Thursday, 26 December 2013

Trains, planes, the underground and auto mobiles.

Ok, I know its been a while since I wrote this blog. We have been busy with with lots of little things trying to pull everything together before winter. The roof is finally finished (well all the tiles anyway) It has been totally treated, re wooded, membraned and tiles with sous plats and tige de bottes (under and upper tiles) put on. We are finally for the first time in many many years water tight (hooray!!!) 

We have also been back to the UK to visit friends and family before Christmas. A right palaver that is. We went back without a vehicle as it was much cheaper to fly. So to get from France to east London, we needed trains, planes and auto-mobiles! Car from home to the airport, then plane to the UK, coach from Stansted to Stratford London then the underground to our daughters home. Luckily her boyfriend came and meet us at Stratford otherwise I think if left to our own country bumpkin ways on the underground we would of ended up in Edinburgh! The underground is such a maze if you hardly use it and I'm sure we would of gotten lost. But all in all we got to where we needed to be and where much happier when we stopped moving. 

The next day was rather busy and we managed to fit in 4 markets in one day. Borough Market was lovely with lots of tempting lovely treats to buy, but as we where flying back we couldn't take advantage of buying anything. We also went to the German market and a pop up street market for Christmas. 

The Drunk Cheese company was fun, cheeses soaked in alcohol.

We also took a brief trip to see friends and family on the Island. The trip from London to the island was nearly as long as the trip from France to the UK mad eh.
It was lovely catching up with everyone and after a day on the island we went back to London. We spent some time doing some of the basics such as a walk along the Thames, seeing Shakespeare's globe, checking out old London's skyline. But I think Dave's highlights were the visits to the music shops. Berwick street had loads of shops and Dave had great fun checking them all out. He could of spent a fortune if left alone for 5 minutes.

Soon our time in the UK came to a end and it was time to go home. To get back we had to take the underground to the coach station, a coach to the airport, a flight home then pick up the van at the airport for the 1.5 hour drive home. It made it a long day and we where pleased when we got back in La Belle France.  After we got back we had 4 days before the kids came here to visit us so busy busy busy.......

Friday, 25 October 2013

The installation of a microstation.....

These past two days we have been having our shiny new microstation installed. Here in La Belle France not many places actually have mains drainage, its a huge country and they are trying to roll out mains across the country but it will take time and us rural lot will probably be some of the last on the list to get it. Traditionally most houses have a septic tank (fosse septique) which includes filtration systems of the water that comes out. This is usually over a gravel and sand layered bed system and can take up quite a lot of your garden or land space, and after time the sand can become saturated and contaminated and need changing. Also any land that has had a fosse drainage bed on cannot be built on in the future. Laws have also changed in the last 2 years which mean that the requirements to pass inspection by SPANC (great name) have got harder. SPANC is the Service Public d'Assainissement Non Collectiff and they are the local government agency responsible for:

  • Advise and assist individuals in the development of their sewerage system;
  •  Control of sewerage facilities

Because of the size and future contamination issues with fosses and not to mention the cost being higher than other types of system, France has now approved the use of Microstations in France as a way of treating sewage and waste water without having the need for any filtration bed. The local company who are contracted to undertake all of the work for SPANC are actively trying to get more households to uptake the use of microstations over fosses in our local area. All of the household waste water and sewage goes into the microstation which is usually made up of three or more internal compartments, depending on the size of property and how many people are living there.  Each compartment does a different part of the waste treatment and what comes out at the end is basically clean water that can be run off into a water course or field - not that I'd want to try and use the water for anything. A good website to find more information is and info on the unit in English at and this is the company that we used for our microstation at our contractors suggestion. I have to say for ease of comprehension and because we had some friends who used the same contractor we did use a english guy for the work However he had brilliant french and sorted out all the paperwork and registration of our microstation with SVL (spanc sub contractors) was very honest and very hard working and he and his French colleague did a great job for us. 
Before any work can start we had to have SVL come round and do a inspection of the land and see of the area that we had selected was suitable for the microstation. they check where the outlet pipe is going to go and proximity to other houses. As well as checking that the outlet pipe isn't going into a still water area i.e a pond but into moving water or draining over a field. After this was all approved we could continue with the work. 
The microstation - suitable for up to 6 people
Clearing the hole for it to go in.
That's Phil actually in the hole, shows you how big it actually is.

I must say it looks a bit like a battle ground here now. The land is generally trashed but that was to be expected when a huge great whole gets dug in the ground.

This was left open before it could be backfilled. Because we had to wait for SVL to come and inspect it and make sure that everything was ok. This collection of small visits by SVL added up to 338 euros, not a bad hourly rate if you can get it. 

Three men and a baby , the svl inspector checking it out.

The microstation needs electric to run and will only cost less than 50 euros a year. I can cope with that. We also had to run a  small trench in to take the electric wiring.

starting the fill in,
A ditch needs digging to put the electric cable in that runs from the house to power the microstation. 
After the workmen left the chickens were keen to help in the digging process!

This finished product is above, it will need raking out and grass seeding. These pipes etc. will always be above ground as they need to be able to be inspected if need be by SVL. Dave will make the area hidden by building a false wooden well over the big green hat and a plant pot or two over the inspection portal. Its not pretty but is needed and we can landscape around it. This is at the end of the house so in a area never used, so won't cause us a problem.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

So Trous, funny how its seems (to be never ending roof work that it)

Is it just me or is the weather really erratic this autumn? I swear that every time we poke our heads outside to try and get up on the roof to finish off the rain comes down. The thing is as soon as the roof is wet it is too dangerous to walk over until it dry's off again because it gets slippy.

But in between the rain, showers and damn right stormy weather (we had 26cm rain in 2.5 hours at one point) yes we did have leaks :(

As you can see we had to put some bowls out to catch the water but I didn't feel too bad about it as our neighbour who has a nice shiny new house and roof also had some leaks. He was furious I must add as didn't expect that. So a few leaks when we haven't finished our little roof isn't so bad in such a major storm.

we have been moving on with the roof. As long as the weather holds we should be able to finish it in a couple of weeks. Dave's shoulder is a lot better and now its only the weather that is holding us back. I can do a lot of the tiling on my own so hopefully will soon show you all a finished roof.

The Ridgeline is now fully concreted, this photo was taken on the 24th Oct and look at the weather!!
The green thing in the photo is our new Microstation (for waste water - a bit like a septic tank) which is being put in today. Updates in the next blog.

We have also been making the most of the glut of nuts that appear to be on the trees this year. Near so are some old chestnut trees and we managed to collect about 3.5 kilos on the first visit to the woods!! 

We have also managed to get some mushrooms, this sadly is not a positive thing as they were growing indoors!! The back wall of our kitchen is one of the places that had a leak on it from the roof for years and it sprouted some champignons. It has now been treated and hopefully as soon as the roof is finished we won't get a re-occurrence.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

I hope its not trous.......

As the summer months slopes sadly by into autumn our thoughts have been directed towards making sure that the house and barns remain in a warm water tight condition. We have rather gotten used to the warmth and lovely dryness in here after summer and would wish that all can remain that way. No more buckets out in this house I hope, after all it had not been lived in for 40 years  when we started this renovation we had a great  deal of holes and leaks.

So to ensure that these aspirations come to fruition we continued on the roof at the back of the house. As there is only me with the occasional help of Dave (my other half) working on the roof it takes a fair bit of time. However the roof is fully re-wooded and treated and membraned now. The membrane is a breathable waterproof one so that in the future even if some tiles break or move we should remain water proof.
Before winter we have a large list of things to do, which when you first look at it can be a bit daunting. We need to build a temporary rear wall on the barn and enclose the utility room in as well as insulate the bathroom and a plethora of other jobs. It’s just a case of getting the motivation to sit down and prioritize these things.

One of the hardest jobs that we have tried here is to re do the ridge of the house. This has to be done before the re-tiling of the house can be done, the roof has been re-boarded and had membrane put down, now just needing the ridge doing before we can finish the re-tiling. To make the ridge, one needs to bring the under tiles (sous plats) up to meet each other on both sides of the roof and then concrete in between them, forming a flat base to put the curved ridge tiles over.  Its actually quite a hard job and I found that I couldn't do it and had to wait for the evenings when Dave wasn't working or on the weekend if the weather holds.
This is the ridge line.

The sous plates and tiles (tuiles) are put down to lift the ridge then gutters are put in over the sous plats. The left of the picture shows the concrete under base going on. This has to dry before the next bit can be done.. after this we put on new ridge tiles and concrete them in either side of the ridge.

 Sadly during this work time we had to go back to the UK for a family funeral, and when we came back it was raining - to the point of the lavoir flooding. Dave had a stinking cold and hurt his shoulder at work :( so work is progressing VERY slowly. But after all that is the general pace of life in France so who are we to change it?

To be continued.....

P.s back to the title, a trous is a hole in french ;)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Cognac, a town and a drink

But before the weather turns from bright and warm to gray and cool we decided to prendre des vacances (have a small holiday). Due to work commitments Dave couldn’t have much time off, so we decided to spend a few days camping in the lovely town of Cognac. Cognac is about 2.30 hours from us so not too far to go.  Its somewhere I have wanted to go since we moved over here. A hotel isn't really very Dave and I, so we decided to go back to our roots and go camping. There were a few to choose from and we picked one that was well appointed and close to town. We found all the info we needed to choose on whatever did we do before the age of the internet? Due to a cycling event going on in town the road infront of our campsite was closed till 5pm so we decided to go into town and have a good mooch around and see what is there and scope out some nice places to visit while we where in town.We also went to the indoor market, which is so evocative of all the best of things French and the reason so many of us love it here. Fresh bread, fish, seafood, fruit and meat compete with for attention with of local wines and of course the best Cognac. After buying some supplies to take back and cook at the campsite we ambled up to the tourist info office to get some ideas of where to go and what was on, before going to the campsite afterwards, The campsite we were based on was called  (subtle name) “Camping de Cognac” and was really great, beside the river Charente a in a wooded enclosed area that gave us privacy as well as some shade from the sun (it’s amazing how hot a tent can get on a sunny day). And after pitching the tent with surprisingly little trouble involved, we cooked our first camping dinner and sat down to relax with a wine and a good book. Perfect :) 

  Cognac town is a really beautiful place with a good mix of history and modern interests. The French do seem to love mixing an old chateau with modern art and we found some of that in cognac.

These flying sculptures were fun.
Dave admiring the view.

 We decided to go and visit a couple of Cognac houses after all it would have been rude not to. The first one was the Chateau de Font Joyeuse in Louzac Saint Andre on the outskirts of Cognac. When we visited it was just out of season so there wasn't anybody else wanting a tour and we got a private tour. They even opened the gates so we could go in and have a look around. Only 40 % of the produce of this distillery is used by them to make their own Cognac, the rest is sold it Rémy Martin. More information about the Chateau and Cognac making can be found at 

Chateau Le Font Joyeuse 
Chateau Le Font Joyeuse
The still in Chateau's distillery
The eau de vie barrels, eau de vie is the main ingredient in Cognac.The barrels and walls are black due to mushrooms that grow due to evaporated cognac from the bungs. All Cognac houses have this.

Our purchases

We also decided it would have been rude not to look at the more famous Cognac houses and as a anniversary gift from our daughter we had a tour of the famous Rémy Martin House. Again as it was just out of season – 2nd September we actually had the tour on our own. We could take photos in all the rooms except where the barrels were aging, that apparently was top secret. After the tour we had some appetizers and a tasting session in a lovely posh room. They weren't mean with the tastings and I felt a little light headed when we left. The whole experience was really good and I would recommend it to anyone in the region.
One of the old stills at Rémy Martin

Eau de vie barrels
Our tasting session
The tasting room , with some Louis 13th Cognac at 2400 euros a bottle, mind you the bottles are hand blown by Baccarat Crystal and all individual.
Cognac town 

Cognac town and and our posh camping cooker.

In future we will take some mini breaks like this across France and get to know our adopted country better. The break gave us a chance to relax before pushing onwards with all the jobs that we need to do before winter. Getting all the tiles up on the roof is a real challenge if you don’t own a Manitou, but we will get it done. Hopefully next blog will allow me to show you the finished roof (fingers tightly crossed). 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Tuiles, tiles and NOT toppling off.

This last month has gone by in a flash.I swear it was June just five minutes ago. Since our last post we have been very busy, we have been starting up on the roof again and also had a old school friend and her family came to visit for a few days. The hedges  grass have been growing as if on Miracle Grow and I seem to be constantly attached to either shears or a lawnmower. 

As far as the roof goes after we peeled off the old tiles from the edge we found that the wall was missing a few stones and was in rather a degraded condition. I certainly wouldn't of felt safe climbing on that edge to access the roof. So the first job was to take off all the loose stone and clean out any loose material. The walls in this area are made up of lumps of granite with the occasional stones and bricks thrown in and all fitted together 
with lime mortar. 

So one of the first jobs was to fill the wall back in and concrete over the top. Honestly if you can do a jigsaw or bake and ice a cake you can do concreting. Putting the wall together, is just like doing a jigsaw, turning and twisting the bricks until they fill gaps and look quite straight.  Making up the concrete mix reminded me of baking a cake, you have to get the powder to water mix just right or it won't set it smooth properly and getting it level is a bit like icing a cake. 

After this interesting and dare I say fun job the next thing wa to strip off all the old tiles and see what we have underneath.. I must add that it's always best to keep the roof swept and dust free as much as possible when up on the roof as it's like walking on ice if there is dust underfoot, it's very slippy. We found lots of old snake skins under the roof tiles (tuiles), luckily i'm not scared of snakes so won't be upset if we uncover one while I'm working.

Any broken, cracked or old tiles then get thrown to the floor and are great for making pathways with when smashed up small or for ballast under a concrete floor.  All the beams on the roof are ok and we just treated them with a strong 5 point treatment. ANTI MOSS, anti fungi, anti insect treatment, preventative. and curative or interior and exterior There was no point taking the old chestnut lathe up as it would just make a mess so we just treated it and put new volige (roofing timber) on top. 

Me concreting the top edge where the wall of the roof meets the wall of the barn (on my left- thats a whole other HUGE job)

It's rather hard work doing this job and I have got lots of bruises and grazes to show for it, and poor Dave has to help me after work. However it's great to know we are saving loads of money and we also have a really good understanding of exactly how our house is built , which we wouldn't have if we had contractors to do the job.  This ott DIY is mad but excellent fun and I wouldn't change it for the world.

In other parts of life we have had old friends over to stay for a few days. Tina is a school friend of mine that is doing a months trip through France with her hubby and 3 of her kids in a lovely motorhome. They stopped here for a few days and it was lovely to see them. We did a bit of sight seeing and lots of drinking and eating of local delicacies. Its always  nice when someone comes to visit and we can pretend to be tourists for a bit and show people around. We live in such a huge country there will always be something new to see and do. Can't beat that eh.

Monday, 29 July 2013

A lovely weekend of sightseeing and at last the elusive CDI

Dave finally has his C.D.I contract (Contract Duration Indeterminée)  see find info on cdi employment here for more info on this type of contract. This basically means he is no longer on a short term contract but a full time employee with all the legal cover that this implies. It is open ended with no finish date unlike his previous contracts which were all dated with specific days for the contract to end. They could of got rid of him at the end of the contract with no reprisals, which would of been scary for us living here. So celebrations where in order and we are really pleased. 

 This weekend just gone we have had a great time. We took a weekend off working as Dave has had really long work hours's holiday time for most people here in France and the kids are off school, Dave has been covering some of the other guys work while they are on their holidays, even having a 3 am start one morning. 3 Am to clean lorries in the dark, mad eh. So this weekend we decided that we would have some time off and have some tourist time. So we started on saturday with a "grosse matin" which is a lie in. The first one Dave has had in a couple of weeks. After that we went to a little village called Le Vanneau in the Marais  Poitevin  also known as Venice Verte (green venice). There was a floating market going on there, the market is held once a year and the traders are out on boats with visitors going out on the boats to make their purchases, see this Tourism website with loads of info. We arrived a bit late as this place is a hour away from us (arrived about 1.45pm) and they where all starting to pack up which was a pity. 

These allotments are down the side of the waterway at Le Vanneau, what a lovely place for allotments .

 So we did some more exploring and found a village called Arçais which was lovely.  It is based in the venise verte as well and has lots of waterways which where all off shots of the main tributary. Most of these waterways are covered by overhanging trees and the effect is beautiful. The village boasts a good camp site, restaurants and a brocante, all of which were worth a look around. Luckily we didn't have much money on us or I could of spent a fortune in the artisan craft shops and brocante.

On our way back home we found something that certainly put a smile on Dave's face, a chainsaw carving exhibition. We got there on the last day so most of the carvings where nearing completion. Here is a sample of them for you to see. 

The village at which this was held is called Le foussais it's really a medieval village with lots of historical places.

This plaque is so old I couldn't make out the coat of arms. any ideas?

We finished off saturday night with a bbq in the garden. Fidget decided he wanted to get in on the act. 

Sunday morning we nipped down to the market at Pescalis, this is a large farmers market that is help every Sunday morning in summer. We spent too much, as is usual at these things and bought some lovely Loire valley wine, home made goats cheese in 2 different strengths and some galla melons. The melons smelt amazing, they were at the perfect point of ripeness - yummy. Just need some bread and the perfect french picnic was made.

Sunday afternoon we took a ride out to le Rocher Branlant. A amazing place with giant and I mean giant granite stones all tumbled all over the place and in the river. The place is really pretty and you get dwarfed by the stones, it is really tranquil normally but we were attending a vide-grenier and the place was packed. There were literally hundreds of stalls. 

This carved stone is really funny, don;t know what the monical is made out of.

i managed to buy a old soda syphon which i have been after for ages. We have got gas cartridges and it came with a key and was working ok. But the key / charger  is a bit worn so I have ordered a new one of the internet.

We finished the day sat up the field in the having some of the wine that we bought and reading a book in the sun :)