April 30, 2021

Another day, another job

Having done the job once before, I knew that mounting the new ceiling board in the alcove above my new patio door would be a nightmare, so I haven’t been particularly looking forward to it. I also knew that if and when I’d got the ceiling board up, I’d not then have enough time (and patience, probably) to get the walls plastered too, so I decided to make the ceiling board the job for this afternoon and to spend this morning having a good clear away and tidy-up.

For starters, my electric tile cutter has been standing since I cut the floor tiles over a week ago all messy and with water still in its reservoir and as I won’t be cutting any more tiles (I’ve got to box the pipes in along the bottom of the bathroom wall but I’m just going to use plywood without tiles, I’ve decided) today was time for it to be taken out and cleaned so it could dry in the sun and go back in its box.

I also had lots of tools lying around on the floor in my living room that I shan’t be needing for a while, so they could go back into my workshop as well, and also the workshop floor needed a good sweep-up to clear away the cement, sand and plaster that had been dropped on it while I’ve been transferring them from their bags into the buckets that I’ve been using for mixing.

Then it was time for the ceiling. In reality as I’d been expecting the worst, it didn’t turn out to be quite as bad as I’d expected. I’d hoped to get it up as a single sheet but as before, because the under-surface is so poor and the area of the ceiling so irregular, I had to cut it into two. As you can see from the shots below, the ends didn’t turn out to be too bad at all, but as before, because the sub-surface in the centre is so bumpy, the join in the middle does look a bit rough.

null

null

null

But not to worry, although I’ve got quite a few holes left where I unsuccessfully tried to use nails to hold the two sheets up in the centre, before using hefty screws instead, by the time I’ve used jointing paste and tape, the finished job will still be much better than the first time. I’ll need to source some tape tomorrow and I hope that I don’t have to spend all day driving around trying to get my hands on some, because tomorrow I really do want to break the back of plastering the walls. Then I really will be able to some proper light at the end of the tunnel ๐Ÿ˜‰

April 27, 2021

More good progress made!

I’m doing my best to keep all the balls in the air and not doing too badly really. I haven’t since had time to share the photos, but the day before I went off to pick up the caravan, I finished off the new windows in the bathroom and toilet by what the trade calls ‘toshing’ a coat of white emulsion around them and in the afternoon I did the jointing of the new tiles that I laid several days ago in front of my new patio door.

null

null

null

null

null

I think both jobs turned out pretty well and I’m only sorry that with my moving out by the end of June, the new owners will get more benefit from them than I will!

Today I started tackling a job that I’ve not been looking forward to at all – making good the interior walls either side of my new patio door. It only took half a day to get the first coat of rendering on but it was a tedious and frustrating experience as it’s not easy to get a surface on the original old stone walls that’s anything like acceptable. The right-hand wall was the worse of the two so I did that first.

null

null

null

I was very pleased with the final result and highly relieved to get the first stage done. There’s still quite a bit more to do, of course, including applying the one or more likely, two coats of plaster plus the ceiling in the alcove. If a pro had put the patio door in and finished off the whole job I’m sure it would have cost a fortune, so my house buyers are getting a bit of a bargain.

Anyway, I have to keep pressing on as I need to complete the jobs that I said I would before moving out. I think that I am just beginning to see a glimmer of light, though, at the end of the tunnel…

April 23, 2021

It’s just an old caravan, right?

Regular My Trike readers will know that I’ve been on the lookout for an old(ish) caravan for quite a while, which is how I got involved in the caravan saga that I wrote about a couple of posts or so ago. I need one at least 6 metres or so in length because it’s for placing on the land that I’m buying in Fleurac for me to live in while my new house is being built and as that will now probably be for a year or more, anything smaller would be far too cramped.

My searches show that there are really only three or four significant manufacturers here in France in the large caravan market – Fendt, Tabbert, LMC and to a certain extent, Caravelair with, as I see it, the first three being the leaders. My budget (up to 3000โ‚ฌ max) means that I’m looking at caravans up to about 20 years old as I don’t think a higher expenditure can be justified given that only I’ll be living in it and I’ll only need it for a relatively short time before, hopefully, reselling it.

The ones that meet my needs and come up the most on Le Bon Coin are Fendt and Tabbert and my experience of the last few weeks is (a) there are very few, if any, in my area and (b) the ads for the ones that do come up are almost always taken down very quickly, presumably because they’ve been sold. This means that you have to respond to a suitable ad very quickly and also be prepared to travel some way, possibly, to see a caravan in the flesh. So what’s the story?

Unlike in the UK, to all intents and purposes, all caravans here in France (and the rest of the EU) require their own licence (carte grise) and registration idependently of the vehicle towing them. My large, two-axle trailer has its own ‘immatriculation’ whereas my small single-axle one doesn’t. It’s related to the load-carrying capacity. So what happens if an owner loses their caravan’s immatriculation document (carte grise)? If they have put the registration into their name on acquiring the caravan, no problem. They can just apply for a duplicate – it’s only about bureaucracy like most things in France.

But what happens if, possibly being a bit lazy, they omitted to transfer the caravan into their name? The simple answer is that they are sunk. If their name was not on the carte grise, even though they legally acquired the caravan from its former owner, there is no way that they or anyone else other than the registered owner can acquire a duplicate. But that’s not the end of the matter. As it’s illegal to use any vehicle requiring a carte grise on the public road without one, the legal requirement is that that caravan has to be given up for destruction.

‘What????’ I hear you exclaim, even a 3-year old Tabbert that’s worth maybe 20,000โ‚ฌ? The simple answer is ‘Yes’. Unlike in the UK, where the Caravan Club maintains a database of stolen caravans, there is no equivalent here in France. So presumably some bright spark thought that it would be clever to introduce such a rule in order to prevent, or at least deter, stolen caravans being sold on without carte grises. But instead it has had a different outcome entirely.

Without going into detail, we all know that there is a certain class of customer that has no problem with acquiring (and presumably using) brand new stolen caravans in the UK where there is a stolen caravan database and presumably the same applies here in France where there isn’t. But that is only one segment of the market. Another huge segment comprises those owners of newish and older caravans who have no carte grise for their caravans for whatever reasons, who have no intention of giving them up for destruction and certainly not while they have reasonable residual value. So what happens then?

The caravans cannot legally be used on the road but that does not stop them being desirable for other reasons, the primary ones being for placing on a private property, such as a back-garden for a relative’s use as accommodation, for siting on a ‘leisure area’ such as a privately owned fishing lake or hunting area or finally, to be used as temporary accommodation on a private ‘terrain’ while the owner has a house either renovated or built on the ‘terrain’ in question.

Sure, caravans with a carte grise, even older ones, have an enhanced value in the marketplace, but there is still a very healthy demand for those without for the reasons I’ve mentioned above. Even older ones if they are in reasonably good shape, and especially larger ones, which offer an alternative to mobile homes that require expensive specialist transport and siting, whereas if you are prepared to take the chance and tow them ‘sans carte grise’, caravans do not.

So that brings me onto the subject of this post. I’ve been searching for a large caravan for several weeks to live in once I leave my present house on or before 30 June. I’ve missed many opportunities but kept coming back to a Fendt that was being offered for sale at what looked like a reasonable price in the Ile de France just to the south of Paris (500 kms from where I live) but which had remained unsold.

I gave the seller a ring a few days ago requesting some more photographs, which he sent, and subsequently decided to drive north yesterday to see it as I was prepared to take the chance of towing it back without a carte grise. To cut a long story short, I ended up knocking his asking price down by a couple of hundred euros and heading back south again with it behind my Kia.

I was delayed getting away from home in the morning and as I only started heading south again shortly after 3.00 pm, I knew that there was no chance that I’d be able to make it back before the curfew here in France that takes effect at 7.00 pm. However, luckily I’d planned for such an eventuality and had taken some pillows, my sleeping bag and a blanket with me, so was able to pull into a service area shortly after the curfew deadline and spend the night in the caravan.

I had an early night so I could get away early this morning and was cursed to have a vehicle with a chiller trailer parked next to me whose engine kept starting up and running during the night to protect the load. Nevertheless, I got a reasonable night’s sleep and here are some shots that I took of the caravan, a Fendt Diamant, and the Kia hemmed in by large artics in the lorry park before I walked across to buy a cup of chocolate, a croissant and a pastry for breakfast.

null

null

null

It took me between five and six hours to drive north including a (very) brief stop for a ‘tea and a pee’. However, it took around seven hours to get back, including the best part of four today, and here are some shots of the old girl after I’d arrived home and parked her up on my front lawn.

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

OK, you can see from the pictures that it’s been around the block a few times – several blocks actually. However, although it’s a bit scruffy on the outside, the interior is still quite tidy for its age and will turn out quite nice after it’s had a thorough clean right through. But the main thing is that because it hasn’t been used as a touring caravan for some time, it’s been rigged up to be used as a static with connections for mains water and electricity (notice the lights are on in some shots). That suits me just fine, although I’ll need to add an electric water heater of some kind as it only seems to have a connection to a cold supply.

Its old fridge also seems to be working, although it’s taking ages to cool down, but that’ll be a plus if it is OK. I haven’t had a chance as yet to give it a proper going over but hopefully after I’ve finished all the work on my house, I’ll have some time to sort the caravan out before moving it over to the land at Fleurac. Before then, though, I’ll need to sort out a key as the original one has been lost. But when the time comes I’ll need to make sure not to leave valuable stuff behind inside as no caravan is really secure. However, things like that are for the future…

April 19, 2021

A productive day

It 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.

null

null

null

null

null

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.

null

null

null

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.

null

null

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) 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 nicking 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 ๐Ÿ™

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.

null

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.

null

null

null

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 ๐Ÿ˜•

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.

null

null

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.

null

null

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 Pรฉrigueux. 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.

null

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 2ยฝ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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.

null

null

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’.

null

null

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.

null

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!