23/03/2012

I suppose the first post in a blog should be an indication of what the blog is all about. That seems a fairly simple idea. However, sometimes it’s not that easy without going into lots of details, so I’ll summarize matters and just say that we had been trying to sell our house in the UK for over 8 months before it finally sold. My wife (hereafter called “LSS” for Long-Suffering-Spouse) is French, and her father (hereafter called the aged FIL for Father-In-Law) was living on a derelict farm in the middle of France.

His health had been deteriorating over the past year or so, and we had decided we would go and live on the property with him so that we could be of some help. However, I need to mention at this point that the aged FIL’s house is something which Dickens would have had no trouble recognising. The roof tends to leak when it rains, and the walls are not exactly what I would call solid. Apart from that, there are only four items worth mentioning. Although there is
(A) electricity and
(B) cold running water, the mod cons stop there. There’s no hot water unless you boil it yourself in a kettle on the gas stove. There’s no bathroom, but there is a
(C) hand-made concrete kitchen sink (this is where the cold tap water supply is, and is also where the washing-up is done). The
(D) lavatory is at the furthest end of the house, outside. It’s simply a hole in the ground, covered by a bench with a plastic toilet seat. It does have rough wooden walls and a corrugated iron roof. You don’t want to spend too much time in there, especially in winter, because it’s extremely draughty.

As regards personal hygiene, what’s that? If you want to wash, use (C) above.

The property itself is around 30 hectares in size. It’s shaped like a large letter “W”, with two houses, one at either end of the “W”, a kilometre apart from one another. They stopped farming here about a decade ago, and the land has been returning to its natural flora, namely mixed woodland. The soil isn’t much good for growing anything else, if I’m honest.

The house in which we were going to live is called “La Darnoire”. In the patois of the region, this literally translates as “La Terre Noire” or “the black earth”. Because it is. The house itself has been empty for some 30 years. There is an electricity supply. And a well. And that’s it. No bathroom. No telephone. No running water. It’s even more basic than the aged FIL’s house mentioned above. With a couple of small advantages though; the roof doesn’t leak, and the walls are more solid.

So we have lots to do in order to transform the living accommodation into something a bit more modern. We’d like to do this as ecologically as possible but using modern methods. However, the entire principle of the project is to renovate the property by using as little money as possible, for the simple reason that selling a house during a recession generally means the amount of money left over is extremely limited! And at the same time we intend to be as self-sufficient as we can be, growing our own food etc.

As far as earning a living, LSS is completely bilingual in French and English, so one plan of attack is in utilising these skills in translation, and assisting businesses that would be interested in opening branches in the UK. As for me, I have several websites which bring in a little income, and my second plan is to write a book about the renovation process.

Where was I? Oh yes, the house had finally sold. The aged FIL was in hospital, so we decided to start off by staying in his house until such time as we could make the other property livable – more on that later. We left the UK around lunchtime; myself on the ST1100 motorcycle, and LSS in her car with the cat as a travelling companion. We took it easy, stopping for a break every hour or so and using the back roads in order to avoid motorway tolls. We finally arrived at around 1 in the morning, and the only one who was not tired from the trip was the cat.

9 thoughts on “23/03/2012”

  1. Just found your blog and have started to read it. Like you, I’ve just bought a C19th house, but with less land (only about half an acre) but pretty much the same spec as yours – electricity, but everything on one circuit with one old fuse, no running water (sink? you lucky beggar, I dream about having a sink!), wood stoves for heating, outside toilet (no plastic seat though, but the wooden bench is nice enough). I’ve done the roof (reused old tiles, but changed all the battens and a couple of rafters), I’ve completely rewired it, and now I’ve started on the plumbing so I can at least have a shower indoors. Good luck with the project!

  2. Just finished reading the blog, great stuff!

    How did you get on with plastering with lime render/plaster? My place is also all lime and I need to fill the walls where I chased them out for the electrics. Can’t find a plasterer for love or money here (rural Transylvania) so I’ll probably end up having a go myself.

  3. The mix I used was lime:sand 1:5, I mixed the ingredients dry first until homogenous, then added water. You want the mix to be very slightly sloppy, but not too much (start with it slightly drier then add a bit more water until you get the consistency of double cream). Mix up only enough mixture to be usable in about half an hour. I used an empty 1 kilo plastic yoghurt pot to measure out the ingredients; I suggest you start with a 500ml container for your first batch. Mix it in a bucket if you don’t have a mortar trough. Spray the wall with water so it’s damp. Slap the render on the wall, press it firmly in place, and smooth it out, but don’t worry about small imperfections. Work from the bottom right (if you’re right-handed) or from the bottom left if you’re a southpaw! Once you’ve used up your render, leave it to dry for a couple of hours until it’s no longer soft. Then spray it again with water and using a float (metal ones leave a smoother surface than wooden ones), smooth the surface. You probably won’t get it right the first time so just do a small area. I found lime render much easier to use than cement plaster, it seems much more forgiving! I will do a page on the website about the technique I used, but haven’t had the time yet!

  4. Thanks V8! I am a southpaw actually. I’ll start with a few simple fill-in jobs and then there’s a room downstairs that I’m going to convert into a sort of kitchen/utility room (it’ll contain my ‘balloon’ once I’ve got the plumbing up and running) which needs more substantial plastering so I’ll have a go at that.

    What about painting with lime? Is that simply a lime powder and water mixture?

    1. Ah, good question. We’re a long way from painting the lime render yet, we’ve still got bricks showing in places! LSS will be in charge of the painting, and wants to use her own home-made paint consisting of milk, lime and some various other condiments (I believe olive oil will also play a part, and there could be some egg in it…)

      But you’re right, for ordinary whitewash, it’s just the lime powder mixed with water.

  5. Good stuff. I’ve got a lime concrete floor to do to. Originally I was going to go with regular concrete, not knowing you could do them from lime too, but from reading around, with these old buildings without DPCs lime is a much better option.

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