The trials and tribulations of dragging a neglected nineteenth-century French farmhouse into the twenty-first century; preferably in an ecologically-sound manner, but first and foremost, as cheaply as possible!
We were up early as usual, which was just as well because at 06h45 the aged FIL pushed his alarm button. The control centre telephoned us, and reported that he had fallen. When we got there we found that this was not the case; he was still in bed. But he had pushed his button because nobody had arrived to give him breakfast. LSS retorted that it was not even seven o’clock yet, and the helper was only due at eight!
The aged FIL is becoming more and more confused regarding the time of day (which is not surprising as he sleeps most of the time). Although he has a bedside clock and a wristwatch, he last had an eye-test around twenty years ago, and we suspect his current spectacles are not up to the job. However, the most difficult thing lies in understanding him; not only does he have a strong local accent but these days he is pretty much mumbling. So we think that the control centre was unable to understand him properly, and presumed he had fallen over.
I trimmed a couple of oak tree branches which had been getting in the way of the tractor, and brought the wood back to join the pile waiting to be transformed into logs. In the late afternoon we bought another four hens as planned. In the evening we found that three of them had roosted quite happily inside with the others; the fourth had roosted rather forlornly on its own, on a small log in the middle of the pen. We picked that one up and manually put it on the roost.
Today I cut some more wood at the aged FIL. EDF were in the area last month and had pruned the trees which were too close to the electricity lines; but they had just shoved the branches into the hedge. Some of these were a good 20 cm in diameter, so I took the chainsaw with me and was able to extract a carload of wood. Woodshed number 2 is now nearly full.
We have separated our bunnies; we have 6 females and 4 males. (We think. If we’ve made a mistake we’ll know soon enough if they start chasing each other around the cage).
Our neighbour T&M came around in the afternoon wanting to use the aged FIL’s grain crusher for his next batch of beer. He has decided to attempt malting his own barley (he was given a bucketful of barley for free by a nearby farmer). He was puzzling over a method of drying it out after it had germinated, so I suggested he borrow our food dehydrator, and he was delighted.
Today I visited the doctor. In France, once you turn 50, the Health Service sends you a letter advising you to visit your doctor. The purpose of this visit is to obtain a thing called a Hemoccult. In essence, it’s a test to diagnose and prevent colon cancer. One needs to collect small samples of one’s daily …er… bowel movements (for three days) and then send them off in a special envelope to the laboratory. Bizarre, I know, sending something like that through the post. I can only hope there’s more reliability for this than I’ve experienced when sending a copy of my book abroad (it sometimes gets lost, so I’m now trialling sending it direct from the UK printers).
The advantage in France, of course, is that these tests are free; one simply pays for the doctor’s consultation (and is then refunded 70% of this cost). In the UK I had been informed that if I wanted to be tested, it would have to have been done privately, at a cost of around £1500.
The doctor asked if there was any history of cancer in my family, to which I replied in the affirmative, saying that I had unfortunately lost my brother in 2005 (he was only 59). I was immediately referred to a clinic in Romorantin, where I’ll need to make an appointment for a colonoscopy. Oh joy.
We had no luck finding any suitable fencing material at the aged FIL’s farm, so I’ve ordered a 50-metre length of plastic netting online.
It was a fairly lazy day today, and was quite enjoyable until about 18h30. The hens had been let out at around 18h00 (for the third day running). We were outside chatting to T&M who had dropped in to bring us a box of plums from T’s grandmother’s orchard. (These are going to be fermented to make some …er… wine. Making anything stronger than that would, of course, be illegal.)
We noticed a family of tourists on bicycles approaching, with a dog.
The next thing we knew was that the dog (some sort of Chow cross) had disappeared into the wooded area across from the farmhouse, and there was suddenly a tremendous amount of squawking from the hens (we didn’t know they were in that particular area). LSS shouted at the chap that the dog was after our hens; he got off his bicycle and called for the dog – initially without much success. Eventually it obeyed and reappeared, he put it on its lead, and said he’d be back this way later. After a lot of calling and rattling of the food bucket we finally managed to get the hens to come home.
But a swift leg-count (divided by two) revealed that there were only six. I went to look in the area where the dog had disappeared, and found that it had killed one; one of the youngest. LSS was beside herself with anger. About twenty minutes later the cyclists reappeared, and a flood of French invective was poured onto the head of the hapless dog-owner. I suspect they were Dutch, as the chap switched into English as soon as LSS turned to me to discuss a suitable solution.
He offered to pay for the hen, and said he would return with the money shortly. To his credit, that is what he did. I suspect this event spoiled his day as much as it did ours. This is the problem nowadays; people just don’t think. “Ooh, countryside with farmhouses. The dog can roam free here; there’s no traffic.” The thing is, if this event had happened at a neighbouring farm, a shotgun would have been employed, and the tourists would have gone home sans dog.
So we’re now down to six hens; and as we have several people wanting to buy eggs, we have decided to get another four. We will also devise some means of letting them out of their pen without the risk of them straying too far; we’ll have a look if there is any temporary fencing material we can find at the aged FIL’s farm, and construct a larger (movable) run for them.
I have now finished the electrical work in the bedroom. It’s a novel experience, to be able to find a light-switch next to the door, press it, and be rewarded by illumination! Up until now, we’ve had to go in in the dark, and switch on one of the two bedside lights. I’ve also installed another plug point, so we no longer have an extension lead trailing across the floor (to power the bedside lights!)
The completion of wiring in this room means that I can now commence the building of a partition wall, prior to breaking through into the barn. Who knows; by winter-time we may even have an indoor bathroom…
We’ve decided to start letting the hens out for a couple of hours before dark. Their egg-laying has steadily decreased since we stopped them free-ranging; some research indicated that it could be due to decreased variety in their diet. Well it’s not surprising; they have eaten practically all the insects and earthworms which were around in their pen.
We’ve been able to test the shower; obviously I have not yet rendered the walls, but that will be done before long. It’s the first “mains-connected” shower that this property has had! Obviously it’s mainly for summer use; due to the design of the thermal store, if you turn the hot water on full, it travels through the tank far too quickly to pick up much heat, so you have a cool-to-tepid shower. If you settle for a slower flow of water, you can have a very hot shower. It takes a bit of getting used to; one has to alter one’s habits slightly to suit the technology. But it’s no hardship when you remember that the water has been heated free of charge by the sun!
Last night we had another thunderstorm with the inevitable result that everything is soaked. I have now finished the soldering on the pipework, and the shower is now connected up with the exception of the two main feeds. I needed to switch the water off at the mains in order to connect these, but decided to wait until LSS was out of the house giving an English lesson before I did this. Past experience of this sort of thing means that if I need to do something like switching off the electricity or water, nine times out of ten that’s exactly the time that these utilities are needed.
I’ve also finished constructing a horse-fly trap using a children’s beach ball painted black, two plastic soft-drink bottles, a plastic bag, a piece of fishing line, and a pvc pipe. It’s been installed between the garden and the pond, and is already catching victims.
Some complicated plumbing work took place today. You see, last year we were given an old wall-mounted shower by T&M (his uncle was changing his bathroom and throwing away the old equipment). The problem was that the uncle had managed to lose the main control knob, so the shower was, in essence, useless. I kept the original shower head and the fibreglass panel, and purchased a cheap mixer tap from Ebay. By soldering a brass connector to the mixer tap, and by using some hosepipe connectors I had managed to successfully get the shower working. However, as the shower itself is now mounted on the wall, the mixer tap needed to be fixed more robustly to the fibreglass rather than using the friction effect of the previous rubber hosepipe. To cut a long story short, I was able to re-use some 1/2″ plumbing fittings from a box of sundry oddments discovered in the recesses of the aged FIL’s workshop, and the mixer tap is now securely anchored to the fibreglass shower panel.
It was, perhaps surprisingly, another sunny day, and LSS was rubbing her hands together at the thought of doing some more uninterrupted gardening. Well. The best-laid schemes of mice and men, as Robert Burns said, oft go awry…
When we collected our €20 wardrobe last month, one of the chaps who assisted in loading it onto the trailer turned out to be an avid naturalist. (No, there’s an “A” and an “L” in there, which means he likes wildlife, not walking around without any clothes). We happened to mention that the pond had had a visit from a fish eagle (Pandion haliaetus); and a black-crowned night heron had become a fairly frequent visitor. He was exceedingly interested, and said if we didn’t mind, he’d pay us a visit to see our pond and its environment. Today was the day he had selected for the visit. So I’m afraid LSS’s gardening did not progress as far as she would have liked.
There were some spectacular natural fireworks during the evening; there was a thunderstorm.
On the work front, I have been joining more copper pipes together. We should now have all the fittings necessary for the plumbing for the impending bathroom. I will use some temporary pipework to take water across the barn to the external shower.
Speaking of which, the shower tray has now been installed. I laid the waste-pipe in a bed of cement, and then using my new concrete mixer, cast a concrete slab around the drain. Hopefully I have the slope correct; my spirit level indicates that this is the case, but only time will tell!
Due to it being the holiday season, LSS has fewer teaching lessons these days, and there are some days when she has no lessons at all. Ideal for working in the garden, you’d think. Except for the fact that the lack of lessons seems to coincide with an increase in rain. However, yesterday was a nice sunny day. “Finally!” LSS exclaimed. “I can catch up with some long-neglected tasks in the garden, like digging up some potatoes, and weeding.” But as luck would have it, a villager drove past and stopped for a chat. He’s a champion gossip, and as LSS is no slouch at talking either, three hours went by fairly quickly. She managed to harvest one row of potatoes before dinner though. We took advantage of the break in the weather to have a barbecue.
We took a couple of days off to visit a friend in Tours. T&M kindly agreed to look after the hens, rabbits, and cat whilst we were away.
As expected, we didn’t sleep much. The friend lives opposite the cathedral in the town centre. There are lots of pubs, bars and clubs in the area, which means from midnight onwards there are drunks arguing or fighting in the street, people walking home talking loudly, and ambulances arriving at the nearby hospital with sirens wailing. Then at around 5 a.m. the street-sweeping vehicles start their waltz; brushes cleaning the gutters like the hems of twirling dresses. This is followed by the dustbin men starting their rounds, and then the general population starts to emerge, blinking, yawning, and calling out its morning greetings for the start of a new day. Now that we live in the peace and quiet of the countryside, we’ve come to realise we can never go back to living in a town.
Mind you, we saw a spectacular 14th-of-July fireworks display on the banks of the Loire river, which lasted for a solid 25 minutes.