Saturday, November 29, 2008

bear hug

BB is helping Poire put the roof on his new garage and in return, Poire will help BB with the mill roof when the time comes. Snow is forecast for tonight and all next week, so I doubt much masonry work will be getting done here anyway.

With all his tractors broken down, Mini-B is also calling upon friends to help him deliver bales of hay to the snow-covered fields where his cows are - or where they should be, because for most of this week they've been wandering about all over the road again. Roquin has just dropped off some cauliflowers and reckons Mini-B will be failli (bankrupt) by next year if he carries on like this.

Roquin also told me that there used to be brown bears in the mountains here until 1913, which I never knew. (They disappeared from the French Alps altogether in 1937.) His grandfather used to tell him the story of his two friends who shot one high up in the mountains and while one guy ran down to the village to fetch a sledge (a four-hour round trip), the other guy hugged the dead animal to keep warm - and got fleas. Pah! Serves him right!

Friday, November 28, 2008

secrets and lies

To mix the cement for the swimming-pool walls today, the builders had to break up the sand with a pickaxe and smash through two inches of ice on top of the water barrel. The garage tap has thawed out but we are having to keep it open to prevent it from freezing again until we can move the wood - which we can't do until the enormous pile of sand has gone.

BB spent all day wrestling with coils of armoured flexible PVC tube for the pool - which in sub-zero temperatures is extremely difficult to unroll and cut - whilst trying to avoid impaling his eyeballs on the reinforcement rods sticking up all over the place every time he bent down.

People keep stopping to ask why we're digging such a big hole in the basement so we're having to pretend it's a cave (cellar) otherwise we may have difficulties when we come to applying for planning permission. Apparently, the planning authorities can come to your house before they grant permission to make sure you haven't started the work already - and if you have, they can refuse your application. It's probably the worst-kept secret in the village right now, so we'll just have to make sure we don't fall out with anyone!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

too much information

The builders are back, it's -8 outside and in no particular order of severity:
  • a block of ice has formed in the internal workings of the crane making it inoperable

  • in order to thaw out the crane (and the workers) they've lit a bonfire on top of the (PVC-coated) earth pipe for the crane

  • the water tap in the garage has frozen

  • access to the water mains to turn off the water and prevent the garage from flooding is under five tonnes of wood

  • the toupie (cement lorry) has arrived and they are now pouring the base for the swimming-pool on to a slab of ice.

All of which is far too much information for me!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


The builders arrived at 7 o'clock this morning and after clearing the snow off the materials started putting in the reinforcement for the pool. Work on the foundations for our current house and the garage was delayed in previous winters because BB refused to pour concrete in cold weather because he said it would crack (setting us back months but conveniently allowing him to have very long skiing holidays) - but he doesn't seem to mind when other people are doing it!

He came back from the écurie tonight with the news that Mini-B was off out on a hot date and had spruced himself up by taking a piece of folded-up cardboard and scraping the cow shit off his jeans!

While BB was out, Roquin came round with some eggs and a bag of génépi - a rare aromatic plant that grows high up in the Alps - which I've put in la gnôle with some sugar to make a digestif. The bright green liqueur is a speciality of this region for which you pay a fortune in the ski resorts. What with the génépi and my other homemade liqueurs (vin de noix, calava, kirsch and vin d'orange), I could be on to a nice little earner. At the rate BB is paying the builders, we may need it!

Monday, November 24, 2008

set back

The builders were due to start today but the materials are currently under several inches of snow!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

cracking on

Things are moving at a cracking pace now. Monsieur CAHAL has been here since Monday, knocking down a section of stone wall and digging out the foundations for the new internal walls and the swimming-pool (which we haven't got planning permission for yet!). Just as he finished, it started pouring with rain, so now all the foundations are full of water.

The builder, who starts on Monday, spent all afternoon dropping off materials - sand, sacks of cement, reinforcement bars - and installing a porta-cabin in front of the garage, so it appears they may be here for some time.

There are people in and out of the house all day long now and as soon as I've cleared away the pastis glasses, wiped down the table and mopped up the floor, the next lot of builders or inquisitive friends or neighbours arrive. With our house on constant public display I'm having to do far more housework than I would otherwise like!

Monday, November 10, 2008

budget summit

By the time we arrived home last night it was pitch black (apart from the sparks flying between us) so I got the surprise of my life this morning when I came downstairs and looked outside. Not only has the rest of the roof on the mill gone but the whole landscape behind the garage has changed. Where there used to be a steep embankment covered in vegetation there is now an extensive flat area upon which you could build another house. BB has been busy.

Given the "budget issues", we sat down today to re-visit the plans (for the sixth time) to see where we can cut costs. At the moment we have a long, thin ensuite bathroom in one of the bedrooms which BB wants to make two feet shorter - not for financial reasons but because he says he would "get tired walking to the loo" and it would be "part of his life he'd wasted"! This from a man who spends many of his waking hours drinking pastis.

Elsewhere in the village: Nainbo took the opportunity of his wife's absence last week to dig up her favourite tree - so they're not speaking - and Gribouille's wife wondered why the lawnmower wasn't cutting the grass so stuck her hand underneath so see if the blades were turning - which they were - and cut her finger off!!

budget issues

I'd been looking forward to seeing BB after my trip but when he met me at the airport tonight, things didn't get off to a very good start. He said he'd been working every day since I left (?!) apart from Wednesday afternoon, when he'd gone for lunch chez Nainbo, and Friday afternoon, when he'd been "chatting and having a laugh" with the guy who had taken down the old concrete lamppost in our front garden. The first five minutes in the car went like this:

BC: (incredulously) But you don't do Chatting And Having A Laugh! How much did he charge anyway? A couple of hundred?

BB: (incredulously) A couple of thou more like.

BC: (choking on my Azorean cinammon twist biscuit) No wonder he was Having A Laugh! Laughing All The Way To The Bank more like!

But that was just a taster - an amuse-bouche, a horse's h'oeuvre - of what was to come because he then dropped the bombshell that he's asked Monsieur Chatting And Having A Laugh All The Way To The Bank to do the masonry work (putting in the concrete slabs and some walls) - for a price equal to 70% of our budget! To put it into perspective, that's twice as much as we paid to completely re-do the house we're in now!

BC: (speechless - for no words were spoken) !

BB: Ok. We've got some budget issues.


An hour and a half of silence later.......

BC: So. Did you eat all the PC Dinners?

BB: Yep. They were great. The spag bol was hard work though because I had to transfer it into a pan and stir AND put pasta on!!!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

BYOE (bring your own everything)

Twenty of us arrived for Mini-B's birthday party at the écurie clutching our invitations which read "apporter son propre vin" (BYOB), but which should have read "bring your own table and chair and cooking implements too" because nothing had been done and there was no sign of Mini-B - just a freshly-killed wild boar (shot by Roquin) and some veggies on the office table. He does this every year - announces he's going to have a party then disappears and leaves the rest of us to get everything ready.

Just as we'd finished cobbling together some dining furniture (breezeblocks, lengths of wood taken off the mill roof and scaffolding planks from chez nous) and the boys had rustled up a pot-au-feu over a camping stove (borrowed from Nainbo), Mini-B turned up. By this time I wasn't really hungry, having spent all morning making PC Dinners (as in TV Dinners but for eating in front of the computer) for BB: 2 x spag bol; 2 x shepherd's pie; 2 x beef hotpot; 2 x beef curry (rice included). I'm off to the Azores on my own for a week tomorrow and if I don't leave him oven-ready meals he'll just cook sausages every day and I'll spend a week on my return scraping grease off every kitchen surface with a wallpaper scraper.

Nainbo is also célibataire (on his own) next week so I don't expect much will get done. On verra.