local dechetterie: they noticed a chaval dessiner charrue (an old horse drawn plough). They asked the attendant if it was for sale and was told they could have it at no charge. They quickly loaded it into their trailer and home they went. They restored it and have it as a garden feature. I took a liking to it and thought if ever I came across one, I would see if I could get it. Having laid the lawn I wanted to try and keep the moles away. Looking on the internet we saw an advert for “sonic mole deterrents” at a reasonable price and not too far away. When we pulled up outside we saw an old plough in a bit of a state but, with a bit of hard work, it could be restored. We bought the mole deterrents and I mentioned that if they ever wanted to sell the plough I would be interested at a sensible price.The couple then said they were off to Spain at the end of the month and would have a talk about how much they thought it was worth and contact us soon, which they did, and we eventually agreed a price. The plough was in a need of repair, and even one of the wheels had a section completely corroded away. I was told about a scrapyard not far from Herve, called Le Forge. We found a badly damaged plough, parts of which I could make use of for restoration. I managed to spend a few hours here and there removing all the rust and damaged parts of the plough, and renewing the wheels and wheel caps. A few new coats of paint and I had it restored and it is now in our garden. Another job sorted.
I have planted my Autumn garlic ready for next year. The garlic and onions that I grew in my raised beds this year were very good. The red and white onions grew to a fair size; the spring sown garlic were on the small size but very strong and juicy. I had a lovely crop of around 100. It was the first time I have grown garlic and I have now read that they are better sown in the autumn, which allows for root growth, which is supposed to be reflected in the size that the cloves grow to, but time will tell. The french gardeners that I have spoken to only plant in the spring, I am going to plant some spring garlic as well.
We have had a very good and productive 2017 and we are looking forward to 2018 and finishing off the steps, pathway and plateau walls.
Their venture with a French Potager. We were given the opportunity to work a area of land on the border of the village, it had been cleared of some trees and worked lightly in 2016. A villager tilled (ploughed and harrowed) the land for us prior to the planting of Jersey Malc’s large selection of potatoes. We also plan to grow onions (white and red), sweetcorn, beetroot and french beans. We are going to try cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli, also known as Roman cauliflower, Romanesque cauliflower or simply Romanesco – I have always called it Romanesco. I have been told it is very difficult to grow in this area of France but we will try: until you try you won’t know.
It is very early days in our French Potager, but “Jerseys” large selection of potatoes are planted and the other seedlings are in the polytunnel in my garden waiting to get planted. We are both keen gardeners but neither of us have had an allotment before as we both have fairly large gardens which take a lot of time to maintain. Putting in the extra hours that the Potager will require will be a challenge. The different varieties of potatoes are King Edwards, Jersey Royals, Sarpo Mira, Charlotte, Anya, Valor, Ratte and Mona Lisa. Hopefully if we don’t get hit by blight we should have enough potatoes to see us through the winter.
We started to plant the spuds on the 20th April and by the 2nd of May we have shoots coming through, which is very encouraging as we are hoping for a good crop of potatoes.
We have planted the onions in squares about 1.25 m x 1.25 m. I set my onions about 100 mm apart and have had great success doing it this way; it’s easy to keep the weeds in check and the onions grow to a very good size. We are growing a number of different varieties. I have chosen a Centurion F1 a white onion.
We had a very good harvest. The potatoes we planted gave us about 400Kg, which will keep us and our friends in spuds for a while! The onions also gave us a good reward with around 350 very good sized onions. The red onions really surprised me with their size, and no complaints with the white ones either. We planted a variety of veg and, apart from around half a row of spuds that fed the slugs, we were very well rewarded for our efforts.
This gallery shows our progress
We hope to be a bit more organised next year, getting the plot turned over a bit earlier than we did this year. a friend of Jerseys has offered to use his spud planting machine to make the planting easier. I am hoping the fund raising events I have planned, will pay for Malcs therapy.
Au revoir for now.
Late Summer 2015 was going to be a very busy time for us as we had bought a wood burner back in the spring and a survey had been carried out on the house for fitting the liner etc. On our early summer visit to Garzanic we had found a major problem with what turned out to be bees in the chimney (we had thought that they were wasps). We contacted a pest control expert, who on his visit to inspect the infestation, quickly corrected us. “Ah non, non, monsieur. C’est abeilles! Abeilles!” Bees are protected in Bretagne so we would need to get the permission from the Maire before we could do anything about removing them from the chimney. The Maire gave his permission for the removal of the bees and the pest controller soon had the situation under control. “If you leave it for about 3 weeks you should not have a problem.” Our worries were now eased. “If you have a problem just call me and I will come back and sort it out for you” he said, getting back into his van after we had paid the fee for his efforts.
We were returning to the UK in a few days and would not be coming back for 5 weeks so the timing was about right. We had confirmation the installation of the wood burner would be on the 7th September.
On our late spring visit we removed the archway which split the lounge in two, and also knocked down part of the return wall, reducing it from 80cm to 40cm. As we had increased the height and opening between the rooms we were able then to instal a 20cm x 20cm oak beam. This has opened up the living area and has made a huge difference. I also exposed the chimney terracotta flue liner to make sure the stainless steel flue liner would be able to be installed. All was OK so I re-sealed the opening to the liner.
We were informed that the installation of the wood burner would be a week earlier than had been planned, so we had to rearrange our travel plans to return home to coincide with the installation.
When we returned in September we removed all of the wallpaper from the area around where the fire was to go and rendered and plastered the wall that I had reduced. The pest controller had said that it would be safe to open up the chimney and get it swept before the installation of the fire.
Every thing was going to plan but, as so often happens, plans have a way of going wrong! We slowly and carefully removed the packing from the chimney liner and shone a torch light up the chimney. All seemed OK. I started to poke my drain clearing rods up the liner and lots of dead bees came down the chimney. There seemed a never-ending amount of bees. We were both very concerned as to how many dead bees there were. The smell was appalling and the whole of the lounge area absolutely stank. Then a big clump of bees fell to the floor and suddenly we could hear from the chimney the sound of bees – then two very big frelons (hornets) came whizzing down into the lounge. (A few days after this we found another dead frelon in another part of the house. We had thought only two had come down the chimney but this one must have got in without us noticing, which could have been very nasty.) The frelons frightened the life out of both of us and we grabbed hold of Kindog and ran out of the room, closing all the doors behind us.
We stood there knowing we had to go back in and catch these huge hornets. I wondered just how many were there and was a swarm of bees going to follow? And what the hell were we going to do?! We managed to trap the hornets in two separate small jars and I quickly blocked the hole up. We went outside to look at the chimney top and there were bees and hornets flying all around. So much for “you shouldn’t have a problem”.
The house stank. There were dead bees in a huge pile in the corner of the room. We were shaking like leaves but we calmed each other down and decided that the bees had to be cleared up. Half an hour later and a rubble bag full of bees, we decided to go and see our friend Gerard and ask his advice.
I showed Gerard the pictures that I had taken of the pile of dead bees. Jacqueline looked up pictures of the frelons in her book and it turned out one was a French species and the other an Asiatic, which meant we had to report it to the Mairie, which we did a day or so later. Gerard contacted the pest controller and made arrangements for him to visit us the next day. Gerard and his wife Jacqueline were surprised at the amount of bees that had come down the chimney. The pest controller came the next day and after a few head shakes and some “Gallic” mutterings he assured us that he had solved the problem and that we would be able to continue clearing the chimney the next day. Gerard turned up the next morning and said he had been in touch with a friend of his, a Monsieur Dupré, and that I could use the suit M. Dupré uses for collecting honey from his hives. Fully protected we continued to clear the bees from the chimney. Gerard and I took it in turns poking the rods up the liner. After about an hour we reached the cowl that sits on the top of the chimney, so at last we had cleared out all the bees. We will be forever grateful to Gerard for all the help and advice he has given us.
Installing the “Poele de Bois”. The artisans Philippe and Johann turned up on the arranged date and time with all of the necessary parts and equipment. We had a quick overview of what was required and they then set to work, one working from the roof down and the other from the ceiling up. We had explained about the bees and they were very understanding and just gave a few Gallic shrugs as if they had seen it all before. We had thought that the chimney was cleared, but the honeycomb from the bees was still in place, so Johann started to try and dislodge it using rods from the chimney top and Philippe and I from the lounge. It took us about an hour of very hard work but finally we managed to clear the honeycomb. The smell from the honeycomb was nearly as bad as it was from the bees. The floor and every tool we were using became sticky. This attracted bees and flies from everywhere; the bees were coming down the flue liner; the flies came in through the open doors. For about an hour or so we all suffered, until I managed to clean the floor and tools. Johann suffered a few scares on top of the roof, because as we were dislodging the honeycomb, the smell was attracting frelons which were trying to get to the source of the smell. He quickly came down from the roof with a very disgruntled look about him and waving his hands around and saying “tres dangerous”. I went to the local “Point Vert” and armed him with some anti-frelon spray which he used with abandonment. Still, I was not going up there, so I just kept him supplied. It wasn’t long before they had the liner and the aeration cowl fitted. Once the air intake pipe was fitted through the wall it was just a case of lifting the wood burner into position and connecting the fixed flue pipe, which they had done in no time. What I thought would take a few days to do was completed by two very skillful French artisans in a matter of a day. We were very impressed by the whole experience from the purchase of the wood burner and survey from Leroy Merlin and installation by the Calor Bois of St Brieuc and would recommend them to anyone. As they say, “you pay for what you get”.
Nicole..Lee and J come to visit the video below is a very good reflection on their visit. We all had a very good time and “J” was absolutely great with helping us in the garden,
Sound Track by Matt Bialas
The day after they arrived, we had a wonderful lunch at L’Esacale Barrage de Bosmeleac. Then, a few days later after the Poele de Bois was installed we went to Josselin and then onto Abbeye Bon Repose, where we had a drink and a light lunch. Unfortunately I left my wallet in the wash room of the restaurant, but I didn’t realise this until about 10am the next day. The discovery of the loss caused total panic as we were about to go to St Brieuc. I was convinced that it would be a day of phone calls and frustration, trying to cancel and replace all my bank cards etc. We rushed over to the restaurant in the car. The owner was there and I explained what I had done, but he said no one had handed in a wallet. I knew what I had done the previous day when I had gone to the wash room: placed my wallet on top of the towel cupboard before using the toilet. I went in to the wash room and, to my great surprise, there it was – still in the same place with all the contents still there… Relief…and sheer happiness came over me. The day turned from gloom to sheer relief, and off we went to St Brieuc. The conversation was just about how foolish and how very lucky I had been. We got to Leroy Merlin in St Brieuc and ordered the wall tiles that were to go behind the wood burner and would pick these up on our next visit to France in late September. A day or so later the family returned to England after a very good holiday, and a few days later we also packed up and returned to the UK.
We return for our last summer visit with a list of things to do. The tiles and adhesive that we had ordered on our last visit were ready for collection and a quick visit to Leroy Merlin had the first thing on the list sorted out. Relatives that have a home in Spain called in on their way back to the UK, which was very nice and as it turned out very handy. I had ordered a cord of wood for the fire and it was going to get delivered on the Monday. The plan was for it to go straight into the garage, but when it arrived the pallet it was on was never going to go in through the doorway as it was too high. The only way to get the wood in was for it to be unloaded from the pallet halfway, then cut in half vertically. We then put the half-pallet in the garage and reloaded the wood. Then we repeated the process for the other half. Many hands make light work as someone once said, and Phyllis and Roger worked their socks off. We were so grateful to both of them. We celebrated our efforts that evening and I had a bit too much wine as it turned out! We enjoyed a lovely meal and started to reminisce about the past and, as time passed and glasses got filled, it was not until the next morning I realised that one less glass would have been advisable, but what the heck – it was a good night and we had worked very hard that day. Kindog needed to go and do the business before going to bed and she started to sniff about on the door step. “Come and look at this!” Mrs K shouted, so we got up to see what all the fuss was about. We couldn’t quite believe what was on the step: a Salamander. I have never seen one before and in fact I don’t think that any of us had seen one. They are surprisingly beautiful in an ugly sort of way. Their markings tell you to stay away. Salamanders are capable of regenerating lost limbs within in a few weeks, including tails and toes, allowing them to survive attacks from predators. Scientist are looking into this regeneration process in the hope of helping people that have been unfortunate to have lost limbs.
We brought a range of flowering bulbs with us for planting in the garden and as the weather was so nice I decided to clear the banked area near the compost containers and Roger gave me a hand with this. The area had been allowed to get overgrown with yellow flowering Broom, and it took quite a bit of effort to remove it and get the area ready for planting. While trying to remove a stump I fell backwards after pulling too hard on a particularly stubborn clump and ended up flat on my back. Roger was creased up laughing and saying what you doing laying down there? After getting to my feet and back to work, it was no more than 60 seconds when Roger was flat on his back after tripping on a stump. We just both cracked up laughing. I think in Roger’s case it’s an age thing but I don’t expect he will agree with me! In the spring of next year it will look nice with Tulips, Daffodils, Alliums and Hyacinths and some others that I can’t remember the names of poking their heads up and putting on a nice show.
It was time for Phyllis and Roger to return to the UK. It had been a nice few days with their company and help, but it had seemed like they had only just arrived and they were off again. I needed to get on and tile the walls behind the fire. It took me the next three days to complete it with fitting in the other thing we had arranged to do while over in France. Our visit was all too short but it had turned out to be productive and we returned to the UK a day or so later looking forward to our Christmas and New year visit. The wood burner was all in place and working so we should be nice and warm when the winter comes and that was our main aim to achieve this year.
We completed the sale of our UK property on the 16th of December 2013. It was a very stormy, wet and windy day; sad in ways but exciting with the prospect of completing the purchase of our French home. The delay on the sale meant that we would be unable to get our furniture moved over at the same time, as we were nearing the Christmas holiday period, when we get a well deserved winter break. The logistics of getting our furniture moved to France had became too complicated. When we tried to get the dates we needed to fit together with the international removal company, it became obvious to us that it was just too late in the year. We opted to put our belongings into storage and transport them over in the New Year.
We had a booking on “Le Shuttle” for the 18th December, travelling down to Corlay for our appointment with the “Notaire” at 2 pm Thursday the 19th December. He had completed all the preliminary work, so it only took about an hour and a half to complete the remainder of the legal necessities, and with the monies having already been transferred the day before, it was a very smooth process. The “Notaire” wished us well and handed us the keys to our new property, and within 10 minutes we were entering our new home. The house had stood empty for quite a while as the previous owner had returned to the UK in 2012, so as we were entering the winter season the house had a cold, damp feel to it. “Right, we need to get the heating on” we both said simultaneously. I said, “You get the kettle on while I try and get the heating going.” I had been shown how to switch the boiler on by the immobilaire on our second viewing but that was back in the summer. We had particularly specified a clause in the contract to have the boiler serviced before completion so I was confident that it would work without any problems. The heating system is “oil fired” which heats the water and runs the radiators for heating. But even though I am in the business of property maintenance I know absolutely nothing about oil fired boilers, so I just hoped it would work, as it was becoming dark and quite cold. The weather which was over the UK was also over Bretagne.
The basement, or “cave” is the full footprint of the house, and it’s divided up into one long garage/workshop, a laundry room which also houses the electricity meter and fuse box, and another room with the oil tank and boiler. The boiler fired up first time, so all I wanted now was a much needed cup of tea. We had travelled over to France in the motorhome, which had everything we would need. Soon Mrs K had a cup of tea ready for both of us. The previous owner had left a few items behind, and the kitchen table and four chairs were very welcome, tucked up beside the radiator and in front of the window. We looked at each other and smiled. We’d done it! We had none of our possession with us except what was in the motorhome, but it didn’t matter – we had our home and that’s what counted. The radiators was not getting warm and the boiler had been going for about twenty minutes, so I contacted the immobilaire. He made a suggestion of how to get it going, which would have been useful if I had had a plumber’s tool kit with me. I thought that as the house had stood empty for a while the radiators probably needed venting. We’d arranged for the boiler to be serviced and it obviously worked, but no-one had checked to see whether the radiators got hot, and it obviously wasn’t part of the service. I vented the radiators and within minutes we had heating, but it would be a while before the chill left the house. The weather was getting worse; the wind was starting to swirl around and it looked like we were in for a storm. Mrs K had all her cleaning liquids and Marigolds out on the worktops and it was going to be hours before she would stop. There was an electric imitation log fire in a wooden fireplace surround against one of the walls, so I switched it on. It worked and proved to be very efficient, warming the room up quickly. We soon had our gilets off, and Mrs K had the kitchen cupboards open and the drawers out, washing and cleaning every surface.
It was well into the night before she felt as if she’d done enough for the day. We had had a long day and I thought it was, as Zebedee would say, “time for bed”. (If you’re as old as me you will understand.) We couldn’t sleep in the house as there were no beds, so we made our way down the basement stairs and out through the garage to the motorhome. The wind was absolutely howling and the rain, driven by the wind, soaked us just getting the few feet to the comfort of our motorhome. It was going to be a stormy night. The rain had not really stopped since we moved out of our UK home, and staying in a motorhome or caravan when its rains heavily is like being inside a drum with someone beating it. We settled down and I had a couple of well deserved nightcaps. Our home is situated on the side of a valley, the base of which is about 700 – 800 metres away and probably 125 metres below us. The wind and rain were relentless and getting to sleep was almost impossible. The whole of Northern France and Southern England were being hit by a massive low pressure system that was going to last until the New Year with only a few days when it did not rain. We managed to get some sleep but woke early, with both of us eager to start getting the house cleaned. It seemed like every few moments I was being called to remove one spider after another as Mrs K prefers them outside and not in. I don’t mind spiders and I will pick them up and place them outside, but some of these spiders had been well fed and were fairly big, and I mean big, so picking these ones up made me think twice before I did it, but out they had to go.
We spent the next few days working our way through the house room by room. We had met an English couple, Laura and Robin, who have been living in France for the last 14 years. They had known the previous owners and kept an eye on the house when they were in the area while it was empty and on the market for sale just to make sure everything was OK. They have become good friends over this last year and have given us a good insight into the French way of life, but that’s getting ahead of myself. As it was Christmas Day tomorrow Mrs K made it feel Christmassy by getting the small front area of the lounge decorated with some cards we had received. We were made to feel at home by the people we came across that lived the village. They were very polite and there was one lady who was very interested in our motorhome, as she had a camping car. She said her vehicle was smaller than ours, and she was very keen to have a look inside. With my limited French and her very complete lack of English we a had what turned out to be very good a conversation using sign language. I wish I had asked for her name but we just used gestures and hand signals. The local farmer Jean Marie Chateau who speaks extremely good English introduced himself to us, giving us an insight into the past history of our house and he has also, over the last year, become a good friend. We have met his parents Guy and Nicole and were invited to look around their bœuf farm. It is very early to make a true judgement, but we think it is going to be very nice living here. Time will tell.
The weather continued to be very wet and windy. A lot of Northern France were experiencing flooding and much of the local farmland and the gullys that run alongside the roads were like rivers. Many trees were blown over which caused road blockages. At St Gilles Vieux Marche, the next village across from St Mayeux, the river had burst its banks and some very unfortunate people were flooded out, causing no end of problems for them. Sleeping in the motorhome was like being in a washing machine. The wind roared down the valley and up the sides, and when it came into contact with the house and tree lined drive at around 4 am one morning, it hit the motorhome with all of its force. I thought we were going to get blown over so I suggested we go inside the house and have a cup of tea, but Mrs K was having none of that, saying, “If I go inside now you’ll never get me to sleep in here again until the weather gets better.” So we stayed where we were in bed and waited until the storm blew itself out. The next day was beautiful sunshine with very little wind, so we decided to remove a conifer tree that had become too big and was blocking the view from our kitchen window. It would not be until the summer that I removed the enormous root from the lawn.
There is a Angloinfo website used by ex-UK residents to discuss topics of interest and a classified area to advertise items for sale. I had seen a ride-on lawnmower for sale so had contacted the seller and agreed a deal subject to a viewing. Everything worked out well and he delivered it into the bargain. It’s in good condition with no rust, and all I needed was some dry weather so I could get out and cut the lawns, but with all the rain it would be spring before that happened.
We had water pouring out over the roof guttering at the back of the house and I thought that the guttering was probably blocked with leaves from the storms that we were experiencing. We had bought a small set of stepladders with us, but they would be of limited use unless we could raise them up a few feet. Moving the sturdy kitchen table out onto the patio solved the height issue, and with the steps on top of the table I could see that the guttering was not blocked at all. It was the downpipe that was the problem. Halfway down the pipe was a connector for a water butt, although it appeared no water butt had ever been fitted. I drilled a hole below this connector to see if this was the cause, and as no water came out of the hole it seemed the blockage was above this point. We made a quick visit to Point Vert for some new downpipe and a few connectors and we were ready to disconnect the pipe. What was to follow left us both covered in the most disgusting smell ever. As I disconnected the pipe from the guttering, this movement caused the coupling of the water butt connection to dislodge and a huge slug of decomposing material shot out from the pipe followed by all the stagnant water that had been above it. It covered us both from head to toe. What a stench! I can still smell it now writing this. We cleaned up as best as we could to enable us to carry on and I renewed the down pipe, which solved the overflow issue. We called it a day, and after a shower a some clean clothes Mrs K cooked us a wonderful meal. We had a good laugh about what had happened. The days were passing quickly and New Year’s eve was here. We had been invited to the village celebrations, but as we had Kindog with us and we didn’t want to leave her home alone, we were unable to attend. It would only be a few days before we would have to return to the UK because of work commitments. Our Christmas was over. We had cleaned the house ready to move our furniture and belongings over and it wouldn’t be long before we returned to our new home.
We recently purchased a trailer in the UK, but before doing so we had look on the AngloInfo Brittany website to see if anybody was selling one, as this site has a classified ads section and is also quite informative (as long as you don’t take all the advice given as correct – you need to filter the opinions offered and then make up your own mind about the subject, as we all have our own agenda!).
We saw an advert which turned out to be an English person now living in France trying to offload a trailer without the necessary registration documents. Also, it wasn’t quite as described in the ad. As always, “Buyer beware”. This chap got very annoyed with us when, after inspecting the trailer, we pulled out of the purchase, referring to us as “time wasters” when he put the trailer up for sale again. When the next viewer pulled out he was livid, and putting it up for sale for a third time he referred to them as “yet another time waster” and said in the ad that he was “not prepared to wait around. If you want the trailer, bring the cash and take it away”. In the end he sounded pretty desperate but he needed to look at what he was trying to sell. We discovered that in France you cannot by law hand over more than 300 Euros in cash for any bill or transaction. Any more than that and you have to pay by cheque. Also, trailers which can carry 500 kg require a Carte Grise certificate. We hadn’t known that when we first looked at the trailer, and our friends made us aware of the need for this certificate and of the cash aspect. If the trailer had been as described in the ad we might have bought it, but it had one or two problems and our friends saved us again.
We spotted the trailer we ended up buying on eBay and it has turned out to be a very good buy. We bought it from a Polish guy who imports them; well, he actually returns home to Poland and buys the trailer, loads it up with booze and brings it back to the UK. He then puts an advert on eBay to sell the trailer and drinks the booze while he’s waiting! Looks slim for someone who drinks a lot!
For our homeward trip for Christmas and New Year, we loaded up the trailer with some oak flooring that we are going to lay in the lounge area. There was room left to get the rest of the things we wanted to take home and we had much more room in the car. Mrs K and Kinnie were able to stretch out and sit together on the rear seats. The journey home seemed to pass by quickly. We arrived in the early hours and soon it felt like we hadn’t been away. The bird feeders needed refilling and it would be a day or two before the birds were back feeding. On Christmas day we had twelve different species of birds visit the garden which was absolutely wonderful to see. Back in the summer I’d bought a satellite receiver and dish from Aldi. I didn’t pay a lot for the satellite system but it worked fairly well. The HD receiver gave a brilliant picture but the dish was disappointing. The fixings were of poor quality and, as we live on the side of a valley, the wind at times can be strong and moves the dish. I’d bought a better dish over with us and soon had it fixed onto the wall bracket and aligned to the English transmitting satellite. There are loads of channels, some in HD. We don’t watch a lot of TV, but without it I feel cut off, especially as we don’t have an internet connection at home yet. I like to keep up with what’s happening in the world.
Half way through our Christmas break I was sitting in the kitchen, looking out of the window watching the birds feeding on the seed that had fallen onto the patio. Looking at the patio stonework I realised that it was really covered in a lot of dirt and that there were areas where moss was growing and starting to spread. What it needed was to be jet washed. I decided to do it in two stages as it was cold and it’s a big area. I’d wash half one day and the rest the next. Now that it’s all been washed – what a difference! It’s made it looks so much bigger. The down side is that now it’s clean it has highlighted areas that require repairing, but that will need to be done when the weather is better. The upside is, that’s another couple of jobs off the list.
Winter Sunrise 2015
Christmas passed with us doing very little except reading, eating, drinking and sleeping; it must be our age. Mrs K said, “Come on, we had planned to get a lot done”, but with us not getting up till nine-ish, then a slow breakfast and a trip into the village for our baguette and croissant, it was lunchtime before we were anywhere near ready to do any work. The previous owners had an agreement with a local supermarket to display an advertising board on the boundary for a small annual fee. We had contacted them shortly after we became the owners to ask them to remove the advert. We’d had no reply from them so it was coming down. As always, it’s never that simple, but after an hour or so it was down, and it should turn out to be a good mucking up board when we next mix up some cement. We tidied the garden over the next few days so our compost frames are now full to the brim. We made a trip to the Déchetterie to get rid of all the recycling material and rubbish we had accumulated, and things were starting to feel a lot better. I had planned to organise my tools and get them in some sort of order, but that slipped by the wayside. Another job that I didn’t get round to was working on the patio balustrades which I had intended to finish rubbing down and getting painted ready for re-locating back onto the patio boundary. It’s quite a drop in some places and I’d like to stop anybody accidentally falling over the sides.
We were heading towards New Year’s eve, and we had tickets for the fancy dress party being held in the village hall. The theme was “Pirates” and Mrs K had sorted out our outfits. I wasn’t looking forward to dressing up for the party, but it turned out to be a very good evening and we really did enjoy it. We met a lot of new people and were made to feel part of the village community. New Year already! Where did the last year go? We have now owned the house for a year and, looking back, we have achieved a great deal in what was a short time. The last year seems to have just shot by, just like our time here this Christmas. We will be on our way back to the UK in a couple of days, but it’s been a lovely festive break.
…that we were going to be unable to move our furniture over to France, when we completed on the purchase of our French property. The decision to move everything into storage was going to be a stage by stage operation. As I have very limited use of my right hand, moving anything with weight and size is awkward, but it’s got to be done and so “just get on with it” and do the best you can; and how long it was going to take, was just something we were going to have to live with.
We found storage that was local. I had a Ford Transit van and over a period of about four weeks’ of hard work, with the packing and loading of the van, then shipping it up to the lockup then unloading, it was quite a logistical task. I had the house almost cleared by the Friday prior to completion of the house sale on the Monday.
The lockup was full to capacity. I had hired a lockup that was the same cubic area of a 7.5 ton van so I knew that what was in the lockup would also fit into the van.
I did a lot of research into hiring a 7.5 ton van. I posted a topic onto the AngloInfo website asking for advice on the subject with regards to the legal side of driving on the French mainland. I received conflicting advice, some saying “You won’t have a problem”, some saying “You can’t do that, unless you have this and that”, which didn’t give me a lot of confidence. I decided to contact the French Embassy in London, hoping to get clarification on the issue, but the auto-generated response to my email was “look on our Forum”, so there was no answer there! I decided to contact the hire company, with the thought that the insurance underwriters would not insure a vehicle if it and the driver did not meet all of the legal requirements to drive in France. I was told that if I had C1 on my UK licence I was legal to drive in France, contrary to what I had previously been told, i.e. that I needed an HGV2, and that if I didn’t have an HGV2 I was going to get arrested.
We decided to shift all the furniture over on the 21st of February and return to the UK on the 23rd. We were going to load the van on the Thursday, drive up to Redhill and spent the night there, then drive to the freight terminal of the Eurotunnel at Ashford on the Friday. That was the plan anyway. After loading the van on the Thursday, we called into Asda supermarket to get some last minute bits and pieces before driving to Redhill. As we were about to set off I asked Mrs K if she had the car keys which also had all of our other keys on. “No, you’ve got them” came the reply. After about 45 minutes we came to the conclusion I had left them in the car at the van hire company. Mrs K said, “Well, we have all we need, so lets just go to France.” A freight booking allows you to turn up 24 hours before or after your booking time, so it was off to France.
We arrived at the terminal and within 15 minutes we were on the shuttle. Not having crossed using the freight side of the shuttle before, we settled down and got some sandwiches out. “First time?” a guy asked. “Yes”, I replied. “Well, you need to get into that van and he will take you to the driver’s carriage that you’ll cross in, then he’ll bring you back to your van when we get to France.” Glad someone knew what was going on! “Cheers mate.” We got our stuff together and off we went. Some of the lorry drivers looked a bit in need of some TLC – they looked a bit rough and ready, and some hadn’t seen a shower since they had left home. It wasn’t long before we were driving down the French motorways. We had been up since 6 o’clock that morning and were feeling a bit rough, so I said to Mrs K that I’d try and get to the other side of Caen so we could take a break. I estimated it would be about another 3 hours drive. The van had absolutely no power in it loaded up. On the straights it was fine, but any kind of incline and it was hopeless. Northern France, until you get Caen, is hilly and it took us a lot longer than 3 hours to reach Caen, but we got there around 2:30 am. Pulling over into an Aire, we were ready for a break. When you look at a cab on a lorry they look, to me at least, fairly roomy, but they are certainly not. Trying to get some sleep was just a waste of time and it got very cold, so after about 2 hours I said to Mrs K, “Come on, let’s see how far we can get before we need to stop again.” I topped up with diesel and away we went. We were only 3 hours from home and the roads are pretty flat once you get Brittany in comparison to Normandy.
We arrived home completely worn out, cold and in need of sleep/ Mrs K soon had a cup of tea made and we had some reclining garden chairs in easy reach in the van. With the electric fire, central heating on and some blankets we got comfortable in the kitchen and were soon asleep.
For comfort garden chairs are fine on a sunny day on the patio after a beer or two, but after a six hundred kilometre journey they soon become restricting so, after a few hours sleep, we were up, showered and ready to start unloading. Having all my tools and the garage equipment loaded onto the van last made it very easy to unload and store into the cave area of the house. It took us a good few hours to get it all stowed away, but in doing this it allowed us to get to the most important items and sought after furniture: the bed and the bedding. I soon had the bed together, and I think that once you have that done it gives you the feeling that you can relax, knowing that you have somewhere to sleep.
Mrs K was calling out that dinner was almost ready and that I needed to get myself cleaned up. Not long after we were ready for bed and glad to see the end of what had been a very tiring 48 hours. The van was about 40% empty when we’d finished the previous day and the remaining items were the boxes that seem to be never ending. Once we’d started moving them into the house – and we were fortunate with the weather as it was dry, very sunny and turned out to be a warm spring weekend – we had great fun moving in. The couple that we had become friendly with, Robin and Laura, were returning from their holiday in Guernsey on the Saturday, after visiting their son and grandchildren and had offered to help us move the large pieces of furniture into the house. They turned up right on time just as we were moving the last of the boxes, with just the settees, armchair and fridge freezer to do. The van was quickly completely empty and all the furniture moved in by about 2:30pm on the Saturday. We were so grateful for their help. No sooner had they turned up then they were gone again to their own home to unpack from their holiday break. Lovely people.
Unloading the van was the easy part; unpacking the boxes and moving the contents to their rooms, as anybody that has moved will know, that’s another thing altogether. We just moved the boxes from here to there, and as we would be back the next weekend for a couple of weeks, we would unpack them then.
We left for our return journey at 3:00 am the next morning. The drive back was so much easier with no load, and we knew what to do once we arrived at the freight terminal in Sangatte. It was straight onto the train and into the driver’s carriage. 45 minutes later we were on the M20 heading towards Chelmsford to return the truck and pick up our car – with the keys that I had left behind on the Thursday morning. Another part of our life’s jigsaw successfully completed.