April 19, 2021

A productive day

I started off by my heading off to Sarlat for my second Pfizer Covid jab. So hopefully that’s me done and dusted, and I bought my first strawberries and cream of the year on the way back to my car.

After lunch as the weather was so nice I thought that I’d do a flight with my Fimi X8 SE 2020 drone. I’ve only had it back a few days after returning it to China for repair so I’m still not back in the swing of things. After it went out of control and flew into a tree, I noticed that the video image on the right hand side of the frame had become slightly blurred. Fimi said that I had to return it to them and they agreed, repairing it for free and returning it with an extra battery to compensate me for the cost of sending it back. That’s what I call service – kudos to Fimi!

I only did a fairly short flight straight out from my garden over les Etangs de Fongran towards Thonac before swinging right around, heading up towards Fanlac and then home again via Le Bos de Plazac. Here are a few shots that I lifted from the videos that I shot during the flight that don’t do them justice at all, unfortunately.

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Then by mid-afternoon I was back onto the floor tiling in front of my new patio door. It’s slow work because it has to be done properly and accurately but today was the end of the tiling proper. I’ll leave them to cure tomorrow while I finish off the new small windows in my bathroom and toilet and then come back to add the jointing in a couple of days. Here’s where I got to at the end of today.

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I said to my French neighbour Chantal, that if I’d known at the time that I’d be selling the house I’d have gone for something simpler, plainer (and less expensive!) but it’s too late for that now and I’ve just got to see the job through. So it’s ‘Tally-Ho and on we go!’ so I can move onto the next job on the list – the new large windows in the bedrooms. I have a feeling that they’re going to be tricky…

April 17, 2021

The caravan saga – The End

This is for anyone who’s still hanging in mid-air wondering how this played out. Before I put it to bed though, here are a couple more shots of the caravan in question, heavily edited by me to disguise any clue to their true origin.

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Well, I guess we all really knew deep-down that this was a scam but for the life of me because I don’t have a criminal mind I couldn’t see how they were going to make money out of it. That was until after I’d drawn the cash out of the bank to pay the ‘transporteur’, the following day I received a message saying that because his wife had suddenly given birth (yep, what a surprise for everyone, just like that, out of the blue) he couldn’t make it as planned but would be along in the afternoon of the next day.

It was then that I realised that I’d probably been over-thinking things when it dawned on me that there I was, having given my address details for the ‘delivery’ (actually, I’m not that daft – no delivery driver would ever be able to find my house using just the information that I’d provided, especially at night 😉 ) with cash in the house overnight. What a nice little earner that would be for a couple of desperadoes to break into my house during the night, threaten me in some way or another and depart into the darkness with my cash. Much better than knicking goods that then have to be sold-on for a fraction of their true value.

And an even better earner if you can place one ‘caravan for sale’ ad and get several suckers all lined up on consecutive evenings. Having realised this I decided that it was time to pull the plug, so I innocently replied saying that after re-banking the cash, for (convincing) reasons that I won’t now go into, I couldn’t continue with the caravan purchase as I didn’t know when I’d next be at home, so better for them to sell it to the next buyer in the queue. And surprise, surprise, afterwards I heard nothing more.

So somebody may have had the surprise of their life and after being denied it, ended up with a dirt-cheap, beautiful caravan parked outside their house. But somehow I doubt it…

To finish off with, a footnote about the tiling that I did yesterday. Yes, the ‘mortier colle’ did go off overnight. Like a rock. So it seems that knocking it up to be as thick as toffee is how you’re supposed to use the stuff. I can’t remember doing it like that the last time, but it was nearly 9 years ago. Maybe I did. The passing of time has a lot to be held to account for 🙁

April 16, 2021

You get the idea

At long last, after delay after delay, today I actually got started on making good the floor in front of my ‘new’ patio door – ‘new’ because it was installed last autumn and the floor has been left unfinished ever since. I couldn’t get hold of any ‘plain’ floor tiles to match the existing ones as they are so old and I decided instead to use the same special smaller hand-made tiles that I had obtained to create the pattern that I made on my fireplace.

This was before I knew that I was going to sell my house and if I had done I might have persisted in my efforts to find some 30 cm square plain ones as not only is the cost difference quite high, the time and effort to make the pattern are also considerably greater. This is due to the need to accurately cut down every one of the new smaller tiles from 16 cm square to fit in with the existing 30 cm square ones, including joints.

Anyway, it’s too late to think about that now so I just had to press on. I’d already got the new tiles cut down and ready to lay some time ago so today was all about just laying them. Or so I thought. Before getting onto that though, here’s a shot taken today of my fireplace for reference.

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As it was nearly 9 years ago that I built my fireplace, to be honest I can’t remember much about how I did it. In particular, I can’t remember much about the special mortar (mortier de colle) that I used to fix the tiles, both horizontally and also on the vertical face of the fireplace. You never get the same brand of any material like cement or mortar at Brico Depot, probably because they just buy from wherever is cheapest at the time, so I just bought a bag of what was available and thought nothing more of it.

As it happens, I still have the remains of the original bag after all this time, although what’s left inside is solid of course, but the product descriptions are the same. So I just went ahead and mixed up half a bucketful to what I thought would be about the right consistency, bearing in mind we had warm sunshine today and after my recent experience with the plaster, I thought that there might be a chance of the mortar going off before I could use it.

But did it heck! Quite the opposite actually. I laid a bed of it down ready to take the tiles and waited a bit before placing them on top. Not only did they sqeeze the mortar out and sink below the level that I wanted but they and the mortar bed slowly began to slump forwards towards the window. The reason was that the sub-bed that I laid many weeks ago wasn’t quite level, which I knew, although it shouldn’t have mattered at all.

The amazing thing was that the mortar on which I’d laid the tiles didn’t start curing at all, even after I’d eventually picked it up again and returned it to the bucket. I tried adding a bit more dry powder to it in the hope that it might encourage the mix to go off, but it still didn’t. It stayed just as sloppy as when I’d started and repeated the same process, being unable to support the weight of a tile.

I repeated this about four times until, in desperation, thinking that I might be on the receiving end of the ‘old plaster’ problem again but in reverse (old plaster goes off very quickly, old cement does the opposite and may never go off), I decided to take drastic action, add some fresh cement and some more mortar powder to the mixture and make it as stiff as I could but still workable. And know what? It seemed to do the trick.

I made the mixture with the consistency of thick toffee – so thick that I could only get it off the trowel by using another one. But I didn’t care because it worked perfectly, or so it seemed. The mixture stood up without slumping and could take the weight of the tiles, and here are some shots of how I finally managed to leave the job at the end of the day.

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And maybe that’s how you have to use this stuff, because when I eventually came to clean my bucket and tools at the end of the day, the small amount of material that remained was still workable even after an hour or more. Perhaps that’s what they intend and they add retardent to make it stay ‘wet’ even when it doesn’t contain much water but is just workable. But the proof of the pudding will be tomorrow morning. When I checked the newly-laid tiles a short while ago, the mortar that had oozed out from under them was still soft. If it stays the same tomorrow and doesn’t cure I’ll be in real trouble and all of my work today will be for nothing 😕

April 12, 2021

Send in the clowns

There’s an old saw – if something looks too good to be true then it probably is. But the operative word is ‘probably’. What if something looks to be really good… and it’s actually genuine? Then what?

Then there’s only one thing that you can do – go along with it but keep your wits about you to make sure that you aren’t the victim of a scam, but wouldn’t it be a terrible shame to reject something out of hand thereby missing a genuine opportunity and also unsulting someone who is acting with the best possible motives.

As regular readers will know, I’ve been looking out for a large caravan for quite a while. I need one to solve my accommodation problems when I leave my present house at the end of June with there being no prospect of my having another one ready to move into either at that time or in the foreseeable future. My hope is that by then I’ll have a ‘Permis de Construire’ for a new house though, which will permit me to complete the purchase of the land I want to build it on and allow me to place a caravan or mobile home on it to live in in the meantime.

I prefer a caravan, mainly for the ease with which it can be transported and eventually resold compared to a mobile home, plus nice caravans are more readily available too. If you can get your hands on one that is. I’ve seen several of the right size and spec in the right price bracket over recent weeks but as well as being in distant parts of the country (mainly northern France) which are difficult to get to from where I live, all have been snapped up incredibly quickly often before I’ve even received replies to my initial contacts with the sellers.

So it was with an air of resignation that I responded to an advertisement on Le Bon Coin a few evenings ago only to check back a few minutes later before I went to bed and find that the ad had already been taken down. I could hardly believe it as it had only been up for a few minutes before I sent my message – there was no contact phone number – and it didn’t seem possible that someone had got in before me and it had already been sold. And indeed it hadn’t.

What follows from here is me taking everything at face value. In the morning I found that the (lady) seller had sent me a message with an email address (gmail of course) asking me to contact her if I truly wanted to buy her caravan. I did so and here’s what has since unfolded, but first here are a couple of pictures (of the 21 that I was sent of the caravan’s exterior and interior), which I’ve edited slightly to conceal the locations they were taken at and their sources of origin, that show how superb this caravan is despite being around since 2001.

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I immediately confirmed that I wanted to buy it at the asking price and that I could go down (it’s being advertised as in the south of France) with my Kia, pay her and take it away. She however demurred. She said that as long as I promised that I would treat her caravan with great care, she would arrange for it to be delivered with all of its papers to my address by a ‘transporteur’ (I don’t know whether that means a heavy vehicle or someone towing it) who would be able to complete the sale and depart with my cash payment leaving the caravan with me. She said that if I was not satisfied for any reason I could reject the sale but that she could assure me that the caravan is in perfect shape, has been well looked-after and maintained and needs nothing doing to it.

So what to do? If it’s a scam, neither I nor any of my friends or associates can work out what it is. However, there have been a couple of red flags. After a Google search, Madeleine’s sharp eyes spotted the same caravan for sale 4 years ago with some of the same pictures on an Italian web site. Interestingly, the asking price was proportionately higher and it appears that a person of the same name was behind the sale. So was it a genuine sale? Was it not sold at the time? Was it a previous scam?

We’ve also spotted a Norwegian connection in one of the exterior photos, plus there are some warning placards on the cooker that look as though they might be in Norwegian. So here we have, to use a Churchillian expression, a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma and there’s no way to solve it, except by waiting. The caravan is due to be delivered tomorrow so one way and another, then all will be revealed.

I have the cash waiting and if everything – caravan, paperwork, registration document (because she said that it has one, which is a big bonus) – is in order I’ll be delighted to hand it over and take possession of the beautiful beast. But that won’t happen until I’m completely satisfied and it has been offloaded at my house, and I’ll have no hesitation in turning it around if there’s even the slightest suspicion of criminality or malpractice. Then I’ll just have to keep on looking.

So is it time to send in the clowns – bizarre or what?

April 11, 2021

Job done!

Not by me, but by my good friend Wim who dropped in this morning for his usual Sunday morning coffee bringing with him a couple of crowbars and an angle-grinder. A few minutes bending it up and down with a crowbar saw the hinge break apart leaving its main body to drop to the floor and a stub of metal, the bit that I hadn’t quite cut through, sticking out of the wall. Another couple of minutes grinding off the latter and the job was done, as shown by the following photos.

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You can also see, especially in the second one above, just how close I’d come to completing the job before the cutting blade of my angle grinder was thrown up giving me the whack that took me out of the game. But anyway, what’s done is done and it’s no good crying over spilt milk. I’ll let this week-end go and see next week if I can start doing lighter jobs again that mainly just need one hand, like finishing off the plastering around the new small windows in my bathroom and even laying the floor tiles in front of the patio door. I’ll just have to see how I go…

April 8, 2021

It got me!

With all the work I’ve done in my house since I came to France and with all that I still have to do, under a certain amount of pressure, before I move out on 30th June, an accident had to happen at some time. And that day was yesterday while I was removing the large forged steel gate hinge that had appeared hanging out of the wall in my living room when I’d cut back the plaster and rendering in order to make it good after installing my new sliding patio door.

The method that I decided to use – a circular cutting blade on my large electric angle-grinder – had its dangers and I knew that, the more so as I had to use it with its guard removed in order to cut the hinge off as close to the wall as possible. I’d taken precautions to keep well clear of the blade while it was in use and even until it had completely stopped spinning as experience has shown while using my small angle grinder that you can still get a nasty cut while the blade is spinning down even after you’ve cut the power to the machine. As a result all went perfectly, right up until I’d almost completed the job and the hinge was nearly cut right through.

Then, maybe precisely because there was only a thin slice of metal left that was able to ‘catch’ the spinning blade in some way, the machine suddenly jumped at great speed and with enormous force. Fortunately it missed the aluminium window frame which would have been impossible to repair and would have needed to be replaced if it had been damaged but before I could do anything, it struck my left forearm opening up quite a severe wound.

I won’t go into detail in deference to those readers who don’t have the stomach for such things, but my living room and kitchen took on something of the appearance of the Chamber of Horrors before I could grab enough kitchen roll to make a ball in order to apply pressure to the wound and run to seek help. This came in the form of my lovely French neighbour Chantal who I know can’t stand the sight of blood but who after applying a tourniquet to my arm under my instruction (which she was then told to remove before the first responders arrived) then called for an ambulance.

I eventually ended up in the emergency room of the brand new hospital at Francheville in Périgueux. By this time I was no longer leaking blood and was stable so waited while the staff attended, quite rightly, to more urgent cases. When the emergency doctor finally took a look at the wound he said immediately that it was too severe to be dealt with by Emergency and that I’d have to have an operation by a surgeon the next day (ie today).

I was in the middle of a phone call passing on this news when he came dashing back to say that actually there was a surgeon available who was going to come into the emergency room and do the operation there and then, so that was a relief. After I’d been tested and received an anti-tetanus shot, he duly arrived and after administering a local anaesthetic, got to work patching my arm up. As nothing had been damaged other than muscle, this only took about half an hour or so as it only involved cleaning the wound up and stitching the edges back together.

This doesn’t sound like much but it was about 10 cm long and 1 cm wide, so it took quite a considerable amount of skill on his part as well as lots of stitches and staples. I didn’t take a ‘before’ photograph as, quite honestly, it would have been too gruesome to share with anyone, but I did get the surgen to take an ‘after’ shot showing off his handiwork that I’ve shown below with the main detail blurred out.

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WARNING

I would strongly advise anyone who doesn’t have strong stomach NOT TO, but those who want to see the surgeon’s finished job can do so by CLICKING HERE.

The local anaesthetic wore off after 12 hours or so and even today I can’t say that I have much pain, unless I move my arm and stretch the stitches and staples that is. I had to sleep on my back last night and will probably have to do so for quite a few nights more but I have been strictly advised not to over-use my arm eg by moving heavy weights for at least a week.

The stitches are due to be removed in 12 days time so I guess I’ll just have to put up with the fact that I’m going to lose time for the jobs that are still outstanding in my house. Fortunately I’ve still got 2½ months to go so I should still have enough time even so and in the meantime I can deal with other matters – like my new-build, the land purchase and finding a caravan to put on it for after I’ve moved out, all things I can do without requiring too much over-use of my left arm 🙂

April 5, 2021

Going backwards?

No, not really, but sometimes you have to make things (look) worse before you can make them better. And that’s the story with the walls, floor and ceiling around my new patio door that I installed last autumn but which I’m only just getting around to making good. Because of just how the house is and how old it is I always knew that it wasn’t going to be easy and I have to confess that I’d been putting off getting started.

But today was the day and I began by trimming the decorative floor tiles that I’ll eventually be laying and placing them in a bucket of water to prepare them to accept the mortar adhesive. If you don’t soak them beforehand they won’t stick properly and they’ll eventually become loose with disastrous results. I then moved on to pulling the ceiling in the door alcove down that I fitted myself just a few years ago and after that it was time to start on the walls.

If I do a job I always have to do it properly and that applies even though I’ll be moving out and leaving things behind me in the near future – maybe more so because of the latter as I’d hate for the new buyers to think that I’d done a bodge-job and left them with the consequences (as has been done to me on more than one occasion).

I always knew that the walls either side of the new patio door would need special attention because its door handles are very close to the door outer edges and you need to have space to get your fingers in when you slide the doors open. To make matters worse, both walls were rendered and plastered to suit the old windows the frames of which stood some way off the walls, which must now be trimmed back to suit the new door frame.

This won’t be too bad on the left-hand side because with a bit of cutting back towards the inside, the wall can be re-rendered and re-plastered to make a nice finished job, but the same couldn’t be said for the right-hand wall that had been built up much thicker and would need to be cut right back in order to make even a half-decent job. So knowing that, that’s the side I started with.

I was hacking the old render and plaster off using a club hammer and bolster which was a time and effort consuming job but slowly I got down to the original stonework, and then I found out why the thickness had been built up so much on that side. As the images below show, it was done to cover a door hinge from when my house was originally in use as a barn.

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As the second image above just shows, the hinge extends out from the wall beyond the edge of the door frame, so that leaves only two options. Either it will have to be left in place and made a decorative ‘feature’ of by painting it for example, or it will have to be removed. I don’t much fancy the first option, so it’ll have to come out. I suppose you can’t blame them for ‘disguising’ it as if they didn’t have a cutting torch available, at the time removing it would have been almost impossible. That’s not the case now as we have angle grinders and diamond cutting discs, so that’s the next job on my list before getting stuck into the making-good proper.

The last two shots below show what I mean by ‘having to make things worse before making them better’.

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The scene looks as though the ‘demolition man’ who put in my new bathroom windows had been back again, but actually things aren’t half as bad as they look. I’ve kept the corner on the left-hand side and although I’ve lost a bit on the right, it won’t be too hard to get it back again by nailing a length of wood onto the wall and plastering up to it.

I’m just so pleased to have got this stage over as once again the job created a huge amount of dust that floated right through the whole of the downstairs and up onto the landing and took ages to clear up. Hopefully, although I’ll have to take careful steps to protect the new patio door, cutting off the old door hinge won’t make such a mess, or at least I hope so.

Incidentally, I found when I hacked off the old render and plaster that at some time the plaster top coat had been applied over old plaster that was already painted white. When and why I guess I’ll never know – just one of the mysteries you encounter when you buy an old house like mine with an unknown history.

April 4, 2021

Doubly successful

My Easter week-end was all planned out some time ago with a strict job list that made me tell my house buyers that I was sorry, but I didn’t have the time for them to come over and look around the house again this week-end. I’ve had to spend so much time recently on my Fleurac new-build project that I feel as though I’m slipping behind on the work I need to do in my present house to meet the promises that I made to the buyers, so it was in their interests really that I was left alone this week-end to catch up a bit.

And to be honest, it’s becoming really stressful. As I found when I left the UK to drive a truck containing my furniture and belongings over to France which I was still loading with just a few short hours remaining before I had to catch the ferry from Dover and was forced to shut its doors and leave some stuff behind, lead-times have a habit of fast disappearing even when you think you’ve got plenty of time.

So I have to be strict. Yesterday according to my plan, I cut my grass for the first time and tidied up my garden, which looked all the better for it afterwards. It was a fairly long and tiring day so I was looking forwards to a more relaxed schedule today with just the making good to do around the third and last small window in my bathroom. I was gazing out of my kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil when I noticed what looked like puddles of water in the entrance leading from the road down to my house and as there has been no rain for some time, I went to investigate.

Sure enough, they were puddles of water which were getting bigger as I stood and watched and to my concern, water was oozing out of the ground close to the cover of the concrete box in the ground that contains my house’s mains water stop-cock and water meter. I knew that this had to mean trouble and when I removed the cover it was full to the brim and water gushed out. Fortunately, I knew where the stop-cock was and was able to put my hand down in the water right up to my armpit and shut the flow off.

It was impossible to tell what had gone wrong without removing the water so I then began a lengthy bailing-out job using a plastic bucket. I thought that I’d waste as little as possible as I had plastering and other work planned so kept three bucketsful, the rest ending up on the ground and when I’d got the water down as low as I could, I found what the problem was.

The water supply to my house first has the main stop-cock and then the water meter. Between the water meter and where the main joins the underground supply to my house there’s some kind of small venting device. This is, or was, used by the water company to vent air out of the system if they’d been doing any work out in the road that had opened the main supply to the atmosphere so technically it should have been positioned before the water meter on the company’s side making them responsible for it.

As it was, when I called the Veolia emergency number to report the mains leak (after disconnecting once after about 9 minutes and eventually being connected the second time after about 12) I ended up arguing the toss with some young woman who clearly had no technical knowledge and was just working from her script, about who was responsible for the call-out and the work involved. In the end I couldn’t be bothered with wasting any more time and just put the phone down on her.

I decided that I’d check to see if I could do any kind of repair myself. The down-side was that I might have to leave my water supply turned off until Tuesday when I’d be able to purchase a new one of whatever was needed, in the meantine having to fill buckets from my neighbour, Chantal’s, hosepipe next door.

My main concern was that due to its age, the device that had failed was corroded through and would have to be totally replaced, but when I removed the spindle that opens and closes it, I found that this wasn’t the case, as it was made of brass. What had happened was that the little rubber washer on the end of the spindle that screws down onto a face with a hole in it to shut the flow off once the air has been vented out had disintegrated due to its age and was therefore totally ineffective.

It took me a couple of tries making a replacement, first cutting a new washer out of a piece of rubber strip that I had in my workshop which reduced the leak to just a drip, and then making a better one out of a washer out of an old faulty stop-cock, before I was happy that I’d solved the problem. So wasn’t I lucky that Veolia had been so useless in their response to my emergency call (typical for the French state-owned utilities I’ve found) as if they had turned up, I’d probably have ended up arguing with them over a huge bill for a job that only required a 2 cents rubber washer and 45 minutes of my time.

So then it was back this afternoon to the making good around the last small window in my bathroom which I must confess, after my experiences with the other two, I wasn’t much looking forward to. The plaster that I’d used was flashing off so quickly that the previous jobs had been a nightmare, but as it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

In the meantime I’d bought a new back of finishing plaster from Brico Depot and this performed exactly as it should have, going off at a rate that allowed ample time to get it into place around the window frame and smoothed off. Here’s a shot of the finished job this evening – the plaster looks dark because it’s still ‘wet’ ie not fully cured, and will turn to pure white when it’s done.

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So once again I’ve proven that it’s a dead-loss sourcing certain items locally. As I’ve found many times in the past, when I’ve needed plumbing fittings, for example, local suppliers allow the trays of fast-moving items ie the most popular, to become empty before reordering new stock so after heading off in one direction I end up going further in the opposite one to obtain what I need.

And the plaster I bought at Briconautes in Montignac was another example. It was obviously old stock that had sat on the shelf for weeks, or possibly even months, presumably because there isn’t sufficient local demand to turn the stock over. This is never the case with Brico Depot, and not only that but I ended up buying a bag there that was 50% bigger than the one I’d got from Briconautes and cost a bit less too. So no wonder they can hardly sell any of the stuff!

March 31, 2021

Cuckoo

Yes, I heard my first one of this year this morning. Really. But what about this story for why we foreigners, and especially elderly British ex-pats like me, have such problems understanding French bureaucracy.

I am now close to being able to file my own Demande de Permit de Construire for my new house, almost finished actually. I’m just waiting on the ‘Controle Thermique’ to show that the house will meet current requirements relating to energy efficiency and insulation and then I’ll be able to file it.

One of the ‘challenging’ areas is that of the materials and colours that will be used in the building’s construction. All French regions and départements have a ‘colour palette’ that relates to the available local materials and their colours together with the colours that have traditionally been used in the area for items such as window frames and shutters (‘menuiseries’). The ‘rules’ have become more relaxed in recent years in some places – like Rouffignac locally, for example – but they are still applied pretty stringently in places like Fleurac. This is because Fleurac is in an ABF (Architectes des Bâtiments de France) area and they (ABF) have a brief to safeguard French heritage and tradition in areas which are regarded as worthy of special attention.

ABF are very powerful and can reject a Demande de Permit de Construire without right to appeal, so it’s always a good idea to stick as closely to their guidelines as you can. Having had a bit of a bumpy ride to date with my new house build project (see previous posts) I naturally want to have colours which are as close to my personal choice as possible whilst sticking to the local colour palette in order to optimise the chances of my Demande de Permis de Construire being approved. I therefore went to an authoritative source, which I won’t name, to see what choices were available.

And I was incredibly disappointed. I was handed a colour chart (see below) and told that I must only choose colours from category ‘C’, which was marked on the chart by a ballpoint line.

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The reason why I was so disappointed was that the available colour range was not only extremely limited but was also very dark and unattractive, indeed totally unsuitable for the contemporary design that I want to build. I’ll go on but first I’ll explain what the chart is all about.

The chart contains three rows and four columns. Down the left-hand side are the row names starting with ‘Façades’ (the colours for stonework, mortars and joints and renderings), ‘Menuiseries’ (the colours for woodwork, doors, windows and shutters) and ‘Ferroneries’ (the colours for ironwork, gates and fences). The columns show the colours in each tone range ranging from ‘Clair’ (light) on the left to ‘Foncé (dark) on the right and the reason for my disappointment was that all of the colours apparently available in Fleurac are at the dark end of the range.

This surprised me for two reasons. Firstly, the house builder had told me otherwise. My contact had specifically said that I could have cream woodwork (not white mind), dark red-brown shutters and a rendering (‘crepi’) with a pinkish hue to complement them, whereas this ‘authoritative source’ was seemingly telling me otherwise. Secondly, when I did my ‘survey’ of contemporary houses around the land where I intend to build my house, almost all of them had white (or cream) woodwork.

So this presented me with yet another dilemma – did I take the latest advice as gospel (even though I hated it) or did a dig deeper. I decided to do the latter, in the form of the ex-ABF gent at Rouffignac who had thrown cold water on my house design just a week or so ago. I thought that with his background he must surely be able to give me an authoritative answer, and so I popped in to see him yesterday.

And at the end of the day, lucky I did. This is how the conversation went.

Me: I have this colour chart and have been told that in Fleurac I am limited to the colours in column C

ex-ABF man: Yes

Me: So I have to choose from just these colours for my ‘enduit’ (external wall rendering) and my ‘menuiseries’?

ex-ABF man: Yes

Me: So would this also include the ‘bardage’ (the boards on which the gutter is mounted)?

ex-ABF man: Yes

Me: OK, I want to have dark red-brown shutters but what if I want to have cream painted ‘bardage’ – could I?

ex-ABF man: Yes

Me: Doh! OK, and what if I wanted my PVC double-glazed doors and windows to also be cream – could they be?

ex-ABF man: Yes

Me: Doh again! OK, I see that on the colour chart there is no pinkish colour available for my crepi ‘enduit’ – is there one?

ex-ABF man: Yes

By this time my brain was reeling somewhat as it seemed that everything that I wanted and had been told was forbidden I could actually have. At this point ex-ABF man whipped out a colour reference swatch and also a folder of ‘enduit’ colour samples labelled ‘St Astier’. I said that I thought they were very nice and asked if I could choose from them. He said that I could and in a few seconds I’d chosen colours from the swatch for my shutters (‘volets’), my gutter fascia boards (‘bardage’), and my windows and doors (‘menuiseries’), the latter three all being the same.

As I seemed to be on a winning streak, I decided to go for broke and ask about roof tile colours. ex-ABF man then whipped out another materials sheet and after sternly confirming that I did want flat tiles, didn’t I, wrote down the ‘approved’ maker’s name and product code. So I then had all of the information that I needed to complete my Demande de Permit de Construire and I was delighted, if somewhat bemused by the whole experience.

I told my French neighbour, Chantal, about it when I got back and she was as confused as I was, so it seems that it’s not just we foreigners who have problems understanding French bureaucracy – the French themselves do too. Now is that cuckoo or what… 🙂

March 27, 2021

Still trying!

Yes, my patience (and indeed my sanity…) are still being tried and this post is not just about my efforts to get things done in a timely manner but just getting things done at all, a perennial problem here in France. In my last post I mentioned the problems that I was encountering getting my new house build together and now I’ll go on to elaborate.

I found a buyer for my present house at the back-end of last year and also identified a parcel of land at Fleurac for a new-build. I quickly found a house design being offered by a large, established builder that would be a perfect fit for the land I’d found and I had my first meeting with the builder in the first week of January during which we agreed an outline budget and building programme.

The builder said that although I would be responsible for preparing and levelling the land to meet their requirements (‘terrassement’), laying on water and electricity on site and the installation of a waste water treatment system (‘assainissement’) they would deal with everything else, including obtaining a building permit (‘permis de construire’). The latter can be quite a complex process here in France due to local planning restrictions and the information that has to be provided, including plans and images of the house, specifications of materials with specific colour references etc and detailed thermal efficiency data. This is not easy for a private individual but is much more so for a builder with their own house design who can merely cut-and-paste the required information into the ‘Demande de Permis de Construire’.

I was told that the project would take about a year from that date, which I had no alternative other than to accept, but saying that if it was at all possible to bring things forward it would be a great help as I was already pretty committed to moving out of my present house within the coming three months. So it looked as though things were about to take off – except that they didn’t. My next two meetings with the builder were cancelled and in the meantime I was sent the wrong house plan and layout and also the wrong siting (‘implantation’) of the house on the land to approve, both of which I had to amend myself and return.

It wasn’t until early in March, two months later without meeting again in the meantime, that we met up on site with the builder’s surveyor to check the ‘implantation’ taking properly into account the land’s slope, soil type and other environmental factors (eg location of trees, roots etc) and it was on this occasion I was shocked to be told that the project’s completion date would now be summer 2022. This somewhat alarmed me to say the least as it meant that if I moved out of my present house in May this year as I’d originally planned to do, I’d be living in ’emergency’ accommodation for possibly up to 18 months. This presented me with a serious dilemma. Where I currently live I have no mortgage or living expenses other than the ‘taxe foncière’ and the ‘taxe d’habitation’ that all householders have to pay. If I have to rent alternative accommodation for just 12 months, even a very modest house or apartment would cost from 500€ a month and possibly more, giving a total ‘excess’ outgoings figure of at least 6000€.

I don’t find that prospect very attractive – not because I’m mean or a penny-pincher but because if I’m dishing out that sort of figure, I’d rather spend it on fixtures, fittings and furniture in the new house (eg a heat pump floor heating system would cost around that figure) and in any case, now I’m retired, money doesn’t come that easily. I started out with the idea that I’d acquire a second-hand mobile home and site it on the land until the house was complete, as many others do, and this is still my preferred option. They can be found for 2000€ or less on Le Bon Coin and can be sold on at the end of the project for about the same amount leaving just transport and siting, around 1000-1500€ as the sunk cost. I don’t much fancy spending the winter in one but needs must and I’m sure I’d get through it.

Nevertheless, I was disappointed to learn how the builder had apparently done very little in the meantime, despite having told me that they’d received outline planning approval for the house, and how the lead time had been extended by so much as a result. My main concern was that the builder had done little (nothing really) to advance the project in an administrative sense. Under French law, I’m unable to finalise the purchase of the land until I have been granted a ‘Permit de Construire’ and I can’t touch the land, let alone site a mobile home on it, until I’m the legal owner.

But even to apply for a Permit de Construire, I have to have a waste water system that’s been officially approved for the building and the land with a declaration as such from the local authority that has to be attached to the Demande de Permit de Construire. The catch was, as I’d found out but not the builder (due to my recent contact with SPANC, the authority in question who have an office in Montignac), that there is currently a high level of demand for their services and their usual 1 month turnround had become extended to 2 months or more.

So allowing a further month (assuming my Demand de Permis de Construire gets a fair wind, which usually they don’t) I surmised that I likely wouldn’t be in a position to seal the land purchase until June or July at the current rate of progress, and with a planned removal date from my present house of end May, I’d end up facing major accommodation problems. In a nutshell, I’d end up homeless with nowhere to live and with my land purchase still hanging in limbo.

I therefore decided that I needed a Plan B, which I saw as being a house design of my own with the same essential characteristics of the original design that I could show to other builders in the hope of securing a shorter lead-time and also deal with personally for administrative purposes ie the demands for the waste water system and the building permit. So this is what I started to devote my time to all the while leaving the original house project in the hands of the original builder but so I’d have an alternative to fall back on if things eventually went pear-shaped.

And this is when the ordure hit the fan in a big way. My design was similar to but different from the original builder’s design (for legal reasons if nothing else) but retained certain essential characteristics, which I won’t go into for now to save time. However, whereas the original design had apparently been given outline planning approval by a government organisation called Les Architectes des Bâtiments de France, who brood over proposed house designs and jealously guard building form, house types, materials and colours to preserve local and regional traditions, a second builder who I discussed my new design with reported back that it had been turned down and would not be permitted to be built on my particular parcel of land.

The reasons given would also have excluded the original design, so this was something of a mystery to me. Fleurac is in a semi-protected area, what the builders call an ABF area (see paragraph above) and they are used to being knocked back in such an arbitrary way, just shrug their shoulders and either get the client to build a house that they didn’t ask for and don’t want (like me) or walk away to look for another client.

I don’t want to make a big thing about it, but deference comes more easily to the French who are used to being controlled by the ‘authorities, but it’s not something that we Brits subscribe to, especially ex-pats of my generation. So while recognising that I might well have to pull the shutters down on my project, I decided to put the effort into a counter-attack action.

The respondent at Bâtiments de France wanted me to totally abandon my plan for a modern single storey house with a low-pitched roof for a design that looks just like what I’m now trying to get out of, of a simple rectangular design with a high-pitched Périgordian roof. I know that the land in question has houses on all sides of the type that I want to build so over a week-end I did my own survey using Google Earth, one of my drones and a camera.

The results were stunning. Of 16 houses built in recent years, 12 are ‘non-traditional’ in terms of design, roof style and colour ie are similar to what I want to build and of the 4 remaining ones, one was a rebuild of a ruin so can’t really be counted as a new-build. The respondent also said that my proposed design, which is in the form of a 45 degree ‘V’ was ‘too complicated’ and that I should look at either a rectangle or an ‘L’ (damn cheek – neither shape is suitable for the land in question for technical reasons) and I had great pleasure in providing pictures taken at ground level and from overhead using my drone showing a ‘traditional’ style house (an utter monstrosity we all think actually) that is currently under construction just down the road and is in the shape of a ‘V’.

I pointed all of this out when I sent my evidence to the gentleman saying at the same time that if he was intent on creating a museum of traditional house designs in Fleurac, that horse had already fled the stable. However, when presented with evidence based on facts and common-sense, French bureaucrats just dig in (it’s a face thing I think) so I knew that I had to look for another angle of attack. This was in the person of the Mayor of Fleurac who I know and doesn’t suffer fools gladly, so I took the correspondence and my papers along to the Mairie to show him.

Partially as a result of our meeting, the approval for my proposed waste water system came through in a week (compared to the originally stated 2 months), although I know the SPANC people pretty well and they had already indicated that they were dealing favourably with my request. The Maire also showed from the official papers that he is bound by in respect of planning approvals that there would be no problem obtaining a building permit for my proposed house and that I should continue with my project as it would be with his support.

When I started typing this post I had in mind a final paragraph along the lines of ‘so now the tide is turning and the waters are beginning to flow my way’, and that was indeed the case up until yesterday when I had a follow-up meeting with the (original) builder to progress the project from their side. They’ve tried to get me to sign a contract on several occasions and I’ve always demurred and will continue doing so until I have a firm budget that’s acceptable to me, an agreed timing plan and evidence that they are progressing the project in a serious way, especially in respect of the building permissions that are required.

This was supposed to be a ‘turn-key’ project but already I’ve had to move things along by securing the declaration of conformity of my planned waste water system myself. When I sent that over to them I emphasised that it was essential for them to contact and speak with the Mayor of Fleurac who was waiting for their call, so I was somewhat miffed to hear that the lady to whom I was speaking hadn’t done so.

I was also annoyed that she should then start wittering on about colour schemes and the like, which are trivial and easily decided upon once the crucial matters that I mentioned above have been resolved. But then came the bombshell that I was somehow expecting from her body language. Following our previous conversations she was proposing that the cost of the house was increasing by a massive 20,000€ due, she said, to the state of the terrain which would require an enormous amount of groundwork due to it being in a ‘red zone’ for clay.

I regard this as nonsense as their ‘surveyor’ did not carry out a detailed analysis of the terrain when he came to examine the planned ‘implantation’ of the new house. All they were using was the mandatory ‘controle’ that I had given them a copy of that was carried out by a surveyor on behalf of the seller which shows the whole of Fleurac and a huge part of the surrounding area being in a ‘red zone’ on a national chart produced by the government. It says nothing about individual parcels of land within the zone and in fact the ‘controle’ merely advised footings 1.2-1.5m in depth with other precautionary measures and nothing that would cost 18,000€ more than the figure originally estimated.

So that was when I called a halt to the meeting. This leaves me in a difficult position due to my potential ‘accommodation vulnerabilty’ which perhaps she was playing on and I think that this will be the end of the road for that builder. Luckily some others who I contacted sensing that things would go adrift have taken my putting them off very kindly and doors have been left open for me to remake contact with them. I have a fully finalised alternative design of my own to discuss with them and I have a couple of knowledgeable local contacts to call next week, one of whom is the very experienced company who took my enormous tree out and ‘terrassed’ my garden for me, who know the local land and soil intimately and will be able to tell me what to do next. They might also be available to do the groundwork for me, who knows.

I’ve now got to press on with finalising and submitting my own Demande de Permis de Construire which under the circumstances, I’d like to have in my hands before I finalise the land purchase. When I did the Demande for my planned extension, which isn’t now going ahead of course, there was a government web site available that allowed anyone to generate a thermal efficiency study free of charge. It seems that that’s now been withdrawn and you have to use the services of ‘a professional’. That’s annoying but at around 100€, it’s not too onerous. Just another aspect of the ‘closed shops’ that exist in France keeping people employed.

But at the end of it all, here I am over 2½ months down the road and with practically no progress made. And what progress there has been, I’ve achieved myself. My French neighbour, Chantal, screwed up her nose at the beginning when I originally told her about the builder and how they were behaving and it looks as though she was right. As I said right at the start of this post, just getting anything done here is incredibly difficult and getting anything done to an agreed deadline is almost impossible. Unless you do it yourself, so that’s what I’ve now got to buckle down and do – while at the same time having to do the work on my house that I said I would do (eg replacement windows, making good etc) before I hand it over at the end of June. This is like being back working full-time – and not being retired at all 😕

This is the latest, and hopefully final, version of my own house design. All of the previous versions, including the builder’s own original version, had an attached garage. However, hardly anyone down here has a garage and I’ve managed without one for 9 years. I was thinking about enlarging it so I could use it as a workshop, but what the heck, why not save the outlay, do away with it and build a separate garage/workshop if I need it? Makes more sense to me.

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March 9, 2021

Trying times

Very trying to say the least. First, the new replacement windows that were delivered pre-Christmas but which I’ve not had the time to put in myself, mainly due to problems to do with my new house build that I’ll go on to talk about later. I eventually decided that much as I like to do things myself (because then I get the kind of job that I want), I’d have to get an ‘expert’ handyman in to do the job in order to ease the pressure on me.

Now, anyone who has fitted replacement windows knows that to do a proper job you need to take the measurements of the old windows very accurately so when the old frames have been removed, a gap of 1 cm is left all around the frames of the replacements, which are then carefully wedged in place and secured. Then the gap is filled with mastic or silicone sealant which then cures, so at the end of the day the job looks as perfect as possible with the minimum of making good to be done.

In order to achieve the latter, your work has to be very careful and accurate and with this in mind I spent a considerable amount of time and effort measuring up my old windows before ordering the replacements to exactly the required dimensions in order to achieve as perfect a job as possible. In the long run, doing so saves time and effort, as my friend Wim and I proved when we fitted my new sliding patio door.

This was far more challenging than the window replacements as not only was there a lot of wall to be knocked out but the surface left into which the frame then had to be installed was also very rough and irregular making it difficult to achieve a good end result. But we managed to do so as the following three shots show – the first two showing the sealant gap on either side inside (before making the wall good, which will cover it) and the third a typical piece of the sealant outside.

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So fitting the replacement windows should have been something of a doddle for an ‘expert’, especially as I said to start on the three small ones in the bathroom which being smaller and lighter than those in the bedrooms should have been much less challenging.

I suppose I should have spotted the red flag when the ‘expert’ who had been recommended to me to do the job didn’t have a small electric angle grinder, essential for cutting away the masonry on each side of the three apertures after the old frames had been removed in order to get the replacements to sit deeper inside, and I had to lend him mine. However, I was astonished when I heard what sounded more like demolition coming from the bathroom and eventually I had to go and investigate what was going on.

I found that ‘demolition’ was actually very close to the mark. All my efforts in accurate measurement had been cast to the wind, but not only that, what I found was a disaster. The room looked like Raqqa after a Syrian airstrike with rubble all over the floor. The new windows had been fitted with a temporary plastic section on their bases to protect them during transportation and the ‘expert’ had used one as a pattern. However, he’d left the plastic section on when cutting the holes in the wall so he had unnecessarily removed a huge amount of masonry in order to accomodate it, in all three holes.

He’d also ripped out the window frames complete without cutting them before removing them, so as to do as little damage to the surrounding walls as possible, and the inevitable result was that not only were the holes grossly over-size for the new windows but there was also considerable damage to the surrounding plasterwork.

All in all the job was an abomination and it was no wonder that he complained about the difficulty of making secure fixings above, below and to the sides of the new windows. And not only that, he’d cut so much out of the top of the first hole that when secured, the top of the window was below the top of the aperture and special measures will eventually be needed to make the job good.

He had clearly never ever done such a job in his life before and in truth I don’t think that he was capable of doing so. Here’s what it looked like at the end of the day when he finally quit to go home. First, the two windows in the bathroom.

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Now the third window in the toilet – exactly the same as the other two with all the same problems.

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My original intention was to go ahead next week-end and install the replacements in the bedrooms, but I decided that there was no way that it would be possible for that to go ahead. In fact although I’ll have to pay him for what he’s done so far, the ‘expert’ has been informed that his further services will not be required.

When I think of what my plans were and how carefully I’d measured up and prepared for these replacement windows, I am actually furious. My neighbour Chantal said that I should have told him to make the work good but there was no way that I’d let him touch anything else. Making good will be down to me and in fact it’ll take me longer than if I’d done the whole job myself. If only I had done.

I detest the spray foam that incompetent handymen use to plug gaps and fill holes. When I was young I had the privilege to work during my school and university holidays with skilled tradesmen who were expert at their jobs and never had the need to ‘bodge’ anything as they always did things properly and ended up with perfect results.

I’ve never forgotten those lessons and it’s why I’m so demanding, not only of others who do things for me but also of myself, and I’ve even been known to trash what I’ve been working on and start over again. But today I had no choice and after filling the massive gaps around the windows with foam and cutting it back when it had cured sufficiently this evening, this is how things looked.

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The ‘expert’ seemed to think that all one has to do is ‘bodge’ the gaps with the foam and then plaster up to the new window frames. But you can’t. You must have a flexible joint (ie mastic or silicone sealant) between the frame and the plasterwork. The reason is that the frame and the wall expand and contract at different rates and without such a joint cracks will soon develop and the new windows will begin to look very shabby.

So although any idiot can blow spray foam around the frames, cutting it back so (a) you can get sufficient depth of plaster around them and (b) a gap to take the flexible joint, takes much more time and skill. And that’s why you take the trouble to work accurately and carefully in the first place so you don’t have such problems, the total opposite to what this bozo did.

I was going to go on to talk about the problems I’m facing with my new house build but it’s getting late so I’ll leave it to my next post, when I’ll go through things in detail.

February 27, 2021

Rev up your engines!

As one veteran Youtuber is fond of saying. We may not have quite turned the corner here weatherwise – we’re expecting some early-hours freezing temperatures next week-end if we can believe the weather forecast for that far ahead – but we’ve been getting some lovely days and must be quite close to it. On my way back from the supermarket the other day I saw 21 degrees Celsius on my car temperature gauge and we’ve been getting 15 – 17 degrees on a fairly regular basis.

Today we had blue sky and around 16 degrees so having made a start on the making good to the floor in front of my ‘new’ patio door yesterday and as I was feeling a bit tired after all the cleaning up that I had to do (fine dust everywhere from having used a diamond blade to cut chunks out of the existing floor tiles) I thought that I’d take a break to go over to Malbec and run the engines of my Savannah and Xair. And I was glad that I did because I felt much better afterwards for having done so and had the benefit of the sun and fresh air.

Both engines started faultlessly despite not having been run for several weeks. The fuel pressure on the Savannah took a while to come up, which it hasn’t done before. It wasn’t because there wasn’t any – the engine started and ran fine before the needle rose to the right level – so there might be the makings of either a sensor or gauge problem. I suspect that the former is more likely but I’ll have to keep my eye on the situation and see if I can find a way to check what’s going on. It’s really annoying that I have so many other things on my plate at the moment.

The Xair also had a brief problem with its fuel system. After it had started and begun running, the front Bing carburettor began overflowing and fuel began blowing back onto the windscreen. I stopped the engine and cleaned it off as soon as I noticed, being mindful of the damage that occurred to my Savannah’s screen a year or so ago, but luckily no harm was done.

I removed the carburettor bowl but both of the floats were working fine so I surmised that the problem was something to do with the carburettor’s fuel shut-off needle valve. Ater I jiggled it up and down a few times and replaced the bowl, everything worked OK, so it was probably because of just a small deposit that had formed as a result of the fuel in the carb having evaporated.

So apart from the Savannah’s fuel pressure gauge problem, I was happy with how things went. Even that might also have been due to fuel in the system having evaporated and may revert to normal next time now that fuel has flowed through the system, I’ll have to wait and see. The last time that I ran the engines I shot a video of the Xair so this time I took a few shots of the Savannah.

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It looks OK in the above shots but is actually rather dusty and dirty despite not having been flown (I think) since I last cleaned it. I must get around to doing that. I also bought several metres of cheap fabric a while back to make some hangar covers for it to keep the dust and bird poo off it while it’s in the barn. It was noticeable today that the Xair, which has outdoor covers on, was still clean so I need to find some time to do that too. When I just do not know…

February 25, 2021

Back in the groove

Not completely, but getting there. The amount I’ve got to get done before I move out of my house is quite frightening and what with Covid and a long, wet winter, I’m out of the habit. But I’ve got to force myself to get back into things as I’ve done all that I can for the time being on my new-build, and today I got underway at long last with tackling the tiling and making-good around my ‘new’ patio door. I say ‘new’ because it has actually been in for some months, since the end of last autumn, but what with the appallingly wet winter we had plus the work I’ve had to do to get my new-build project underway, I’ve not been able to get around to starting on it.

I’ll go onto what I’ve been doing today, but first I’ll tell where we’ve got to with the new-build. Yesterday was a very exciting and productive day. It started off with meeting Sandrine, my commercial contact at the building company, and one of their surveyors on the land itself. The latter got out his laser level surveying system and was soon feeding Sandrine with data to write down on the plan that she’d prepared showing the new house’s proposed position, based on the numbers etc that I’d given her taken from a plan that I’d made to scale as best I could, which is shown below.

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To cut a long story short, he concluded that I wouldn’t be able to place the house as far back from the road as I’d originally said – 25 metres – because of the slope of the land. He said that the furthest it could go was 24 metres. I’m not sure whether he was joking or not, but he kept a straight face and I was naturally delighted. I will have to have some vegetation removed along the northern tree border though, but evidently my plan was not far out at all and I will be able to have 3m between the house and the northern border and 5m to the south, exactly as I want.

At the end I handed Sandrine a copy of the detailed building plan that I had prepared and shown in my last post. We’ll be discussing that at a meeting next week among many other matters but before she departed she confirmed that one of the pernickety but non-negotiable requirements of Bâtiments de France, the overall controller of building planning, is that all windows must be higher than they are wide. This is rather annoying to say the least because I don’t think that this is appropriate for a low-roofed modern house design, but it appears that I have no choice.

And this became even more relevant later in the day when I happened to bump into the seller of my land and the mayor of Fleurac also coincidentally dropped by at the same time. He confirmed the fact about the windows and said that if my ‘Demande de Permit de Construire’ (planning application) didn’t comply it would be summarily rejected. And fortuitously, while we were talking contact was made with the department of ‘Urbanisme’ at Rouffignac and Bâtiments de France in Périgueux when it was confirmed that if my Demande de Permit de Construire wasn’t submitted within the next few days, it wouldn’t even be looked at until 8th April.

Whether this is because of Covid or not I don’t know, but I was also given the name and telephone number of a contact in Bâtiments de France who, if the house-builder contacted him, would ensure that there are no slip-ups and delays and the Demande would be given a fair wind. So what a fortunate unplanned meeting that turned out to be. After their survey, the house-builder has enough information to submit a sufficiently detailed Demande de Permit de Construire within a very short period which should then get very quick approval.

This will unlock several things, including allowing my purchase of the land to be finalised, for a start then to made on levelling it and preparing it for building (‘terrassement’) and for the waste system to be installed (‘assainissement’). If this is left too long then the whole project will be log-jammed until May/June which will be the result of the Demande not being looked at before 8th April. My guess is that in such an event, with building work stopping for the usual one month break in August, it would be difficult for me to achieve a moving-in date of late-summer/early autumn.

But that wasn’t all that happened yesterday. I’d stopped on the land to make a phone call on my way home but couldn’t get a connection for some reason. While I was there, a small combo van/estate pulled up in front of me and a young woman got out and walked over to the plot of land next to mine. After we’d introduced ourselves, it turned out that we will be neighbours. She has acquired a bit more land than has been shown on the various maps and charts that I’ve posted and plans to put a small house on it. We exchanged details about where each of our houses will be and I’ll tell more at a later date but she was absolutely charming and I think that if everything works out as it should do, I’ll be very lucky to yet again have a super neighbour.

So now on to today. I’ve finally made a start on preparing the special hand-made tiles that I bought up in the Vendée to patch the floor in front of my new patio door. I want to create the same pattern as I did for my fireplace and that involves cutting them down to size. My existing floor tiles (described as ‘tomettes’ because of their age) are a now relatively uncommon 30 cm square which is partly why I can’t match them. The hand-made tiles that I’ve bought for the job are nominally 16cm square so can’t ‘fit’ directly with the existing ones – they need to be cut down.

Reducing them in size to 15 cm square isn’t enough as that wouldn’t allow for joints but 14.5 cm allows for two to the width of one existing tile with joints of 1 cm all round. Shaving 1.5 cm off each of two sides of the plain small tiles is easy but it’s not so straightforward for the ones that have a Fleur de Lys pattern in their centre. These you have to start by trimming two sides down to 15.25 cm width and the other two to 14.5 cm, rotating the tile consistently either clockwise or anti-clockwise as you go.

That gives the required final result – or not depending on whether the pattern was positioned dead in the centre when the original tile was initially thrown. I found that some of the first few that I did were slightly off centre and the only way I could correct that was by checking by eye where the pattern was and choosing which sides to start trimming first. This gave good if not always perfect results but heck, they were hand-made after all.

The job was made quite easy by using my electric tile cutter that I’ve had stored in my workshop ever since I constructed my fireplace back in February 2013. It has an electric blade with water lubrication and works a treat. I acquired it for not a lot of money back then from Le Bon Coin and am I glad that I did. Here are some shots of using it today in my workshop and of the results.

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Here’s a shot of the little decorative diamonds that I made from cutting up a couple of the patterned tiles. The supplier calls them ‘Cabouchons’ and wants quite a lot for them but my machine made it easy for me to make them myself for a fraction of the price.

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Now I’ve started I’ll press on tomorrow and hopefully get onto the tiling proper over the week-end. As I mentioned at the very beginning, my ‘to-do’ list is getting ever longer and time is becoming shorter by the day. And I mustn’t forget that I have two ULMs waiting over at Malbec to be wheeled out of the barn, cleaned, started and flown. When I’ll be able to do that I just don’t know. Will it be before or after I prepare my Ford C-Max and get it up for sale, because that’s on the list as well 😕

February 22, 2021

Above and beyond?

Probably. I was working hard on the plans for my new house over the week end and I now think that I’ve done as much as I’m going to. I have a meeting with the surveyor of the house-builder on the land itself on Wednesday to plan its ‘implantation’ ie where exactly it will be physically positioned, and I hope to come away with an agreement that meets my requirements and with the land marked out.

What reservations I have are centred on the ‘misunderstandings’ that the house-builder and I have already had and the time-slippage that we have already incurred (they disagree but I think so) and in order to avoid more of the same and any potential misunderstandings as a result of language, for example, I have now put down chapter-and-verse on paper in the form of a four page document that I will hand over to them.

After the house-builder provided me a few days ago with an incorrect initial plan of ‘implantation’ showing the house at only 15 metres from the road which I then had to redraw correctly and to scale with it at a distance of 25 metres, I’m waiting to see what transpires on Wednesday and naturally hope that the message got through. But I’ve also gone even further and addressed the key design issues to make sure that before we even get to the point of sticking a shovel in the ground, both parties (they and I) are fully in agreement about what the end product will look like.

I’ve stuck to the builder’s standard footprint for the house as I think that to modify that would be to incur unnecessary, and possibly quite high, cost. However, I can’t see how defining exactly where I want internal walls to be positioned, especially if they only vary by a few centimetres from their plan, will affect the cost in any way whatsoever, so that’s what I’ve been working on.

Only when I started getting into the nitty-gritty, did I realise that all of the other dimensions are dictated by the dimensions of the kitchen. This is because (a) the kitchen is at the heart of the house and (b) its dimensions are key, because only by specifying them exactly will it be possible to neatly and effectively install a range of kitchen units. Once you do that, you can work through the rest of the design modifying other dimensions as necessary as you go in order to preserve sensible proportions and living spaces, but all of that takes time, effort and understanding and whereas I had enough of the former two, only by getting engrossed in the job could I obtain enough of the latter to be successful.

So in order to ‘screw everything down’ and leave absolutely no room for misinterpretation or misunderstanding I’ve therefore used Edificius to create a general layout, a detailed and accurately dimensioned building plan and elevation and section images, the latter to show the assumptions I’ve used for things like floor slab thickness, wall heights, door and window dimensions and the ‘delta’ ie height above floor, of the latter. I’ve shown all of these items below.

First, the general layout.

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Now the detailed building plan.

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And now the views that I mentioned – others possible but those shown sufficient for the purpose in hand.

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Now some new images of the house on the actual terrain. Edificius does a much better job than Sketchup although needing quite a lot more time and effort from me. However, I also had to create many of the items used eg kitchen, external guttering, shutters, in Sketchup before importing them into Edificius.

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And to finish off, a couple of overhead shots that are also in my view superior to the ones I originally created using my old Sketchup house model.

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So as you can see, an awful lot of work and effort involved. Was it all necessary and will it all be worth it? Who knows, only time will tell. But I’d say that the answer will be ‘Yes’ to both question if in the end the project runs smoothly and to cost and I end up getting exactly what I want.

February 15, 2021

Weird flight

I just happened to be checking Flightradar24 to identify an aircraft flying over my house this morning, just before mid-day I think it was (Transavia, destination Eindhoven), when I came across this weird flight that was going on near Périgueux.

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There were no aircraft details available but clearly something very strange was going on and had been for something like half an hour, or maybe a bit longer. The aircraft was most probably a small single-engine type because it was showing a ground speed of around 100 kts and was indicating a calibrated altitude ranging from just under 1000ft to a maximum of just over 1300ft during the period that I was tracking it.

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Flightradar24 indicated that the flight had originated in Chambery near the Swiss border something like 2 hrs 45 mins previously and sure enough this was proven to be correct by zooming the map out.

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Closer scrutiny indicated that the flight had apparently been going smoothly up until the time the aircraft reached Objat to the north of Brive, after which it became incredibly erratic, twisting and turning randomly as it slowly transitioned westwards and climbing and descending as it did so, almost as though there was no qualified pilot in control.

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As I watched it, after it had passed Périgueux it turned back towards the east until just after it had passed Bassillac aerodrome, the trace suddenly ended. It could be that this occurred because the pilot decided to execute a hasty landing at Bassillac and descended to an altitude at which radar contact was lost. It might also have meant that whoever was in control switched off the aircraft’s transponder – which, incidentally, was not properly installed and set up as it was not transmitting any data about the aircraft itself.

Or finally, it could have indicated something much more ominous and I’ll keep an ear to the ground in case I hear of anything untoward having happened. The Flightradar24 trace would certainly seem to indicate that something out of the ordinary was going on – pilot incapacity for example – but whatever it was, one hopes that anyone involved came out of it OK.

Actually, I’ve just found the same flight on Airnav.Radarbox. It appears that the aircraft in question might be Cessna 182 registration F-HBRH and that it might have landed at Bassillac. I do hope that that’s the case.

February 14, 2021

I love this new technology!

One of the things you have to do to obtain planning approval for any kind of building work here is to show eg by ‘photomontage’, what the building project will look like in finished form in its actual environment. I thought that it might be interesting to show ‘the big picture’ by using backgrounds lifted from shots taken by one of my drones and shown below is what I’ve come up with.

First off, taken from a low height – only 7 or 8 metres – from the road at the western end of the terrain.

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Now a shot taken from a south-westerly direction.

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This is a shot of the back of the house taken from the east.

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The next shot was taken from the south.

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Now a shot taken from the south-east.

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And finally a shot taken from the north-east.

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It’s almost impossible to get the scale dead right but I think they’re really interesting and I’m very pleased with the results. I think they give a great idea of how the house will look and are much better than just using images from ground level. When we eventually get to meet I’ll see whether the construction company would like to use any of them. It’ll save them having to produce anything of their own and as I’m now getting rather anxious to move on, anything that can save time will be welcome in my book!

February 12, 2021

Back again

My contact at the building company is still sick, unfortunately, so our meeting has had to be postponed yet again. So in the meantime I’ve come back again to post some more kitchen pictures, this time from the Edificius ‘walkthrough’ mode. Not only is this good fun to use but it also gives a reasonable ‘feel’ for a room with an idea of how spacious it will be in reality.

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I’m very pleased with the outcome. I think that the above pics make the room look more spacious than it does in the 3D ones of the model taken from above. I hope that it turns out that way in reality. I’ve definitely decided to leave the fridge where it is as I don’t think that losing a wall cupboard is an option even if losing a bit of worktop is. By the way, I’ve left the large gap between the floor-mounted cabinets where the wall bends for now. When the time comes I’ll look for a way of either just blanking it off (not desirable) or making it into a little storage area with a shelf maybe (preferred option).

February 12, 2021

All done!

Well, for now anyway, and I’ll only make changes if I spot any problems or come up with any more ideas. As I suspected, the problem was planning a layout that gave me everything that I needed in what I think is a rather compact kitchen space. Experience has shown me that you must have as much worktop space as possible and that you can never have too much storage space, so my aim was to maximise both while not making the kitchen cramped and still having enough space for a small table and chairs. I think that I’ve managed to do it, as the following pics show.

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I’ve kept a small fridge and the dishwasher in the kitchen, the latter close by the sink, which will facilitate connecting it up. I’ve had to relegate the freezer to the ‘cellier’ though, but that’s not a big problem because you’re not accessing it all the time and it will only be across the hall anyway. I may look at the layout again and make the small fridge in the corner into a tall fridge/freezer at the expense of losing some worktop space and a wall cupboard, although I’d be reluctant to lose the latter, but I’ll have to do that later and it won’t require any changes to be made to the house plan anyway. I am pleased with how quite by chance the sink has come out dead in front of the window, which will be a huge improvement on my current house, which, typically for old French country houses, has the sink facing a blank wall.

So that’s it for now. I’ve got a meeting with the house builder this afternoon, which I’m looking forward to. I’ve got a lot of questions to ask 😉

February 10, 2021

Just for fun?

No, not really. Although my Edificus computer model isn’t complete (it doesn’t have a roof on for a start, let alone much furniture or any decor at all), I thought that I’d learn again how to activate the program’s ‘walkthrough’ view mode. This was very handy when I was doing the planning for my existing house’s extension because with the model placed in it’s ‘proper’ environment and coloured correctly, even though it was empty, ‘walking through’ it gave you a pretty good feel for how the final job would turn out.

In the interim, I’d forgotten how to activate it but I managed to get it going again this evening and I’ve shown a few results from it below, starting with the master bedroom.

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Now the second bedroom.

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And finally bedroom 3, which will be a secondary guest room.

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Now the bathroom.

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And last but not least, the little separate toilet.

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OK, it’s only a bit of fun – well, almost. In fact, it has given me a reasonable ‘feel’ for how the house will be in ‘real life’, plus it has gone a long way towards allaying my fears that the rooms will feel a bit ‘pokey’. On the contrary, I now think that the bedrooms will be ‘bigger’ than I first thought, which is something of a relief. I’m not convinced about the kitchen, though, so I’ll need to ‘fit’ some units into it as well before I start thinking that it too might present a space problem.

February 9, 2021

Getting in deeper now

I’m a stickler for detail and hate making decisions unless I’ve got all of the necessary information, especially if they are important ones. Like signing a contract for a house design. The house I’m having built is ‘100% customisable’ says the builder. But at a price, obviously, so although you don’t want to ask for changes that are merely frivolous, you do want to make sure that when you put pen to paper, you know that the final product will meet your essential requirements.

I’ve been given several versions of my ‘proposed’ layout that have all differed slightly from the version shown on the construction company’s web site. The latter doesn’t have any dimensions on it but the later versions do, so they have given me something concrete to work with (please excuse the unintended pun). I created an initial computer model using Sketchup Free which I used for the ‘pretty’ images that I’ve posted showing the exterior of my new house with colours etc which have been accurate and to scale but although Sketchup can be used by expert users of the program to do so, I’m not up to doing a highly accurate plan with accurately positioned exterior and and interior walls of the correct thickness, doors, windows, interior furniture and all that stuff.

However, I am fairly skilled at a moderately low level in the use of Edificius, the software that I used to do all of the planning work for the extension on my current house, which won’t now being going ahead, of course. When I downloaded Edificius there was a free version with all of the full program’s features except you couldn’t print from it. This wasn’t important for people like me who don’t need full A3 printouts the way proper architects do as there are ways of getting around the problem.

The main issue that I face with my free version is that I can’t download many official Edificus 3D objects (like WCs, showers, hand basins) to incorporate in my house model. I could if I upgraded it, but the catch is that it would then become a subscription model and not free, which wouldn’t be economical for me as I won’t have a long term use for the program. However, I can get around that problem as well because there’s a huge range of free 3D Sketchup models on the internet which I can export into Edificius by way of a complex, somewhat convoluted process that I won’t even try to explain here.

So that’s what I’ve been doing, with great success. My Edificius skills are certainly good enough to work on a single floor building, so I got cracking again and after relearning stuff that I’d forgotten in the meantime, created a highly accurate 3D model of the new house’s layout.

Along the way I learnt an amazing amount about the house which otherwise I wouldn’t have appreciated. My initial reaction a day or so ago, based on the rough dimensions that I’d gleaned from the construction company’s original plan, was that the bedrooms are too narrow to take proper double beds with side units, which I found somewhat alarming. However, my detailed work showed that although Tarquin in Kensington might describe the house as ‘a bijou residence’, I was wrong, as I’ll go on to explain.

First, the plan itself.

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I’ve put everything into it that I definitely want as of now. The bed sets I’ve put in the bedrooms are tight but not as bad as I thought and the ones I’ve used I’ve adjusted for scale. The beds are about right but the side units might still be a bit narrower than average but at least everything looks doable. There’s enough room in all the bedrooms to have a drawer unit on the wall opposite each bed and although bedrooms 1 and 2 will have fitted cupboard space, bedroom 3 is large enough to also have a small wardrobe and it will only be a 2nd guest bedroom anyway.

I’ve extended the right hand kitchen wall (looking from inside towards the window) to the right of the window more than the construction company has in its floorplan and also allowed enough width for a worktop right along the whole left wall. This should give plenty of opportunity to design a good kitchen layout and the space I’ve nicked from the living room won’t matter as there’ll still be plenty of room to the right of the kitchen wall for my dining table and chairs.

I’m thinking about playing around a bit more and making the kitchen window into a door and seeing what that means for the rest of the layout but that’s my next job for later.

I was thinking that the bedrooms are tight compared to what I’ve got now but then again I’ve only got two at the moment and this floorplan has three. Also there’s storage space in the bedroom cupboards and in the ‘cellier’ which will be a utility room for the washing machine and my big fridge and freezer if I keep them and I have hardly any storage space for anything in my present house.

The bathroom is, let’s say, ‘compact’ but I think there’s adequate space for the shower, basin and WC. In fact I think that the shower I’ve shown is quite ‘fat’ and extends further into the room than other walk-ins that I’ve seen. I need to get some real measurements though and adjust it to make it totally realistic to confirm this as the WC and hand basin are both to proper scale.

Here are some shots of the 3D model from various directions and angles which give an excellent ‘feel’ for how things will look. It’s also possible with Edificius to ‘walk’ through the building and even make a recording of the ‘journey’, but I haven’t got around to doing that just yet. Maybe later, but it’s not essential.

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One final observation, however. The garage won’t take my Bentley when I get it… 🙂

February 2, 2021

What’s this then?

It’s my proposed new house actually shown on the land on which it will be built – it’s amazing what you can do nowadays with relatively unsophisticated software. The images below show the four principal elevations of one of the versions that I’ve worked up with the house in ‘Perigordian’ style, that’s with the walls rendered with the traditional orangey ‘crepi’ cement. First up, from the west (the road).

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Now from the north.

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Now from the east.

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And finally, from the south.

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The computerised images that the house-builder sent me were so inaccurate that I decided to make my own model and I’ve sent them my ones just in case they were going to use theirs for the planning application. You never know and I don’t want to have any hiccups in the process as ‘Bâtiments de France’ now approve all plans and are known to be quite picky about what can and can’t be built in an area or on a parcel of land.

I have another cleaner, more ‘modern’ loking version but I have a few modifications to make to that before I’m happy with it. That’s the beauty of using computer software for the job – you’re only limited by your imagination 😉

January 16, 2021

Les Terres Cuites d’Aizenay

Here’s the reason why I treked all the way ‘up north’ yesterday. I took the picture this morning while the hand-made ‘terres cuites’ that were specially made for me were still nestling in the boot of my car.

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And this was after I’d removed them and placed them on the floor of my ‘atelier’ until I can get around to laying them in front of my new sliding patio door, hopefully when it gets a bit warmer down here.

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Not many of them and hardly worth driving all that distance for, you might say, and that’d be true to a certain extent. They came to just under a couple of hundred euros in total but the main problem was that due to the high chance of their being damaged in transit, the factory refused to ship them except on a small pallet. And that would have cost about half again, or maybe a bit more.

However, my Ford C-Max is pretty economical (around 5.5 litres/100 km on a drive like that) so it was more than worth making the trip, plus it also gave me a chance to get out and see again a bit of an attractive part of France (Charente Maritime, Charente, Deux Sèvres, Vendée) on what turned out to be a chilly but mostly bright, sunny day. It would never have paid to do the trip in my Kia, though, as that would have burnt almost twice the amount of fuel as the C-Max, which used just over a single tank there and back.

The reason that I need these specific tiles is that I want to match a design that I originally created for the platform that I built on which my woodburner now to stands. Here’s a shot of what I’m talking about.

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It won’t be as easy as it sounds because my main floor tiles are nominally 30 cm square and the new ‘terres-cuites’ are 16 cm square. This means that all of them will have to be cut down on all four sides so two with a joint will be the same width as a floor tile. It won’t be too bad though as I still have the electric tile cutter in my workshop that I acquired when I did the original job.

I also bought some spare patterned tiles as some will have to be cut up to make the fleur-de-lys ‘cabouchons’ that make the design so attractive (in my opinion 🙂 ) and interesting. That will also not be too difficult using the tile cutter but I know that I’ll have to take great care, as I did before. Now I just need to get going as soon as possible!

January 15, 2021

Another road trip

I drove up to the Vendée in the Pays de la Loire in north-west France today to go to Les Terres Cuites d’Aizenay and pick up the tiles that they had specially made for me. The whole trip was 850 kms there and back and having left at 8.00 am, I got back this evening at 7.30 pm. But every minute was worth it because this factory has everything that I like about ‘la France ancienne’.

The last time I was there was almost exactly 8 years ago to the day but the proprietor greeted me and said that he remembered it well, just as I did. He took the trouble on that occasion to show me around the factory, which didn’t take that long because it’s still a small, family owned and run business just as it was when his great-great-great (I think that’s the right number of ‘greats’) started it way back in 1868 I think it was.

And although some ‘modern’ parts have been added (if you can call them that) the heart of the factory remains the kilns which remain unchanged and are still in use today just as they were then, fired up by lengths of scrap wood that is stacked in huge piles that are replaced as the wood is burnt. And everything is still done by hand just as it always has been. It’s the only way that the product finish and quality can be maintained and it’s why the factory’s products are still in great demand for the renovation and refurfishment of ancient buildings in many parts of France.

More of why I went to the factory tomorrow, but here’s a shot of its outside, taken from Google Steet View and edited by me to improve it’s quality. The factory itself had changed not at all since I was last there but my GPS had some minor problems getting there because there has been a great deal of road building in the area and the industrial area in which the factory is situated is also being quite drastically expanded.

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Here’s a shot of the factory’s ‘showroom’ which also hadn’t changed since my previous visit. I wish that I’d had the time to take a shot of it myself because this one is taken from the company’s web site and is of very poor quality.

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Here’s a shot of the open-sided outdoor store where my tiles were stacked on a small pallet waiting for me and from where I loaded them into the boot of my car.

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And to finish off, here’s a shot also from their web site showing one of the kilns being stoked up with scrap wood.

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Because of Covid, I made a couple of baguette cheese sandwiches last night to take with me together with a flask of tea this morning. That way I only had to stop twice for refreshments and once at a Casino supermarket for fuel. This is the first long road trip that I’ve made since the start of the Covid crisis and from what I could see, it was business as usual everywhere except in the roadside cafés and restaurants that I passed. And traffic seemed to me to be more or less completely back to pre-Covid levels.

All of the factories and businesses on the myriad of industrial estates that I passed appeared to be in full swing and on the face of it, I would say that although there may be a shortage of Covid vaccine in France, its economy looks as though it’s much closer to being back firing on all cylinders than that of the UK. Journalists and commentators in the UK keep crowing that the UK will be first out of the starting blocks in terms of economic recovery but I think that unless people start getting back to work in the UK, any advantage from early vaccinations will be lost. And big time.

January 4, 2021

Fantastic news!

What a day this has been. Earlier on this afternoon I received a call from the person from whom I’m buying my land asking if I’ll be free to go the Notaire’s office on wednesday to sign the ‘Compromis de Vente’, after which there will only be formalities to complete to make the land mine. Of course, I said that I would be and it’s great to know that things are moving on in that department.

Then shortly afterwards came the cherry on top of the cake. I received a call from the lovely young couple who have been along to see my house and have already in just a few days had it inspected by a building expert, to say that they want to buy it. I’m so pleased for them as much as for myself because as we got to know each other I knew that they would be the perfect new owners.

What a start to the year this has been. So much has happened in not much more than a week and it’s amazing that I’ll soon be all set to embark on yet another new episode of my life here in France. It’s so exciting and I can hardly wait 🙂

December 31, 2020

Here we are again

Yes, it’s the end of another year. One that we won’t forget very quickly, although we’d like to. A year that was defined by the Covid-19 pandemic that affected everything that everyone did all over the world.

So not surprising that everyone has their own story, of loss, failure and disappointment. Principally our hearts must go out to those who lost loved-ones to this awful disease, and there were many. But we must also sympathise with those who have lost businesses and livelihoods many of whom may never work again and, may as a result, have even more to lose in the coming weeks and months. As someone who ran a small business in good and bad times I understand that pain very clearly.

I and my friends and neighbours were relatively safe down in this little rural corner of France and I don’t know of anyone who was directly affected by Covid, although I am sure that we will find as conditions ease that many small cafes and restaurants that we knew and loved will have gone to the wall. Luckily, none of my close circle of friends, any member of their families or any member of mine became ill as a result of Covid and I am greatly thankful for that.

My main disappointment was that due to the lockdowns that were imposed on both sides of the Channel, 2020 was yet another disappointing year for flying. I only managed 19 hours and 51 minutes and much of that only as a result of my bringing my ex-pat Xair over to France from the UK. Even so, this was not my lowest total in recent memory – I did far fewer in 2017, the year of my illness and did less in each of 2012, when I came to live in France, 2013 and 2014.

So I can’t really complain too much, especially as there are hundreds, if not thousands of pilots on both sides of the Channel who will have done far fewer hours than me. And, of course, I’m also aware that my disappointment is trivial and pales into insignificance compared to that of people who have lost loved-ones, family, friends, jobs, livelihoods and businesses.

Now we are at the end of 2020 and hopefully we can look forward to the new year with hope and confidence as vaccines come on stream and life slowly begins to return to some sort of normality. There are doomsters who say that it never will but I disagree with them. We humans are incredibly resilient – we have had to be to have been around for so long – and old habits die hard.

We will learn from 2020 and will move ever onwards and upwards as we always have done, armed with the new-found knowledge that the year has brought us. I am also fortunate in having an added benefit to look forward to in the form of my impending house sale and new house build on the land I’m buying in Fleurac. 2021 will therefore be an even more significant and exciting year for me than it would have been were I just recovering like most others from the downsides of 2020.

So let’s wish good riddance to 2020 and raise our glasses to a better, safer, more prosperous and more healthy 2021. And for other Brits who are reading this, let’s also raise our glasses to a Brexit that will return independence and sovereignty to our country and herald a new dawn for a successful, global, outward-looking United Kingdom. But let’s not forget our friends in Europe for they are many – the ordinary people who think like us and want the same things for their families as we do for ours.

Happy 2021 everyone!

December 17, 2020

So…

What’s happening? OK, I’ll go on to explain, but before I do I’ll explain what’s been happening to bring about the quite major changes that are going to be happening in my life over the coming weeks and months.

A short way to the rear of my house is a patch of open land, quite a big patch actually if you also include the part of it that extends right the way up to Le Bos de Plazac. Over several years, the landowner, like many others in this area, has been cashing in on the demand for building land and has sold off several plots that my neighbours have built their homes on. This has never created any problems, quite the opposite actually, as the houses are not on top of each other but are close enough for us all to be in quite a tight-knit little community in which we all know each other.

In the last year, however, the landowner has put the patch I’m now referring to up for sale, which is a slightly different kettle of fish. The access onto it is down the narrow track that runs alongside my garden and forms the entrance to my house and that of my neighbour directly in the rear. Technically the track is a public ‘chemin rural’ but in reality for the most part it is quite a lot narrower than the legal requirement of 4 metres and is also bordered by trees in my garden and that of my neighbour.

In anticipation of wangling a way to sell the land with planning permission, some time before I arrived the owner created an entrance into it and laid down stone to make it suitable to carry light vehicles. However, two problems remained. Firstly the boundary of my neighbour at the rear’s land terminated slap-bang in the middle of the ‘entrance’ leaving only a distance of 2.6 metres available, much less than the required 4 metres and therefore disqualifying the land from being ‘constructable’. The second problem, of course, was that the ‘chemin rural’ leading to it was also less than the legal requirement of 4 metres in width, thus compounding the issues.

However, although the land is classified as ‘agricultural’ and not ‘constructable’ on the local regional plan, I recently heard that the land was being offered for sale in two plots with building permission. And not only that, but this was with the support of the local Mairie at Plazac. The ramifications of this soon became clear to me, but not to my neighbours apparently, and I launched myself into a stiff opposition as I had nothing to lose by doing so.

It soon became obvious that this would be an uphill task, not just because I was an ‘outsider’ fighting against vested interests but also because those same interests knew their way around the system and ways of getting around obstacles. The first shock that I got was that the Mairie at Plazac has refused to respond to any of my letters despite being legally obliged to do so, not the least because I am a resident of the commune, and although the local regional planning office has been tacitly supportive of my efforts, it has repeatedly advised me that I should seek a resolution of the problems through the local Mairie. So not much help there, then.

Things moved on at the end of October when, presumably in response to my complaints, a surveyor was sent to confirm the boundaries in question and place markers, know as ‘bornes’, on the ground. He was supposed to do this with reference to the official government map (called ‘le Cadastre’) that is available on the internet and clearly shows all of the boundary markers across the whole of France together with precise positions and measurements

However, to my astonishment the ‘borne’ at the boundary of my neighbour at the rear’s land that should have been placed slap-bang in the middle of the disputed entrance was omitted and not only that, the ‘borne’ on the other side was moved more than a metre from where it should have been, taking land belonging to my other neighbour and by so doing, widening the ‘chemin rurale’ to more than the required 4 metres.

It was now time to take stock of the situation and I therefore contacted both of the neighbours whose land had been affected by the above and here’s when I was gobsmacked. Neither could be bothered about it, even though each of them would be affected more than I would if the land was sold and built on. And not only would the one with their property on the other side of the ‘chemin rural’ to me be giving up a part of their land, they might also face the possibility once it had happened of being asked to cut down the trees along the side of their garden as they would then be less than 1 metre beyond the edge of the new ‘public’ right of way.

I soon realised that in the light of the above, the chance of my opposition succeeding was more or less zero, the more so when my neighbour at the rear said that they had ‘given’ the land to the Mairie that it required. So it was time for me to come up with a new strategy. Subsequent conversations have shown that my neighbours care far less about such matters than I do, but although it clearly wouldn’t be a total disaster, I didn’t much like the idea of the changes that might happen at some time in the future and it made me start to think a bit more about what I want out of the rest of my life here in France.

And when I did, I realised that having lost two years when I was ill and while I recovered, my original ideas for my house were in tatters. When I came here I had both the energy and enthusiasm to tackle the project and the work that it entailed but now, although I still had the enthusiasm, I no longer had the energy or the time ahead of me to do so. So that made me consider what alternatives were open to me and finally I came to look at the nuclear option of selling up and moving on.

This would be an enormous move at my time of life but the closer I looked at it the more I realised that not only could I do it but that if I did it right, it would afford not only some amazing opportunities but also a much more comfortable lifestyle in these latter stages of my life.

I was initially worried that my house would be difficult to sell because I haven’t finished all of the jobs I had lined-up to improve it but my friends and family have all said that I shouldn’t care about that as it will sell as it is anyway. It was certainly in far worse a condition when I bought it than it is now, so I have to admit that they’re almost certainly right. It also turns out that I had a somewhat pessimistic view of its value and with everything considered, after putting all of the numbers in the equation, it turned out that I could afford to buy a parcel of land (referred to as a ‘terrain’) myself and have a brand-new little house built on it.

I have a somewhat philosophical outlook on life and I’m a firm believer that ‘things happen for a reason’. I’m convinced that what is happening now conforms to this philosophy and even more so by what I’ll now go on to explain. When I told my friends Victor and Madeleine what was going on and what I was thinking about doing, they asked me whether I knew of a certain ‘terrain’ that was up for sale not far from where they live in Fleurac. I did know of it but thought that it would be beyond my price range, but Victor said that I should go and see the seller, who he and Madeleine know, anyway.

So after I’d taken a look at the land, he and I went along and I subsequently made an offer for it. You can probably guess what’s coming next. Everyone’s been telling me that following the Covid scare, there’s a great demand for property and land in our area from people looking to move to the countryside. Victor said that he has seen lots of cars with people looking at the very piece of land in question, but I decided to make an offer below the asking price anyway. And after a couple of minutes haggling, I got it.

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to acquire the land before selling my house, so the purchase is now in the hands of the Notaire. If necessary, I can wait for a few weeks, or months even, to sell my house, although I hope that I won’t have to. Within a day of putting up the ‘A Vendre’ sign outside it, I had a call from someone who’s interested and they’re coming next week to view it. I’ve also got an agent biting my arm off to handle a sale for me saying that they urgently require properties like mine and that it’ll sell very quickly, so I’m cautiously olptimistic.

So what about my future plans? I’m very excited and can’t wait to start putting them into effect. First the ‘terrain’ that I’m buying. It’s fantastic, about 30% larger than what I’ve got now in an excellent position on a local road that’s no busier than the one my present house is on, mainly farm traffic and local residents. I’m not going to say where it is until things have been wrapped up even more than they are except that it is clear on all sides, with an adjoining ‘terrain’ that may or may not be sold for another house in the future but would not be too close to mine anyway. In fact if I’m as lucky as I am with my neighbours now, it’d be nice to have someone next door.

The plot is about 100 yards long of a width that will allow an excellent entrance and is about 30 yards in width at its widest point, which is at the other/far end. It slopes downwards very gently from the road and the slope increases slightly from about its mid-point. Here’s what the plan looks like.

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There are trees running alongside the road on the adjacent strip at the western (road) end and due to special circumstances, they will always remain there. That will be great because I love having trees close by my house, as I have at present. There are also trees at the bottom of the plot beyond which it says that there’s a ‘chemin rural’, but even if there was once, there’s nothing there now. So there should never be any threat in the future of my new home facing problems such as encroachment or loss of privacy, which will be a great relief.

So what of my ideas for the new house itself, which I’ve indicated on the plan above? I’ve already been asked whether, having gone for a traditional stone French house I’ll do the same again, and the answer is ‘No’. I’ll be going for a brand new, modern little single-storey house that will require little or no further effort or input from me when I move in and will allow me to concentrate on the more pleasurable things in life, like flying and enjoying time with my friends.

There are many house builders in south-west France offering a wide portfolio of ‘off-the-peg’ house designs making it easy for people like me who can search and browse the internet. I’ve already chosen what I think will be the design that I’ll go for – it’s called the ‘Floride’ and its availabe in several alternative sizes and layouts. The following picture gives a very good idea of its style but is of either the 95 or 104 sq metre model, I’m not sure which, rather than the 102 sq metre one that I want.

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The plan shows my original thinking for how it will fit on the ‘terrain’, with a long commanding entrance and front parking area all in rolled stone. Water and electricity are conveniently available at the top-most corner next to the road so they will be easy (and cheap!) to run.

As usual for this area, there will be no mains sewerage and I’m thinking that rather than have a septic tank (‘fosse septique’) I’ll go for the more environmentally friendly, natural Aquatiris system that I was going to install in my current house when I did the extension. This uses special flower beds to biologically filter and purify the waste water and is totally maintenance free once it’s running. It also has the advantage of not needing to split the ‘clean’ waste water (kitchen, bath etc) from the ‘dirty’ water from the toilet and as the ‘terrain’ slopes away from the house, it will be a perfect fit.

To finish off, although I don’t yet have a proper image of the 102 sq metre ‘Floride’ design, here’s a plan of its layout, which I doubt I’d want to change even though you can customise it within reason.

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So there you have it. There’ll be much, much more to come over the coming weeks and months and I’m super excited. Things like this don’t happen quickly in France and for now I’m just going to be concentrating on doing things in my present house and making it better until its sold. I’ll need to respond to requests made by the Notaire regarding my land purchase as the process proceeds and make a non-refundable 10% payment when the ‘Compromis de Vente’ is raised. It’d be very nice if my house sale is also underway by then so here’s keeping my fingers crossed 😉

December 14, 2020

Something unexpected

Here’s a sight that I didn’t expect to see after I came to France and had settled into my little house in Plazac. Photographs taken outside my house this afternoon.

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I thought that I’d be here for the rest of my retirement and that this would be the last house that I’d ever live in. But it now seems certain that that is not to be. However, I’m not disappointed or downhearted and I’m looking on the prospect of selling up and moving as more of a new beginning than an end of something. And let’s face it, even at my age you can’t have enough new beginnings, can you 😉

I’ll tell more in my next post.

December 1, 2020

Autumn shades

Here’s another one of my ‘Covid lockdown videos’ that I shot on Sunday from my garden and uploaded to my Youtube channel tonight (Monday evening).

This year’s autumn colours are magic. Maybe they are every year but I haven’t noticed and it’s taken Covid to make me take the trouble to look more closely.

I also received a bulletin from my ULM insurer on Monday telling me that as from 28 November, limited personal flights will be allowed until lockdown is lifted in France on 15 December. Maintenance and training flights will be permitted but for me the relevant information is that solo flights together with another person from the same household will be allowed for a distance of 20km from one’s home base and for a maximum of 3 hours. The reason my insurance broker sent it was to say that all of the insurance companies have said that they will definitely not pay out for any incident involving a pilot who fails to observe the rules.

OK, it’s a lot better than nothing so if the weather continues to hold (we’ve had a month of calm, high pressure, windless, perfect flying days during the current lockdown) I should at least be able to get a few hours in in both my Savannah and my Xair. Let’s see…

November 27, 2020

I’ve admitted defeat

I tried this morning to salvage my winter break to Hurghada but without success. The ‘alternatives’ that Kiwi.com originally proposed involved switching my outgoing leg to Hurghada from Basel to Amsterdam but that then involved a lengthy transfer by bus from Lille to Amsterdam with my having made my own arrangements beforehand to transfer myself from the airport to the bus station. I didn’t fancy that so I proposed a change of dates that if I’d booked the whole trip today would have cost 214€.

I then heard from Kiwi.com that easyJet had also cancelled my return leg from Gatwick to Bordeaux and their proposed ‘alternatives’ then changed – the cheapest being at an additional cost of 245€ ie more than if I just wrote off my original booking and made a completely new one! This obviously made no sense and I have therefore taken what I think is the sensible decision and cancelled the whole trip.

I’ve requested a refund which I may not receive for several weeks, or even months from what I hear, but as I’m cancelling within the normal 14 day ‘cooling off’ period, I think that I should be entitled for reimbursement in full. It’ll be interesting to see whether, as all four legs of my original booking were with easyJet, although by cancelling just two of them they’ve made the whole trip impossible, they’ll try to just refund for the two legs they’ve cancelled and hang on to the payments for the other two. I hope not as I think better than that of them.

I’ve also made requests for refunds of the sums I’ve paid for travel insurance and parking. I sent an email in connection with the travel insurance and again, as it’s within the 14 day follow-up period, I hope that I’m repaid without too much hassle. I know that the insurance would have covered me for any costs that I’d incurred from flights being cancelled but I’m hoping that if I do lose out, the amount(s) will be less than the just under 50€ that the insurance would have cost me.

Reclaiming what I paid for parking at Bordeaux was a bit more complicated as I had to download a form and send it off, but as it specifically mentions that full refunds will be made for claims made within the 14 day ‘cooling off’ period, I’m happy that that’s what will happen.

I know that I could now just make another booking for alternative dates but I can’t see the point as what’s to say that the same thing won’t happen again? The airlines are in an impossible situation with governments arbitrarily creating and closing ‘corridors’ and they have my sympathy but it’s making it almost impossible to make bookings for weeks ahead. For the moment at least, therefore, Covid has won, but I’ll leave it until closer to the day and see if I can arrange something at short notice which I know will happen. The trouble with that is that if/when it’s possible, prices are bound to have gone up 😐

November 26, 2020

Bad news

I received a message yesterday saying that the easyJet flight that I’d booked from Basel to Hurghada in February has been cancelled. Kiwi.com was offering alternatives, all costing more with several involving a bus transfer from Lille to Amsterdam which I don’t fancy. As they would all have meant reorganising my travel insurance and airport parking I decided to decline all of them and look for other alternatives myself.

When I contacted Kiwi.com I found that the easyJet return leg from Gatwick to Bordeaux had also been cancelled so that threw things even more up in the air. I’ve proposed rearranging my whole trip by putting it back to 15th February and staying for 10 nights in Hurghada. If that can be done for a supplemental payment, I’ll cancel my hotel booking and make yet another. The daily rate will be more expensive than I managed before but I’d have to live with that. I’d also have to see about rearranging my travel insurance and airport parking but I’m sure that I’d be able to do that on account of Covid guidelines.

However, if my suggestion isn’t accepted I think I’ll just cancel the whole thing and just go for refunds all round, which will be very disappointing as I have been looking forward to this winter break even more than I did for the previous occasions that I’ve gone. I’ve got to wait 24 hours or so to find out what’s going to happen so there’s nothing I can do until I hear back. It just shows how Covid is making everything so much more tricky and unpredictable than before.