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Coup de Cœur – Part Nine: And don’t be afraid of the dark

An occasional series chronicling the tale of the restoration of a former medieval watch-tower in southern France …..

It is Monday and the observant among you will note that I have missed two Monday’s in my quest to populate each start of the week day with posts about Marcolès.  The gloaters will be congratulating themselves that I had entirely misjudged the calendar.  In my world there are no excuses but I do allow reasons.  Simply put, the first of the missed Mondays was Christmas Day and, to be entirely frank, I rather thought that you might be otherwise occupied in your own  frenzy of something or other.  It happens I was engaged with my own Christmas thing and if you behave reasonably decorously, I might even share the detail.  I fully intended, however, to start the year with a zip bang boom and publish Part Nine on New Year’s Day.  Things, however, reasons indeed can occur with quite breathtaking force and this year, last year as it is now, that is exactly what happened.

My friend John let me know.   Our mutual friend, who some of you will have known as ‘Pan’ was  found dead on 30th December where she had been lying for two full days with her faithful dog Stewie next to her in a motel room in Maine.  I broke down in selfish, desperate, angry tears.  I cannot do better than John’s tribute to her, nor the words later written by my friend Embeecee so I am not going to write a tribute to one of the smartest, sweetest, kindest, most genuine, faithful, loyal friends I will ever have. I was humbled by her lifestyle.  She drove a huge truck  wherein her company had modified the tractor so that she had a tiny weeny kitchen in which she created real food and she lived, when not in the cab of her lorry off-grid in the farthest reaches of Maine and was building what she dubbed her ‘She Shed’ with her own bare hands.  She was nothing short of inspirational and should have been a mascot for the millennial trendies who, rightly tout all sorts of ways that we can improve the impact we have on this increasingly throttled and tattered planet of ours.  The fact that her footprint or at least her tyre-tracks were mighty was a result of delivering all the stuff that those same entitled, possibly deluded but at least affecting responsible folks needed, wanted, in all weathers, in all conditions and mostly not  kind, spoke volumes to me of whom she was.  We can and should have feminist icons but the real heroines are just quietly getting on with what is needed and topping it off with a smile.  That was Linda.   So I will not write a tribute, no.  Instead I dedicate not just this episode but every single one in the series past and future to the memory of a woman gone wholly too soon, who had no idea just how rare a mind she was, who was generous to beyond a  fault, who was modest and self-depracating who was wise and who gently councelled me as the big sister I never had.  Ridiculously and genuinely modest, she was far more concerned with the welfare of those she cared for than for herself.  We met over a blackberry cream scone that she had invented.  Blackberry will always be my go-to taste of all that is good in humankind hereafter.   She had set herself to help with another project I have upcoming.  Her reason for offering was so that my husband and I would have more time together.  Selfless?  She defined it.  We fully intended to surpise her with a visit to Marcolès when it is finished.  Her life finished too soon … sometimes I get pretty damned fed up and find it ridiculously difficult if not impossible to find the purpose in the way things are.

One of the last comments she left on this series (Part Seven actually) contained the words ‘you know your photos are art, right?’  They actually aren’t – I come from the little lauded myopic point and shoot school of photography.  But.  She had an idea that I could produce a book of my pictures and words which the  tourist industry of Cantal could use to promote the area.  There she was again – always thinking of the other person, people, never considering herself.  So I think that a walk round the village and it’s surrounds is the best homage I could pay to her memory.

Here is Linda’s  Marcolèsian walk crafted with great love and an aching heart.  There are no pictures of our house and there is no commentary – you can make it up yourself as she would have, rather let’s just stroll the place that she would have seen when she graced Marcolès with her extraordinarily unassuming presence.

PS – because there is always a PS and Linda would be disappinted if I omitted it …. the title is from a song.  A song that was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein for their œuvre ‘Carousel’.  But the relevance is that Gerry and The Pacemakers recorded ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ in the early sixties.  Gerry and his P’s were from Liverpool, the song became the anthem of Liverpool through thick and thin – it is sung jubilantly at football matches and desperately in times of strife.  HB² (my husband) is Scouse (from Liverpool) and Linda, a woman who researched and upturned every fact that she could about just about anything, was delighted that he came from the land of the Merseybeat.  She got to know what he does for a living through our friendship and her own independent research and was questioning of articles she found in the press as a result.  That was the way she was.  Intelligent and inquiring, she instinctively researched and in fact held  many theories that my husband adheres to.  She would tell you she was not particularly bright.  I would argue she was among the most brilliant stars that have graced my galaxy.  And that of my fêted husband. And, here’s the thing, he agrees.  This song, written to illustrate the moment of moving on from this earth to another place seems highly appropriate.  Walk on, Linda, walk on, with hope in  your heart – I know I will never walk alone because you were, and are my friend, my true true friend.

The featured image for this post, was her favourite of all I ever posted about this place that would have adored her and I wish she was here to make it so.

You’ll Never Walk Alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone

Oscar Hammerstein/Richard Rodgers

Coup de Cœur – Part Six: Do you see what I see?

An occasional series chronicling the tale of the renovation of a former medieval watch-tower in southern France …..

The previous owner of the house was a photographer of some talent.  He could make the silkiest purse out of a lady pigs ear, of this I am certain.  When we looked at his wonderful images on the numerous websites that carried Maison Carrée to her adoring public eager to stay for a few days and sample the delights of his culinary skill as well as the comfortable and welcoming interior she offered, we never once worried about wall coverings.  Downstairs was pristine white and upstairs had some sort of nice neutrally wallpaper.  When we arrived to view what turned out to be the Wreck of the Hesperus, one of the stand-out moments was the realisation of what that nice neutrally  wallpaper actually was.  Not wallpaper in fact.  Not fabric.  Nothing so outré for our Monsieur.  Nay, nay and thrice I say nay … he’d gone a whole new road – a positive Route Nationale, a Motorway, an Interstate Highway.  I can imagine the sprightly conversation he had with himself inside his head:

‘What shall I cover the upstairs walls with?’ 

‘How about floor, old chap ..?’

‘You genius!  Floor!  Of course – floor is the way forward for these walls.  And shall we perchance wallpaper the floor?’

‘Don’t be ridiculous.  Obviously not.  That is an absurd notion’. 

And so it was.  Laminate clip together floor.  But not just any laminate clip-together floor.  Oh no!  This was laminate clip-together bargain basement, below economy starter range floor.  The floor that the salesman guides you too first before pointing out that absolutely anything at all that you choose from here will be better, even spending tuppence halfpenny more and thus securing himself an extra portion of fries on the commission he earns.  That sort of laminate clip-together floor.  And it had been slathered all over the walls.  Look closely at the top picture …. do you see what I see?

 

 

 

 

Having done as bidden by the kind M. Terminateur so that his crew could busy themselves ridding our roof of those pesky vrillettes we occupied ourselves as best we could, whenever we could (remember it’s a four hour round trip from North West to South West tip of le Cantal on winding backroads descending and scaling deep gorges and negotiating tight épingles (épingles de cheveux being hairpins) and though I am presently living in the land of mahusive distances and ludicrously cheap fuel, I honestly think it’s a stretch  for a daily commute that you aren’t getting paid for.  I was polishing the staircase for entertainment one day when there was a thunderous crack followed by a thud, and a whisper later, a riotous crash.  I dropped my bottle of special wood oil and rushed up the stairs (killing the chances of the oil drying to a gratifying sheen in the process) to find HB² looking frankly irritatingly smug.  He had taken a crowbar and jemmied a generous sliver of the offending floor from the wall and underneath looked rather  interesting.

 

 

 

 

He proceeded to slice his way through both the front bedrooms and the back one – the one with it’s cleverly placed shower delivering to a spontaneous auditorium at the back of the house for the ladies of the village, should he decide to give of his famed full frontal peep show once more.  I’m considering selling tickets if we get desperate enough that we need extra funds.  By lunchtime the walls were fully delaminated and revealing the secrets of their pre-veneered days.  My nerves were in shreds because this stuff was razor sharp and entirely rigid.  Two Brains clearly should have been wearing a helmet but instead favoured an interesting series of movements that echoed accurately St Vitus Dance to avoid being brained or scalped by the merest slither of a second.  We had a car full of laminate to take to the lovely man at the déchètterie with the enviable view.   After two p.m.  Obviously.  This is rural France and everything stops for lunch.  For two hours.  It took multiple trips in Franck our trusty unalluring but reasonably priced car and a deep and meaningful conversation to ascertain whether this vile material computes as wood.  It doesn’t.  It is to be viewed in the same way as a carnivore regards nut cutlets.  It simply is not meat.  Nor indeed wood.

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Do you see what I see ….? It’s Franck skulking sneakily waiting for his next load of laminated booty

 

Meanwhile back at the ranch The Brains was eulogising over what had been uncovered.  Previously we had paid scant attention to the one unplastered wall on the stairwell merely having a cursory discussion over whether we should give it too a smooth finish.  But in  that deluge of lethal laminate everything changed.  It was akin to the moment in Carl Sagan’s Contact when Jodie Foster sees the universe with fresh eyes from a beach somewhere out ‘there’ that she has landed on after being lunged through space at a squillion miles an hour.   In the comedy shower-closet bedroom are exposed the same  glorious planks, cut by someone with an eye for rigidly even lines that rivals my mother’s.  By way of explanation – my mother is a wonderful letter writer but has always shunned the slip of lined paper popped under the page to guide the pen evenly approach and consequently, although she commences elegantly (even now in her mid-eighties) she rapidly starts to wander at an angle so that by the time she reaches the bottom of the page she is writing at a 45° slope.  It’s a  foible that no-one ever mentions, but all notice.  These walls were clearly made by a kindred charpentiere.  They are of tongue-in-groove construction, about 9″-10″ wide and slender.   They slot together very well sporting the odd large flat headed nail to complete the perfectly rustic and rather naïve effect.

 

 

 

 

 

And still the excitement continued.  The layout of the house, and we had assumed the original layout, was a small landing with doors at right angles to one another.  One into a bedroom with a square double doorframe through to a further room and the other into Peeping Tom’s Joy – the room with the freestanding shower in front of the window.  But taking the cladding off the walls had revealed a door from PTJ into the back bedroom.    This poses new questions about how we lay out the upstairs.  Our thought process is fluid and a teeny bit erratic so this revalation just adds a zesty new spritz to the operation.

 

 

 

 

On the other side of the wall were further, piquant delights – loose hessian overlaid with several layers of historic wallpaper.  A couple of florals, a groovy grey linear embossed which immediately took me back to the dull horrors of my childhood and my favourite, a sort of squarial pattern each square containing a picture – a flowerhead here, a windmill there, there again a boat, and even the makings of a medieval town.  I wonder about the person lying in bed looking at the pictures – I wonder if they had ever travelled from Marcolès and whether they dreamed of getting on that boat and searching for treasures in far-off lands.  In fact we know that a very tall Russian lady lived in the house for decades last century – maybe she was put in a boat to cross the sea or maybe her journey escaping White Russia as a small child was overland.  Either way it must have been arduous, gruelling and not a little frightening.

 

 

 

 

I am reminded of another house long ago and far away in England.  The girls and I lived in the grounds of the, by then closed, only Jewish Public School in the country (US readers Public School obscurely means Private School in  England).  Carmel College.  There was a house called ‘Wall House’ which was perfectly invisible except for a front door with a letter box.  In it lived a very very grand Russian lady of advancing years who wore astonishing velvet and brocade ensembles which cascaded to her ankles and conjured up vivid reminders of an age so bygone that I never knew it.  She invited me to take tea.  I was seated on a glamorous and very upright silk upholstered  chair.  She called out in Russian and clapped her jewelled hands smartly whereupon and instantly  in the corner of the room a shabby bundle of cloth shifted revealing a remarkably decrepit and faintly moth-eaten man.  He bowed and moved into the kitchen from whence he returned after a pause during which she and I continued a rather formal and resolutely non-probing conversation, bearing a silver tray complete with very ornate fine porcelain teapot and guilded and delicately painted teacups with their dainty matching plates on which were slices of terrifically inebriated fruit cake.  He served us sombrely and then went back to his corner, disappearing like the Psammead into his quicksand of sheets.  I suppose he had been with her all his life.  The world is full of surprises and some of them are quite uncomfortable.

Anyhow, there was a statuesque Russian lady for many years in Marcolès.   Hold that thought.  Particularly the height.  Because the other curiosity hidden behind the disgusting veneer is a series of oval holes.  You might remember there is one that casts down on the stairwell from the privy giving it an air of anything but privacy.  But there are more.  Some have been boarded over and some stuffed with newspaper.  But why?  They are reminiscent of those holes you stick your head through on an English Pier and have your photo taken as a pin-up girl in an eye popping bikini or a muscle-bound man in striped bathers.  The odd thing is the height of them.  If you wanted to stick your head through them you would have to be a VERY lanky lady indeed.  I imagine they were crude internal portholes to let some light into the middle of the house but I rather like the image of a Frenchman on stilts, complete with compulsary moustache peering through various cut-out holes just for laughs.

 

 

 

 

PS:  When I arrived back after taking the very last load of the offending clip-together laminate flooring to the dump (and we have kept a plank as a grim reminder of the way it was) the elderly couple opposite were arriving back from a toddle out.  They meandered across the street and asked me how it was going.  Oh, really good I regailed them.  We’re progressing well with the clear out of all the dreadful things – can you imagine, he had cheap laminate flooring on the walls.  Lunacy – he was clearly mad.  They nodded in that slightly absent way that polite people have and took their leave.  As they opened their front door, I swear I could see laminate flooring on …. the walls.  Just another oh bugger moment and a further reminder to self to keep thy big mouth shut.

The bonus is entirely to indulge my mother and the child-me that she raised – she used to play Johnny Mathis to us on the gramaphone in the drawing room on rainy days amongst so many other 45s of Unicorns and Doctor Kildaire, Nellie the Elephant and Dusty Springfield and Ferry Cross the Mersey and Doris Day, as we puzzled our puzzles, stuck our fuzzy felt and honed the skills required for taking tea with grand ancient Russian ladies  by making our own tea party for the teddy bears.  Those halcyon days when I didn’t question her lack of ability to keep a straight line when writing her comments on my report cards or the milk order because she was just simply ‘My Mummy’ ….

If you enjoyed this you might like to catch up on previous installments by typing Coup de Coeur into the search box in the side bar.  The more the merrier at this party – so much more fun that way. 

Coup de Cœur – Part Five: Perhaps he’d like to come inside

An occasional series chronicling the tale of the renovation of a former medieval watch-tower in southern France ….. 

And so it came to pass that we had an almost cleaned out interior.  One little thing kept bugging me, though.  As hard as I tried, the floorboards in the  grenier just refused to be clean.  I swept them, mopped them, swept them some more and mopped them again and again but everytime I thought I had banished their dusty film so it came back.  The thing is this.  Sometimes even I can be a teeny bit unobservant.  The me, who prides herself on having the most point perfect eye for detail can fail to see what is slapping me in the face with a leather glove and blinding me with with an eye-achingly bright light like a Gestapo Officer up close and far too personal.   On the other hand it took The Myopic Brains moments to notice when he arrived on one of his famed flying visits from wherever on the planet he was saving stardust.  ‘See those holes, darling?  The holes in the charpente which you have so eloquently been likening to the ‘Bottled Spider’ image that Antony Sher conjured when playing Richard III at the Royal Shakespeare Company in the 1980s.  Those holes, my love – they are worm holes.’  This was an epic ‘oh bugger’ moment for us both.  Up to that point we had been convinced that the house had no major issues and that it was simply a matter of stripping back and restoring and that the most taxing issue would be where to place the bathrooms.

Woodworm is a serious issue in any culture.  I have yet to recover from my mother breaking the news to me at 23 that she had burned my doll’s house (a 1920s treasure that was home to my imagination during the decades of growing up and which I had assumed would house my dreams forever).  It took me years to forgive her so perhaps those that are devotees of the idea of Karma are now looking sagely (and, perchance a little self-righteously)  at me and quietly explaining that she, karma, is a bitch and will always eventually, and probably when you are least expecting it, bite you in the bum.  In France the major issue is Capricorne or Longihorne as some will confusingly call it.  Like turmites they will strip a house systematically and thoroughly and are impossible to get rid of.  If you are infested with Capricornes there is no choice but to have all the woodwork replaced and even then, like all good terminators there is a good chance that they’ll be back.  They are lethal.  My husband is a Capricorn.

We called in to see the mayor.  He pulled his phone from his pocket, twirled it idly in his fingers like Gary Cooper in ‘High Noon’, performed some sort of sleight of hand scroll of the screen with the finesse of a seasoned poker player and found us two numbers.  Writing them extra carefully and clearly he looked at us with the heaviest and gravest of expressions and wished us heartfelt good luck and godspeed in our quest to get a verdict.  His last words echoed in our agitated minds … ‘l hope for your sakes it is not capricorne for these would indeed be a severe catastrophe’.

Bug Man Number One was more local being only 30 km away rather than the 180 km trek that Bug Man Number Two would have to make and by good fortune he was able to rendez-vous at the house in two days time.  We barely slept for those two days …. I convinced myself that if I had had the sense to recognise what the issue was a little earlier with my mop now propped in the corner eyeing me mornfully, all would have been well but since I was wearing the dunce hat and sitting on the naughty chair I had condemned the house and it would probably have to be burned like my dolls house.  And the village would hate me because it is their emblem, their symbol.  In fact any entente cordiale between Britain and France (tenuous at the best of times, let’s face it) would crumble and there would be friendly and then unfriendly fire.  Probably a war.  There was little doubt in my mind that I had brought about The Apocolypse.   And it was all my fault.  And The Bean.  She’d been there all the time and she hadn’t done anything to help.  If in doubt, blame the dog.  So I did.  But it didn’t help.  My guilt was my straight jacket.  I couldn’t eat nor sleep and consequently when we arrived for the meeting on a freezing cold February morning I had all the aesthetic appeal of mouldy baguette slowly decaying in a murky puddle.  In truth distinctly less appeal than that.  And a stomach that was growling and gurgling like a Grizzly Bear that has indulged in a barrel of rotten apples  because although I was not hungry, it was.

The man in question let’s call him M.  le Terminateur had the air of an unsuccessful travelling purveyor of quackery in the wildwest.  Wire-rimmed spectacles, slightly stooped and with a long face that was, well … long.  Slightly melancholy.  And he carried a bag – bigger and baggier than a briefcase out of which he produced an archaic looking probe.  He advanced up the two flights of stairs brandishing the prod before him, his expression  the epitome of ideal had he been an undertaker – sombre, dignified, subdued.  He spied the offending beam instantly and with no clues from Two Brains who was seemingly glued to his side, and poked it with aplomb.  He then peered solomnly at the beam and turned to walk back downstairs.  The twittering fool that was me almost fell backwards down the stairs in my haste to get out of his hallowed way.  I managed to effect a perfect study of a grovelling buffoon as I silently implored him to give us good news.  We gathered before him, we mottly three, The Bean, having grasped the severity of the situation, showed solidarity by prancing on her hind legs and adopting her most appealing expression. He delved again into the inky depths of his cavenous bag bringing out a piece of paper and a pencil.  On it he wrote one word and then handed the pencil to my husband to write down our details which he already had but just to be certain, you understand, so that he could send us an estimate.  It was only after he had left as stealthily as he had arrived (and after a total of less than 10 minutes in our house) that I dared to gibber at my husband to let me see the paper.  The word written was Vrillette.  I had no idea what it meant but I knew it didn’t spell Capricorne. I knew for now, my beloved is the only Capricorn of note in my life.  And the weight of my guilt felt less tortuous.  For now.  I am a mother so I am, of course, hard-wired to guilt but nothing so extreme as the fear of having to torch the jewel of the village need trouble me for the moment.

Of course that was not the end of the story.  When the estimate came through it was with an instruction that all the floor boards must be lifted leaving only a few to walk on.  The men would come and inject the charpente and spray the poutres (beams) only when the space was prepared.  We spent a total of 3 days working tirelessly together to get the rest of the do-it-yourself insulation out … I’d done my best but it was not good enough – the whole area had to be dust free.  We wrenched up floor boards, saving what we could and ditching the worst and relaid them in a rather fetching patchwork but without nails  which are themselves beautiful – long, crude, simple and mostly unsalvagable – to hold them.  We brushed and we hoovered using the little lightweight upright vacuum cleaner that my mother had given me the year before.  She is a little eccentric it must be said, and when I mentioned that I had left my wonderful hospital-quality, state of-the-art, all singing and frankly nifty dancing model with a friend in England and it felt a little churlish to ask for it back, she revealed that she had 4 hoovers.  All brand new.  None used because she also has a cleaning lady who has her own hoover.  I chose a sweet little bagless number and drove back to France triumphant with her nestled in the boot of the car.  This diminutive lightweight beauty has become one of my best friends.  I feel very attached to her – she makes life so much more bearable not having to sweep all the time.  A girl can only take so much Cinderella chimera after all.  You will understand, therefore that my marriage nearly ended when it appeared that the brave little beast had died in action due to the sheer mass of dirt she was being expected to inhale.  HB² had no comprehension that he had murdered  my precious. Anthropomorphising household equipment is not in his remit.  Fortunately both for him and for our marriage she had simply had a perfectly understandable hot flush but my grief did prompt him to go out and buy a cheap, cheerful and above all mighty macho and potent sucker-upper.  My Little Engine That Could is back in the civilised confines of our appartment leaving Wild Bill to rule the wilds of Marcolès.  And rule he did – spotless, dirtless and dustless in no time at all.  We were ready for the coming of the bug-men.

We waited and waited.  We waited some more.  And then we waited.  It is an often commented on fact that in France, if you aren’t actually breathing down the neck of the workman of choice they will repeatedly find other things to occupy them.  These can be other money earning jobs or just propping up the bar and putting the commune to rights with their cronies depending on opportunity and how they are feeling that day.  You do have to be prepared to get a little stern.  Actually in our case, we have not experienced this tendency but it appeared that we were breaking our duck with this fellow.  So we got stern (or to be accurate, HB² got stern and I supported him with dignity on the side-lines) and eventually the news came through that phase one was complete.  I should explain that we leave a key with my heart-throb, M. le Maire so that our absence is not an issue if there is a need to access the house.  Since vrillettes are all but invisible to the naked eye, I will just have to take M. le Terminateur’s good word that the operation had been a success.   But we do now sport plastic tubes that look a little like rawl plugs all over the charpente.  They are ugly and I dislike them and we will try and find a way to disguise them but I am not so churlish as to be ungrateful for the fact that they have saved the roof.  That is good fortune indeed.

Whilst the coy little waiting game was being played out I continued to clear through the remaining cupboards.  Nothing could have prepared me for finding a gun.  I’m very scared of guns.  I think that is a sensible approach.  My good sense told me not to touch it – I became convinced that it was loaded and might simply go off at any moment.  So there it stayed and I avoided going into the room it was in until The Brains returned some weeks later.  He assured me that Wyatt Earp himself, Doc Holliday indeed and least of all Marshall Will Kane could do no damage with it because, darling,  it is a toy.  Which you will see from the photograph is obvious.  I fear the delirium that our predecessor suffered from may be contagious.

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PS:  The title could only be stolen from Spike Milligan:

Today I saw a little worm
wriggling on his belly.
Perhaps he’d like to come inside
and see what’s on the telly

PPS:  If you want to catch up on the previous instalments, simply type Coup de Coeur into the search box on the top of the right hand column and it will find them for you.  Clever stuff so clearly not made by me!

Coup de Cœur – Part Four: Whistle While You Work

An occasional series chronicling the tale of the renovation of a former medieval watch-tower in southern France …..  Part One is here, Part Two is here and Part Three is here   The events in this episode took place a little under three years ago.  How time flies when you’re having fun, n’est-ce pas?

As often happens once you have overcome the initial excitement of something or other and reality cloaks you in its slightly constricting mantle like a heavy woollen duffle coat a couple of sizes too small, or a pair of pinchy stiff leather shoes, you need to knock on the door of fortitude and ask for her help.

This was the moment to be gracious to Lady Tenacity.  We were SO thrilled with the news that the house was empty and once back in France hightailed it pell-mell down the road to Marcolès from our present home further north.  In fact our rented flat is in the far north-western corner of le Cantal and Marcolès is in the far south-western corner.  It’s a two hour drive each way but it’s a really lovely two hours passing glorious views of the Monts du Cantal and diving into deep tree lined gorges and delving through glacial hills. It never fails to delight us.  In the back of the car, making life less than comfortable for The Disgruntled Bean were the various accoutrements of operation clean-up.  We picked up more en-route and The Bean became ever more peeved.

Thus began the most relentless and mostly thankless of enterprises.   HB² took up a floor-board in the attic which is planted in our collective imagination as being a wonderful tranquil master bedroom and serene relaxing place when the house is eventually finished.  He discovered that our predecessor had used sawdust for insulation.  It doesn’t work.  That was abundantly clear.  The house was, is bitterly cold.  Of course the fact that the same  happy fellow had ripped several of the radiators off the wall in his spiteful retribution against those that dared to buy the house that he wanted to sell doesn’t help the refridgeration factor but the ingenious insulation wasn’t productive either.  And in places it had provided a gleeful nesting place for some or other rodent.  One that had made it’s hideaway complete with a variety of different flavours of nut.  Mercifully it was not in residence as we set about getting rid of the wood filings.  We took out something near to 30 bags from the attic. The black full sized dustbin lining bags not, for clarity, little carrier bags for shopping.  It was back-breaking and necessitated wearing a mask and goggles and the white hooded clean suits that a friend had donated to the cause.  I felt like a Ghost Buster but without the joy of a Marshmallow Man to distract me.  About half way through the exercise, husband returned to the US leaving me to continue the clean-up, now with a looming deadline brought on by a discovery to be shared in a later post.  It was winter, it was still a four hour round trip and my romantic little project began to pall noisily.

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As a bit of light relief from the attic, the husband had braved the cellar.  Despite the valiant efforts of the town ouvriers there was still ample room for improvement.  Another 20 or so bags of rubble and wood and general stuff from centuries of life came out.  But what was revealed was magical.  So magical that it is worthy of a post all of it’s own … and for that you will have to wait.

Meanwhile, Madame Balai (Mrs Mop) as I was rapidly re-branding myself was cleaning the whole place through.  The dirt of ages dissolved under my unrelenting mop and bucket and  whirling micro-cloths which I brandished with all the skill of a champion cheerleader.  The rather horrible floor on the ground floor looked marginally less horrible and the stairs and wood floors on the first floor began to look quite majestic.  I cleaned the curious loo which sits at the top of it’s own staircase complete with red carpet which I’m afraid we consigned to a black bag all of it’s own for percieved and probably, let’s face it given the abhorrent provinence of the previous occupants, solidly sensible reasons. Bizarrely it has a window to the rest of the house which begs many questions which I have not yet had the pluck to ponder.  I bravely tackled and proudly conquered the bathroom.  The loo in there is not fixed to the floor which gives an added frisson of excitement to those brave enough to use it and the bath is the very same bath that was given it’s own fanfare by the previous owner as being big enough for three, something I care not to dwell on having met him.  And I cleaned the shower on the first floor.  This was genuinely a labour of love.  The shower is a particularly odd feature of the house being on a podium in what has been the master bedroom.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m all for the facilities-in-a-bedroom approach favoured by many chic boutique hotels and will indeed have a tub and a pretty sink in the master bedroom of the finished house but this is simply incongruous standing with all its plumbing displayed to the world like a brazen flasher and has no virtue except for a dollop of comedy value.  However, whilst we go through the process of renovating and restoring and generally swishing and swooshing the house back to the triumph it deserves to be, a working shower is helpful.  I donned protective gloves, mask and goggles for the job because when I lifted the slats and revealed the tray it had clearly and absolutely NEVER been cleaned.  I removed the sludge and hairy deposits of the antecedent thoroughly and zealously dredged the drainhole and can categorically state that I have seldom, if ever, been so fully disgusted.  And I have lived a little.  Indeed, I may still need some sort of therapy to truly achieve catharsis.

Now you will gather, I hope, that my husband loves me.  And to show his love that very day, he announced that a refreshing shower, after all my hard, and victorious toil in conquering the swamp pit, was just the thing he needed.

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I left him to it and took The Bean for a stroll round the village.  As I was walking back to the house I had a thought.  I ran it past The Brains on the way home a little later.  As casually as I could.  I just wondered.  Foolishly I was certain.  But I did wonder.  If he had remembered to close the shutters on the window whilst he was showering.  Since the shower is right in front of the window.  The relatively large and low window.  Of course he must have.  Mustn’t he?  No?  Well that was an eye-full for the town then and in particular the very elderly lady opposite  …. remember the house has absolutely no land to buffer it.  I’m frankly amazed that M. le Maire hasn’t had complaints.    Or maybe he is just too polite to mention it.  I cringe at the thought that maybe the town ladies might be anticipating regular matinee and evening performances.

I didn’t count the number of times I went down, with the increasingly testy Bean, to clean.  It was many severals.  And it was groundhoggishly tiresome in that everytime I got it looking spruce, I had to drag more bags of rubbish and rubble through the spick and spanness and my fragile effect was royally spoiled.  But all clouds are silver lined in world of me – you just have to keep those peepers peeled and embrace the good when it falls in your path as it invariably does.  One of the shiney pieces of silver in this story is the man at the déchetterie or waste disposal point if you will.  He has the most amazing view of the mountains from his little wooden hut and he takes his job very seriously.

Actually in my experience most of the people that work at such places, with or without breathtaking views are thoroughly nice – or at least they are in England and France.  I have always been treated kindly by them.  And this fella with his bella vista backdrop is no exception.  He helped us with bags and bags of wood dust and yet more of rubble and some of indescribable and unspeakable impurity and always (having asked where we were from on our first foray) said emphatically ‘vous êtes de Marcolès, non?‘ he being in St Mamet-la Salvatat, the next commune over.  It rather feels as though being from Marcolès in some way explains our undoubted lunacy.  I like him.  The Brains was less enthralled though when swinging a large and heavy bag of wood-dust into the vast metal skip, it split above his head and spewed shavings over him in a comedy moment of epic proportions.  Or at least my laughter was epic.  He remained stone-faced.   In fairness, I did not escape unscathed … as you can see from this fetching picture of me complete with dirty lines effecting comedy whiskers.

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When the walls were washed down, inevitably, given the age of the paint, much of it flaked off.  The Bean should be less cantankerous about the place if she takes the time to notice that one of the slivers that snowed down onto my lovingly tended (a thousand times so far) staircase is an exact silhouette of Her Beanship.

PS:  Of course the title is Snow White who righteously contended that if you whistle while you work the task will be easier, speedier and far more pleasant.  It may be relevant that I can’t actually whistle ….

Coup de Cœur – Part Three: I beg your pardon …

I’m no magician and smoke and mirrors are not part of any repetoire I possess however much I might sometimes wish they were.   In arrant contrast, it was abundantly clear that the incumbent owner of the house was a maestro of the art.  What greeted us was a filthy mess though there were still a number of rather lovely pieces in the house.  But we had this feeling, this sense that it can be, will be, beautiful again.  We signed the Acte that made us the legal owners exactly a year after we first viewed it.  A year that will remain forever tatooed on my little brain and a year that provides the reference for my novel in progress.

Three months after signing the Acte, the process of cajoling the previous owner (who mostly spends his time in Marseilles and seems mostly to be unable to leave his bed though he was beyond vigorous when we met) to come and take what he wanted from the house before the start of les grandes vacances on 1st July or thereabouts, was ongoing.  The village had been totally and remarkably supportive of us and we had agreed that they could use the ground floor as an Office de Tourisme and that they could revert to the years old tradition of using the house in their famed Nuits de Marcolès.   In France if the owner of the effects wants them you have to dance a lengthy gavotte before you can retain them or eject them.  We danced.  The village stowed things upstairs to make way for their tourist office.  We continued to dance.  The summer festivites came and went.  We still danced.  Le Monsieur came and went sporadically and things disappeared.  He was clearly suffering from the cold further south in Mediterranean Marseille because he decided to rip the radiators from their moorings excavating chunks of wall with them.  All this is legal by the way.  We carried on dancing.   Finally about a year ago word came that he had taken all he wanted.  Exhausted, we threw off our Red Shoes and stopped dancing.

I drove south to my newly empty house.  Wind back.  Empty?  Nah!  Every stick of junk he possessed was  still there.  Somehow my enchanting house, the place I fell in love with on the internet, remember, had turned into a cold, unwelcoming landfill site.  We had known it was impossible to walk across the grenier (attic) floor, my husband had kept the worst secrets of the cave (cellar) from me on the basis that the ladder was dodgy.  Lies, all despicable lies – I’m quite the mountain goat on the quiet and I bound up and down ladders quite nimbly, thank you.  But I chose not to argue, nor look, frankly fearful of what I might find.  The truth was far worse than any imagined fiction.  And sandwiched in the middle of top and underground floors are two others, which somehow seemed to have sprouted their own detritus.   Abundantly.
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Enter the town.  Monsieur le Maire de Marcolès is officially my hero.  His assistant can clearly trace her ancestry to celestial angels.  The town would see to the emptying.  The least they could do in the face of our saving their jewel (they call it their emblem) … well actually they didn’t need to, but my goodness me we snapped their hands off with the speed and certainty of a Kingfisher skewering it’s supper.

The town workers (generally referred to as les ouvriers) set about their task.  They fitted it in between their routine and other jobs.  I journeyed down after a month and was overjoyed.  A week later I went again and could not believe what greeted me – there was even more debris than the week before.  This bizarre and unwelcome routine continued for weeks.  Smile-despair-smile-despair.  Every single time I thought there was nothing else to unearth, the jolly ouvriers found more.  Not that I was complaining, they were moving the damned stuff.  And it was just stuff.  Lots and lots of stuff.  The physical incarnation of a clearly disturbed mind.  The demented collection of a frenzied, and almost certainly certifiable magpie.

In November, we were in the Mairie (town hall, if you will) discussing something or other with the beatified assistant when the chief ouvrier came staggering in.  He looked at us, shrugged the most glorious gaelic shrug I have EVER seen and told us we were entirely and clearly mad to have taken on the house.  The beatifeic one laughed angellically.  I felt sick.

Christmas loomed.  We were to spend it in England.  HB² arrived at my mother’s house on Christmas Eve.  On Christmas Day (his birthday incidentally), he checked email.  The beauteous creature who is the assistant to the mayor of Marcolès (I’ve recommended her for canonisation) had sent us a note:   ‘The house is empty.  Happy Christmas’.  We danced.

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PS:  The picture shows me clasping a rose.  A rose plucked by the Mayor the first time we showed him inside a house he remembered from his childhood throughout his adolescence and for a large chunk of his adult life when it was always, always part of village festivities.  Until the previous denizen moved in.  The rose-bush flourishes on the side of the house.  The Mayor has taken it upon himself to keep it tended in our absence.  And tells me whenever he has pruned, or re-fastened it to the wall with a liberal sparkle in his eye – sparkling at ladies being something I have noted, he is more than rather good at.   I may not have been promised a rose garden, but I beg your pardon – I got one tended by the highest official in town!

And just because I can and I fancy giving you a bonus … here’s Moira Shearer again but this time strutting her red shoes  to Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’  … let’s face facts, I know the feeling.

Catch up on the previous installments of this noble saga here which contains a link to part one

Coup de Cœur – Part Two: Therefore is wing’d cupid painted blind!

We fell in love on the internet.  It’s the modern way.  The one touts their promise, the other falls under their spell and happily ever after they both live.  House and owner.  You didn’t think I was talking about Two Brains and I, did you?  You got  that I am talking about our fragile hearts being ensnared by our Maison Carrée?

The house was advertised all over the place – every single immobilier in France seemed to have it on their books.  Clock forward two and a half years and hindsight and a bit of experience has taught me that this means nothing.  Often an agent will have grabbed the content from an unprotected site and will be advertising it as his own.  But we knew where it was and we knew it was the former Tour Seignoural for the perfect little city it sits plumb central in.  And it is officially a city even though it would appear to be a small village to modern eyes, and we simply swooned when we found the website for the proprietor who was currently running the little jewel as a Chambre d’Hotes.  The description, down to the seductive promise that he is an accomplished masterchef and would  cook you local food  magnificently if you wished and that breakfast was all conjured from the local boulangerie, epicerie, charcuterie, fromagier,  had me wondering why he was selling at all.  After all this three bedroomed beauty, including the miraculous bathroom all  newly fitted, was kitted out with the most elegant antique country furniture clearly snaffled from local houses of some note and auctions and brocantes and the owner certainly and assuredly had excellent taste.  Hold that thought.

Beware the power of the picture!  Beware the interweb!  What greeted us when we arrived was entirely a different picture.  What on earth induced us to go ahead and buy I am not convinced I will ever know.  A certain madness unexplained.  Assuredly bull-headed stubborn-ness and a sense that this disaster of a place can be, will be, really special and an uncharted recognition that we should be the people to return the house to it’s former unpretentious glory.  And give it a properly appointed bathroom rather than what greeted us which I have flatly refused EVER to use.  And a kitchen that does not stink in that sickly sweet way of festering food complete with maggots and fresh fly-eggs – sadly it became clear that this was the state that unsuspecting visitors who had booked in on-line found the house in and I sincerely hope that none ever took their host up on the opportunity of his unashamedly trumpeted home made meals – rather they hot-footed it to the Mairie to complain loudly and threaten nasty reviews on the very internet upon which we had found the house languishing apparently so alluringly.

Once we had bought the place, once the place was ours we were hit with the reality that HB² is mostly on the wrong side of the Atlantic and that I, although more than once invited to row that ocean on account of my once-upon-a-time Olympian prowess as an oar puller, I was simply not equipped to begin, let alone complete the task of emptying the house once the ancien proprieteur had taken what he wanted … you guess that bit surely – anything nice, anything pretty.  Well, he would, wouldn’t he! There follows the account of the next nine months in which we, collectively being Winnie the Pooh, never lost heart.

 …. In the meantime, here I am looking somewhere between despairing and disgusted in the best of the bedrooms the day after we took ownership.

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PS:  The quote is Twelfth Night – Helen declares of her Demetrius that ‘Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is wing’d cupid painted blind ….’

PPS:  Part one of this saga is here

Emotion recollected in tranquility

If you have been with me a little while you may recall that I moved to a rather palatial temporary home in Grenoble in February and that I knew I would have to give it up at the beginning of July.  That time has come and in discussion with the local fire brigade, I have conceded that chaining myself to the stunning ornate pillars in the drawing room and refusing to move will simply be undignified, probably messy and not at all couth.  A teeny bit reluctantly, therefore, in a few hours I will close the door on this lovely interlude and very soon I will share what happens next.  In the meantime though, and given that it is summer and collective thoughts turn to high days and holidays, I thought a little less taxing on you might be to run a series of photographs accompanying poems, prose or lyrics that never fail to snare my heart and noose my soul.  Those which effortlessly conjure emotions and tempt my teeny-tiny brain to shimmy into something resembling coherence.

The first offering is this, a picture, taken more than three years ago in the north of le Cantal in the village that was then home and to whence I will head later today before decamping to the south of le Cantal to check on our seemingly endless renovation of a tiny square house.

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It seemed then, as now, to evoke this beautiful poem by a favourite amongst of all favourite poets …

He Wishes For The Cloths of Heaven

HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

PS:  The title comes from Wordsworth’s brilliant definition of poetry that it is ‘the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility’

And now I simply must dash  … .toodlepip!

NB:  My internet access will be tenuous until the weekend so please forgive me if I am tardy in responding to your messages and in reading your own wondrous blog-offerings

Vendre dit vendredi: Part 1 – Sorry but I’m gonna have to pass!

Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins isn’t it?  Maybe that’s why we are finding it so hard to find our perfect Maison Principale given that we are beautifully sated and fully occupied with our Square House.  Why do we need another house?  Well, we have a large family who we want to be able to comfortably accommodate when they visit and, in the end, we want our own land and quite a bit of it surrounding us because we are a teeny bit antisocial and to be able to grow and nurture and live a sort of half-baked gaelic good life.   La Maison Carrée was never intended to be our principal house though we will live there for part of each year.

I have spoken before of the idiosyncracies of the French property market and it does take a little getting used to.  I watch a programme on Channel 2 which pits two immobiliers against one another to find a home that ticks the boxes set by the couple of the day and what stands out to me is that prices don’t seem to vary from place to place at all.  So you can be easily commutable to Paris and the ask is pretty much the same as down here in Vache-ville.  I’ll try and put some meat on the bones of my theories about the property market in France along the way but for the moment, because it’s what I do, I will just tell the stories (and there are rather a lot) of the houses we have looked at.  One at a time to give time for full digestion – I don’t want to be accused of further gluttony!

So here is the story of the house we very almost bought:

We met the immobilier in a nearby town (remember, I observed they are generally extremely reluctant to give away the precise location of a property for fear of dirty dealing behind their backs).  He had been quite rude in our email exchange and we had been given no choice of day or time since he was coming down from Paris.  Which in fairness is a more than 5 hour drive on a good day with a following wind.  He stepped out of his rhinocerous of a  4×4 and the first thing HB² noted in a barely muted stage whisper was that he was wearing ‘European trousers’.  Two Brains has an untreated phobia of such garments.  He means corduroys in a variety of orange, pink or yellow hues (occasionally they even bleed into the emeralds and sapphires and I live in dread of an unplanned encounter with any shade of purple).  He blames the trousers for a particular type of personality.  Not, you will gather, a personality he is attracted to.  I noted the trousers and distracted him with the fact that the extraordinarily glossy woman with the man was dressed for some sort of mythical interpretation of outdoor pursuits.  She had clearly invested enough to prop up a small country in her attire.  The illusion was completed with a Dandy Dinmont Dog.  Which meant that The Bean would be trapped in the car because she can be a little, dare I say, fiesty with other four-leggers until they are fully accepted and even then can have random moments of vehement disapproval.

We set off for the first house (another time – you will have to wait for that one) and thence to the house that we had agreed would probably be a bit dark and oppressive.  European Trousers slowed to a snail slither as we reached sight of the place and pointed.  It was love at first sight.  A coup de foudre.  We drove down the long drive and parked up.  The drive went over, incidentally a bridge crossing a little river, which if you know me at all will tell you that I was pretty much sold, and as we got out of the car, a young man was propped against the front door with that air of nonchelance that the French effect better than any other nation.  The building is not an historic monument but it is historic.  The cellars (at ground floor level so probably more underneath) are 11th Century and the main building rebuilt in the 14th.  The young man who by now had charmingly introduced himself as the grandson of the deceased couple who had restored it to what it is today said that his grandfather had located the site of the original tower.  Had he lived he would have carried on restoring I am sure and my inner Rapunzel was already fast-forwarding to rebuilding the tower.  In fact in the village (about 5 km away) there is an identical building, but intact.  It is a storey and a half higher and has the most curious top to the tower which looks broken until you realise it is deliberate.  Who knows why.  The grounds were perfect … the stream, an orchard with apples, pears, cherries and quince a fine place for a beau potager and views over the valley several hundred metres below that are just breathtaking.  The house has 6 hectares.  We worked out that there was about 1 around the house including the swimming pool compound and driveway (the swimming pool incidentally had a pair of robust trees growing out of the cover so a little attention needed before necessary relaxing with an apero before an evening dip) and another 2 or so in the field below but we were intrigued to know what of the woods beyond was included to make up the other 3.   European Trousers who thus far had been frankly disconnected with the vital fact that we might be interested buyers deflected the question to young Monsieur Nonchelance who stepped up to the plate and explained that in his boyhood when visiting he was allowed to go as far as the waterfall.  This was a romantic notion but not particularly helpful.

We climbed the fantastic stone steps to the imposing castle door.  Inside everything seemed perfect.  The ‘monumental’ fireplace lived up to its name, the ground floor bedroom was delightful with a well thought out shower room and loo off and the possibility of making a balcony to the full length window (though it would need some monumental supports of its own given the size of the stone pointed to below as the ideal base), the kitchen was tiny (one of my criteria, as a incurable kitchen dweller has always been a kitchen big enough to live in) but as it opened onto the piece de vie which is absolutely humungous taking up, as it does, most of the ground floor, I felt myself compromise.  The restauration was superb … very sympathetic with lots of wood to include a built in Auvergne style clock, a lit clos (basically a bed built into the wall and very much of the region and which young man had happily passed many childhood nights when staying with his gramps) and a touch of magic in the form of a set of bookshelves which at the touch of a button will recess and allow the TV to make a grand entrance a la those wonderful moments in world of 1960’s James Bond.  It needed to be restored but Two Brains was confident it would be a doddle.  I leave these things to him.  Upstairs and one huge and another decent sized bedroom, the former used as a workspace possibly by a designer judging by the work-table both with shower rooms.  No bath.  A bit of a draw back for me as I am a wallower but entirely fixable.  The big room would divide comfortably into two good sized bedrooms if necessary as an asside.  It was fair to say that it appeared ET was correct when he said it was ready to move straight in.

Outside a liberated Bean was frollicking with a verve that would eclipse any Spring Lamb and clearly loved the place.  Her verdict was noted.

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We walked around squeezing hands like toddlers.  We knew we had found home.  A few days later we visited again, sans immobilier and the charming young nonchalance answered our questions as best he could.  It was clear that his grandparents had loved the place and we romantically imagined ourselves continuing their work and concluding it – making the house entirely what it once had been.   Captivated by the vaulted cellars build by men a thousand years ago we imagined these people smiling down at us.  We pointed to a tiny window almost under the eaves that we couldn’t understand – it didn’t correspond to anything inside.  Blithely he told us that his gramps ashes were interred up there so they would forever look over the valley.  I felt fine about that.  No, really I did ….

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Back home we discussed and digested and cojitated both together and after his Brainship had flown back to Boston and came up with a price we were both happy with.  Questions were asked to ascertain the exact location of the mystery woodland, to stick a stake in the ground that we understood that the chimney needed attention and that we understood the exact condition of the pool mechanisms.  Bear in mind that our local friends suck their teeth at asking prices and endlessly fill our heads with tuppence ha’penny deals done on the Q.T.  We offered 75% of the ticket price and waited for the knock back.  Quite amazingly ET came back to us with the news that our offer had been accepted.  That was just before Christmas and I went to bed happy that I would have my forever house by summer.

In January I visited in a blizzard with eldest daughter and her intended – so they could see it at least from the outside.  They did not tell me I was mad.

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March.  After a long period of flatline communication, we were suddenly summoned to a town nearby in 3 days time to sign the Comprimis de Vente (this is basically the moment of exchange of contracts and the comprimis should contain all the clauses we have asked to be included).  As it happened we were in Grenoble and so decided to run the document past the wonderfully effete and beautifully bi-lingual Philippe.  All our friends are called Philippe by the way.  The Brain has excellent French but is humble enough to reach out for a helping hand when needed.  I sat reading a magazine lost in the romantic notion of walking Grande Randonee numero 5 – 620 km through the Alps to the Med and Monaco.  3 or 4 weeks they suggest.  I could feel the grass, smell the air and ….. a problem.  A problem?  Two Brains was drained of colour and looked for all the world like a doctor breaking difficult news to a patient’s relative (compounded by the fact that I was sitting in the refreshment area of a modern Science institution).  Philippe, diplomatic as ever had balked at the price we were paying  and had then drawn attention to the value of the house 7 years ago (pre the 40% drop in overall valuations in France) …. around a third of the original asking price so way, way below what we had offered (remember the speed of the agent’s response).  But we are decent people of morals and we had already agreed that given the difficulty of guaging an accurate price we would just go with what we felt was right.  A rather lumpy swallow but swallow we would.  We loved the house.  The electrics have mulitple areas of non-conformity … sort of to be expected even though they look fine enough but the bit that presented an impasse was the Level 2 problem with the LPG Gas.  Expliques-moi s’il te plait?  Well, the thing is this ….  it could cause the house to explode at any minute.  Nothing lost (girder-made we are).  An email is sent tout de suite to ET and we set off on the 6 hours journey home falling into bed around midnight.  Up with the lark, wakened by the barking (and it is genuinely a barking) of the Brain Phone – an alert to a mail.  Possibly the rudest mail ever.  You WILL be at the notaires office tomorrow morning and tough titty, the problems are yours to solve.

My husband is a mild sort.  My mother always said they are the most dangerous.  The ensuing conversation with ET was lethal.  The man accused him of lying (he clearly thought the real reason was the discovery that the value was much lower than the offer – wrong M’sieur.  You were so very wrong.  Decency prevails on our side however bitter the pill).  And the deal was off.  End of.  A desparation call from the owner would not sway us.  We smelled a consipiracy but now is not the time to air that.  And numbed, we were back to square one.  HB² quietely commented that he should have trusted his instincts.  I mean to say – the man wears European Trousers!

Four months later we are still there.  We have opted to broaden our search outside of le Cantal.  As much as we adore it here we need to find the right place for us.  So the last few months have been about (and mostly remotely – remember Brains in Boston, Charm in Cantal) looking at other places. Our criteria are simple (for the location) snow in winter, sun in summer (if it pleases) and mountains preferably in sight but certainly no more than a half hour drive.  If you have ideas, please share them.  We are open to ideas.

I have just searched on the net for the house in question and it appears to be under offer … if that is the case, I sincerely hope it doesn’t blow up after money has changed hands

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PS:  I am inordinately proud of the title of this series because it marks a milestone in my absorption of French … I now find myself punning and playing with words even though the result may still be ‘Comme une Vache Espagnole’ and the words that inspired Part 1 … ‘Your lips are redder than her lips, they’re fuller, they’re redder but they’re not better’ altogether ‘ sorry but I’m gonna have to pass …. thank you The Coasters … you can hear the whole song here – it fits when you understand that the bar we are working to might seem modest (a 2 bedroomed rented appartment) but modest as it is, home is actually pretty much perfect.  A high bar indeed.