House update

The past week has flown by in a rather dusty haze as we began to clear the house prior to the real work of renovation.

Two tipper trucks of crap went to the dechetterie (rubbish tip) at Pouance and we’re beginning to see the rooms more clearly as parts of a blank canvas. The loft in particular seems certain to be converted to two large bedrooms (possibly one with an en suite), a good sized bathroom and a large landing with a nice view of the fields through the Velux that’s already there.

Getting the piles of rubbish down from the loft was a problem until Mrs Shark hit the idea of using a couple of lengths of board on the stairs and sliding the stuff down. She even had another brainwave when she put an old stool at the bottom to protect the wall by the stairs. However, a particularly heavy box of junk slid down and drove the stool through the plasterboard wall…ah well…

The wiring is a fucking nightmare with a dangerous mixture of French and English sockets and switches all linked together with English cable which is a definite no-no in France. Luckily we found lots of brand new French cable with flexible conduit in the barn.

We’re very lucky in that we already have a lot of materials on site. The previous owners started to renovate the place and then didn’t touch it for about 5 years but the boiler is new, all the radiators are there with pipe work and a lot of plasterboarding has been done. OK, so much of what’s been done by them will have to be ripped out and checked, but the materials can all be reused. We should save several thousand euros that way – enough for a brand new kitchen with change. There’s also masses of floor and wall tiles and lots of reusable oak beams and other timber in the barn.

The barn…

We’ve only just scratched the surface in there but already 4 mountain bikes, a petrol mower, a cement mixer, a table saw, a log saw, a windsurfing board, French doors, old shutters, brass fire furniture, a Belfast sink, a stable door, a pressure washer and garden furniture have come to light. In an old trunk amongst some old tools we found an iron statuette of the Virgin Mary. I’m not at all religious but I might construct a niche for this somewhere in the house. It may have been part of the history of the house and it would be nice to have the continuity.

In the course of tracing a leak in the plumbing we found an abandoned ‘lair’ in the roof space above the cave. It looks as if foiunes (stone martens) have been there and left lots of egg shells amongst the chewed up insulation so they’d been bothering the neighbours’ chickens. There was also a rather rank smell of fouine piss…

We’ve been planning out the kitchen this afternoon as it’ll be one of the first things to be done so we can can move in as soon as possible.

As soon as possible?

That’s probably about the end of January when we should have all the messy inside work done and will have most of the downstairs sorted.

It’s all very exciting!

Gently does it

One of the best gadgets I’ve ever bought is my iPod Classic. Its 160Gb capacity means that I’ve been able to leave all my CDs and other music media packed up, along with my main stereo. All I need for instant music here until we move permanently is contained on the iPod which I’ve hooked up to a Panasonic mini hi-fi.

I’ve got about 150Gb of audio on the iPod which gives me plenty of choice and just lately I’ve been listening to some audiobooks.

I’ve never been too fond of audiobooks but listening to them whilst I was laid up with a cold which turned into a sort of stomach flu last month was very enjoyable and I’ve continued to listen to them.

With such a huge capacity on the iPod it’s easy to overlook things but I’ve rediscovered some Douglas Adams audiobooks I put on there a couple of years ago on a whim.

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I have all five of the Hitchhiker books, read variously by Douglas Adams, Martin Freeman and Stephen Fry. I also have both Dirk Gently books read by the author.

I first heard ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ when it was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was OK, although I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit too clever-clever and perhaps tried too hard to be different.

However, I continued to listen to the broadcasts and after that the next two radio sequels and then the TV series. I even read the first three books.

After about 1982 I didn’t bother with Adams again until just recently, although I did buy the DVD set of the TV series and also borrowed the recent(ish) film from the library, although I found the latter to be an execrable piece of shit that should have never been made.

Being able to catch up, as it were, with Adams’ writings after the original trilogy I’m starting to really appreciate him again and a re-evaluation is now due.

From what I’ve heard of the last two Hitchhiker books (and also the two Dirk Gently novels), I reckon he got better and to me they seem to be a vast improvement over the original trilogy.

This might well be heresy to Hitchhiker fans, but his later novels seem to have benefited from concentrating more on character and plot and less on witty observations and all the fussy details when the Guide is quoted.

In short – more substance and less gimmick.

Arthur Dent becomes a far more rounded character and the passive, bumbling ingénue of the first three books develops into a far more realistic and assertive individual to whom one can relate more closely. The early Dent is a comic book character; the later one a comic novel character – a big and welcome difference.

This depth of characterisation extends to his Dirk Gently novels which were a real surprise to me. I thought they were excellent, with a wealth of references to all manner of things that piqued the intellect, plot lines which interwove in a labyrinthine way and, at times, some quite haunting descriptions of the ways in which the main characters’ minds worked.

Dirk Gently himself is an amazing invention. At times he seems to act as a deus ex machina facilitating intersecting twists and turns in the plots and subplots just when you think they can progress no further. The closest parallel I can think of is the character of Dr Who and so it was really no surprise to discover that Adams wrote the scripts for three series of the iconic TV show at around the same time that Hitchhiker got off the ground.

I’ve been reading more about the author himself and he was one of those people who was fortunate enough to be able to indulge his passions as part of his work. Interested in science, music, computers and the conservation of endangered species, Adams brought these all to bear on his work and they even became his work at times.

Adams’ life, before the phenomenon that Hitchhiker became, followed a pretty similar path to many of his peers’ – boarding school, Cambridge, BBC script writing; a bit of a cliche really. But Adams was much, much more than most of them, and, had he lived, then people like Stephen Fry might well have far fewer Twitter followers.

He was, if you like, what Stephen Fry thinks he is.    .   

Yes, Adams was a true Renaissance man for the technological late 20th century and, had he not died in 2001, would have been equally at home in the 21st.

To wrap this article up, here’s my favourite Adams quote:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?

Talking crap

Much of the time daily life here in France can be exactly the same as it is in the UK, but there are a few aspects that are totally different.

Take rubbish collection, for example.

We don’t have dustcarts visiting the house weekly or fortnightly. Instead, we take our black rubbish sacks to the local ‘poubelle’ which is a big wheelie-bin down the track you take to get to the hamlet here. 5 houses use it.

You could, in theory, stick all your household crap in the black bag and get rid of it all together but you’re encouraged to follow recycling advice – ‘le bon tri’. This is made very easy as you have three ‘banks’ within easy reach of your house into which you put recyclable rubbish – glass, plastic, cartons, etc.

And hoo-fucking-rah! No fucking blue, red, green or polka dot boxes that you have to sort your crap into.

It’s easy and convenient and – most importantly – it’s up to you what you do. I really can’t see the day when anybody here will suggest sticking a chip in your bin to monitor your rubbish and then billing you for making too much of it.

People would probably torch their bins to make their opinion absolutely clear if that happened…

Another way in which life here really departs from the norm in the UK is how you get post.

Each house has its own lockable post box which you have to fix to the outer perimeter of your property. You can see the advantages when you consider the fact that many deliveries are in sparsely-populated rural areas. Our postman delivers by van and he’s a very nice guy. In areas such as round here he’s a useful source of news and advice and he also keeps an eye out for the welfare of people in isolated properties.

We had to buy a new post box as the one with our new house was unlockable as some twat had broken the key off in the keyhole.

One trip to the local Bricomarche, three holes and three screws later, et voila!

A new post box!

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Merde, that fucking wall took some drilling into…but then again, it is solid stone.

We also spent a fair amount of time looking through what the previous owners left behind. There’s a lot of crap, but there’s also some good stuff which I’m taking back to the UK to sell some time. Under French law, you buy property ‘as seen’ so whatever’s there when you sign for it is yours – or not, if the vendors clear it completely.

In our case, we have lots of items of furniture – some antique – which we’re going to refinish and keep – or sell – brand new bench grinder, exterior lights and ceiling fan, shower fittings, sinks, loads of power tools, a silver pocket watch with chain and a Range Rover.

Yes, a Range Rover – which we’ll sell for spares.

But there’s more – much more.

Tomorrow will be spent carrying on clearing out the crap, although I think there’s going to a lot left for a few more days.

Ah well, no rush!

What a long strange trip…

…it’s been.

After being over here in France for 8 months, and with an initial completion date of 31st August, we’ve finally signed and the house at St Erblon is all ours – lock, stock and fucking barrel.

I wouldn’t say it’s been an easy process, although, from our side of things as cash purchasers with no chain, it should have been. One – if not both – of the vendors has quite frankly been a cunt, but as the story is a long one and I’m a tad pissed, the full account is something I’ll have to save for another day…

…but it will be told,

It’s been – as they say – a fucking emotional rollercoaster…

We signed with the notaire at about 4pm today, went over to the house and changed the locks and then sorted out changing the billing for electricity and water with the help of our estate agent.

We then came home and sank a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with our French neighbours.

Now we’re in for the night after pizza and a bottle of cheap Sauvignon Blanc feeling that we’ve finally reached the start of what we really came over here for.

Various tradesmen are booked for the next couple of weeks as we get estimates for work to get the house at St Erblon the way we want it.

The real French experience starts here…

Birdwatching v Twitching

The wildlife here continues to come up with some lovely surprises.

We’ve had jays in the garden. I’ve seen them before in the UK, but always in flight and from some distance away. However, the other day we saw one in the cherry tree and then later on another one (although it may have been the same bird) down on the lawn obviously after insects or worms amongst the grass.

They’re fantastic birds with a brilliant blue flash on their wings that seems almost neon-like.

Yesterday we had this handsome creature down on the lawn:

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Not a great photo, admittedly, but it was taken using the Lumix’s 10x zoom without a tripod through the window (and afterwards cropped and enlarged) as I didn’t want to spook this green woodpecker like I did the other day with the jay.  (Otherwise I’d have a shot of that too.)

Meanwhile, birds of prey seem to be more evident now that it’s autumn. If we don’t see buzzards and at least one kestrel when we drive though the countryside it’s quite unusual.

Talking of birds, we watched a program about twitchers on BBC4 the other night. Twitchers are birdwatchers who approach their hobby in a manner akin to trainspotting. It’s all about seeing as many birds of different breeds as possible and then getting ranked in a sort of league table. It’s a very serious hobby indeed and expensive too as if you’re a serious twitcher and you hear about a rare winter visitor 400 miles away, you’ll drop everything and hare off to see it, regardless of cost.

Not so much people who watch birds, really, but people who see and then record them.

The UK’s top twitcher seems to have set himself up as regulator of the whole UK twitching scene. For some reason, his fellow twitchers kowtow to him in a sickening way. Offend him, apparently, and you’re completely fucked as far the twitching scene is concerned. God knows why, as he struck me as a total areshole who had a very high opinion of himself for no discernible reason. 

Equally unedifying was the married couple who took their 8-year old daughter twitching. Although the kid had some interest in birds, it was hardly surprising when she appeared to lose this after she’d been hanging around in a cold and windy field for 4 hours whilst mum and dad waited to see a particular bird.

Another twitcher had driven fucking miles before catching a ferry to Ireland to chalk up another species for his list. He ended up missing the bird, but rather than go and look at some birds whilst he was there, he chose to sit in a bar and drink beer. Now, beer’s great and sitting in a bar drinking it is a pleasant thing to do, but it says a lot about his attitude towards birds that he only seemed interested in seeing a new one. This same twitcher was particularly well-organised with all the items he’d purchased for his hobby meticulously recorded in a little book. It bordered on OCD…

OK, it’s a harmless hobby compared to some, but it just strikes me as a shame that those involved in it seem more interested in ticking off the names of birds rather than marvelling at their beauty.

And speaking of beauty, here’s a photo of part of the barn wall here:

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Autumn – summed up in a few square feet…