Sunday, 6 December 2020

Corrèze in confinement

Just two weeks after writing my last post France went into confinement for the second time, scheduled to last for the month of November. Only essential shops and services were open and once again we were limited to one hour a day exercise and no more than a kilometre from home. It's fair to say we found it harder than the first one. In March there was an optimism, summer round the corner and the fact that many of these types of virus tend to peter out during warm weather. Covid-19 is more tenacious than most and it didn't disappear.

The view from the barn is ever changing

We have been blessed with some beautiful weather though. Crisp days with bountiful sunshine and hardly any rain. We were also allowed to travel in a car together and unlike first time round the DIY shops were deemed as essential so we could get supplies. The focus on the restoration has been on plumbing (Andrew) and window renovation (me). We both despair of the T.V programmes where everything seems to get done in a couple of months, in reality it's not like that. True we don't put in 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week but most days we are doing something renovation related. I think it's just that the scale of this project is really quite large. When we bought the Old Notaires House it was really a first floor 3 bedroom apartment with one bathroom, minuscule kitchen with an entrance hall, summer kitchen (room with carpet up the walls & a sink!) and offices on the ground floor. We've knocked the four offices into two large spaces which will become the kitchen and our suite (a.k.a. the servants quarters), the garage will also house a utility area and loo with the summer kitchen becoming a guest dining room. Upstairs two bedrooms have been combined to make one large bedroom with bathroom and a second bedroom has been fashioned from the old kitchen, a corridor and a loo. The third bedroom has had its entrance changed and the old bathroom (which was bigger than the kitchen) has become two en-suites. And we've managed to squeeze an office in too. So when I say Andrew is re-doing the plumbing it's not a case of simply replacing the pipes and a new shower.

The only loo is rather exposed at the moment

One of the joys of renovating an old house is being able to re-use original items. I'm working in the entrance hall at the moment which is the oldest part of the house, originally two rooms downstairs and we think one upstairs. It has two windows but we think one opening is newer than the other as they both have different fittings. I spent a happy few hours getting the layers of old paint and varnish off, then polishing with my trusty Dremel before a light wax. We really love the slightly industrial feel the polished steel has.


Once again we explored footpaths around our village to give us more variety of walks but it was a relief when President Macron said that we could exercise for three hours a day and up to 20 kilometres from home. We bundled Mortimer into the car and headed for one of our favourite destinations - Château de Sédières.  It's such a beautiful place to walk and it was a perfect autumn day.

Château de Sédières

We've been taking quite a lot of time with planning too. Although I had done concept boards for the bedrooms, I hadn't for the kitchen neither had I actually selected specific paint colours for rooms. I needed to get this sorted as radiators off walls gives me an ideal opportunity to paint behind them. A lot of negatives things are said about French paint but I do like Leroy Merlin's own brand Luxens and I've also just discovered that Liberon do a wall paint which is very similar to Farrow & Ball. Colours here can be quite, how can I say, primary and I want some subtlety so I ordered a RAL colour swatch so I can get some paint mixed. RAL is a European colour match system and at most paint mixing outlets you can specify one of the unique number and know that the colour is true. This system is so common in France that you will see a lot of pre-mixed paint tins with a RAL number alongside the colour names.

Kitchen concept board

My RAL swatches

Despite social media being full of images of people's Christmas decorations I have resisted being early. I just can't do it in November but will probably be a little earlier than my usual mid-December. I've also had to wait for the non-essential shops to open (particularly Emmaüs) as my Christmas decorations are buried somewhere under packing cases and it's too much effort to hunt them down. Inspired by an on-line video workshop I did on the subject of 'A winter table' I may take the opportunity of going for a more natural look this year. Watch this space!

Christmas is now just three weeks off and we will give ourselves a break from physical work for a week, that's not to say we won't be doing something. I need to re-cap on furniture requirements and we really need to nail the kitchen plans down and maybe even order it. I'm really hoping that we can see friends properly instead of doorstep conversations and chance dog-walking meets, after all we have a very large Christmas cake to share. Oh and I'm doing another online workshop this weekend baking two sorts of Italian biscuits. It's one where we bake as the we go but I'm definitely going to turn the camera off, no-one deserves to see the mess I'll be making!

I'm really hoping to show you some lovely progress shots soon but meanwhile if you would like to see what life in France is really like then feel free to follow/friend us here on FaceBook or on Instagram

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

Hot chocolatey mornings

"It's the first day of autumn! A time of hot chocolatey mornings, and toasty marshmallow evenings, and, best of all, leaping into leaves!"*

Okay so there aren't many dropped leaves yet, they're not even really turning red. You can see a change in the colour on some trees but I think we're still a couple of weeks off. Finally after a very dry summer we have had a reasonable amount of rain, enough for mushrooms and fungi to spring up everywhere. The weather has been cooler, much to the relief of Mortimer who can once again enjoy longer walks.

Our evenings are getting chillier now so we've had the pellet stove going. Across the two houses we have three, no four, types of heating. The main house has oil fired central heating and a log burner whilst the barn has the pellet stove and some electric underfloor heating in the two en-suites. Much as I love the romance of the log burner I really appreciate the cleanliness, efficiency and speed of the pellet stove. I come upstairs in the morning, press a button and it starts instantly. By the time I've showered and am back upstairs for breakfast everything is toasty. Our local Gamm Vert had an offer on the pellets at the end of the summer which we arranged for delivery last week. Because the store is in the village the guy trundled them down to us on his little forklift and helped us unload them into the sous-sol. Such great service!

We came back from holiday with renewed energy for the renovations. I finally finished the pointing in the entrance hall and Andrew completed the re-wiring. Last Monday was crunch time as our electrician came to install the main board. It took him most of the day to connect it all but he did it and there were no errors. Andrew was particularly pleased when the earth rod registered 84  (apparently this is very good) The re-wiring has been such a huge job, so many decisions had to be made as to the position of sockets, switches and lights. Some of the rooms didn't even have all the walls so Andrew had to build these too. I can't begin to tell you the admiration I have for him. By the time we reached Monday evening we both felt de-mob happy.

We decided that we would spend the rest of the week doing some long overdue planning, well apart from a celebratory lunch. The electrical work has been such a huge part of the renovation project that we hadn't really set a structure as to the next stage  I'd already started the window renovations but that is slightly weather dependent. The next big job is plumbing but fortunately this can be broken down into more manageable mini-projects. We started by reassessing two of the en-suites and have made a couple of tweaks that will improve them. I've spent time researching bathroom fittings and orders have been placed for showers and basins, and my oh my do we have some fancy basins! 

Currently the house hot water is supplied by the oil heating system but that only had to do one bathroom and two sinks (kitchen & laundry). Once we've finished we will have a kitchen & separate utility, four showers, one bath and five basins. Not only would the boiler not produce enough for all of this but oil is a very expensive option in France so we are fitting two electric heaters known as 'ballons'. The en-suite with the bath is at the far end of the house so Andrew has decided it can have it's own. Siting of this has been a bit of an issue but, because we've had time to think properly, Andrew has come up with a cunning plan which actually improves three rooms.

This week we've got back to physical work again with Andrew tackling the two ensuites over the garage. We'd decided to give them both underfloor heating but the floor level (I use the term level very loosely!) was causing quite a headache. It's oak floorboards straight onto the joists, beautiful but so irregular and impossible to tile over. The decision was made to take these up, they will be re-purposed, and then lay a new base to take the heating mat and tiles. Another advantage to this is we can stuff insulation under the floors. Sounds like a simple plan but as with all old houses it's not proving to be quite so straightforward, at one point I was levering a wall up so that Andrew could add extra joist supports.

Yes that is the garage below

I'm back on window duty which gives me more time to think about the room designs as it's a fairly mind freeing job. I'm still on the hunt for vintage lighting as my needs seem to grow. I worked out we have a total of 17 rooms that need lights. Now a couple of them are just loos (although one of these will sport a chandelier) while others are more complicated, I think the sitting room has three separate lighting circuits plus there will be floor lamps. I'm doing quite well at the moment though with another chandelier and a pair of fancy wall lights added to my stash.

Of course autumn life hasn't been ignored. Our menu has changed, my new (old) oven dish has proved perfect for roasting vegetables. Soups have replaced salads and Andrew has already had one duck confit making session (it's the season for inexpensive duck in France). I have some figs that need to be made into jam and am even beginning to think about the Christmas cake.

So that's it, I think we're all up to date now. As always you can follow/friend us on Facebook or if you just want the pretty photographs then we're here on Instagram.

*Winnie the Pooh - Pooh's Grand Adventure

Sunday, 6 September 2020

August notes

August ended with a feeling of comfort for me. I dislike the phrase 'a comfortable life', it has a touch of middle-class smugness. 'The children have marvellous careers, there's a decent car in the garage, pensions are doing really quite nicely thank you and a cheeky little Merlot is ready for Sunday lunch'. It's hard to explain but I realised how much contentment life in Corrèze gives me and how comfortable it fits with me. I didn't realise quite how much until we returned from holiday last weekend.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. August was always going to be a busy month. Work on the house progressed well, Andrew thinks he is still on schedule for his electrics deadline at the beginning of October. It's not just a question of pulling cables (so far 2.5 kilometres), sockets are needed in walls that don't exist and so they have to be built. If it's lighting, he needs to know exactly what type of lights, for example the chandeliers need special fixings. I know I am boringly repetitive but I genuinely don't know how he holds all the information in his head.

I was a little frustrated as I wanted to get the pointing finished in the entrance hall before friends came to stay but I didn't quite make it. I have returned from holiday with new enthusiasm and I've nearly done, maybe another 6 or 7 days to complete the walls and under the stairs. I really enjoy doing it but it would be nice to move on to something new, I think I'll be back to painting duty, windows and radiators maybe? As you can see the original windows are in a bit of a state (toy horses Andrew found under the floorboards so I thought I'd get a bit arty!)

The windows really do need more than a lick of paint!

August is the month that my oldest friend and myself have birthdays and we try to get together to share celebrations. This year was a significant one for both of us and, despite Covid and the threat of quarantine (which did happen), she and her husband drove over from England for a visit. Although they were not here nearly long enough we managed to do some sightseeing, a trip to Emmaüs and some great meals. I was really grateful that they made it and hope it will be for longer next time.

My original birthday plan was to celebrate at home with friends and then a family holiday at the beginning of September to Italy. Understandably family were concerned about flying and so the trip was cancelled. We were always going to drive so for us it wasn't an issue. We found alternative accommodation and decided to spend my birthday in Lake Como instead of Corrèze. We broke the outward journey with an overnight stay in Chambéry (I certainly want to go back) and so had time to take the mountain pass instead of the tunnel. The views were spectacular and I would certainly recommend it.

Lac du Mont-Cenis
We've visited Bellagio previously so didn't feel the need to rush about doing a load of sightseeing, it wasn't what this holiday was about.  We went to markets, spent a lot of time reading and just chilling. I don't think we realised quite how much we needed a break from work but we did know that we needed to try and switch off for a week. We didn't even have to get up early to dog walk as Mortimer stayed in Corrèze being looked after by kind friends, so nice not to have to worry about him.

Morning view
We did the return journey in a day, it's about a 8.5 hour drive for us, and went straight to friends to collect Mortimer. I'm not sure he'd even noticed that we'd gone! He'd been taken to the lake for walks and swimming sessions, had been groomed everyday and looked a very happy dog. We took an extra day off, the journey had been quite tiring, and then of course the usual unpacking, sorting and washing to do. It was on the Monday evening as I walked Mortimer through town that I realised how comfortable I feel living here, Corrèze suits me. The ancient walls cocoon you, I could hear families chatting as they prepared the evening meal and there was the odd snatch of music. Children were playing outside and I got a "bonsoir Madame" as I walked past.  It's a beautiful place but not Disney polished, people are friendly (we can tell who are the  holiday makers as they rarely say 'bonjour'). It's not what I do, or what I look like, it's how I am and how I treat people that's important here. It was a lovely holiday but coming home is like putting on a favourite jumper. I'm happy here.

Our holiday was exactly what we needed and we've started back on the renovations with a new vigour. It has helped that the weather has been perfect, blue skies and not too hot at 22 - 26 degrees. Nights are cooler and I have been able to put the summer duvet back on the bed instead of just a linen sheet. We know that we have a lot of work to do over the next few months but we're enjoying it again.

If you would like to know more about daily life at the Notaires House then feel free to join us here on Facebook or if you just want the photographs then you can find us on Instagram

It's good to be home

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Corrèze in confinement

Just two weeks after writing my last post France went into confinement for the second time, scheduled to last for the month of November. Onl...