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.
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.
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.
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 ….