Thursday, 29 December 2011

HONOUR AMONGST ROOFERS...

There obviously is no code of honour among the French roofing fraternity.

I got terribly excited this morning when I heard hammering and male voices coming from the Belgian's roof. Could it be Pascale, returned from a fortnight of festive frolicking, determined to make the Belgian's roof an accomplishment of 2011?

Alas no. When I went out to check my post box, I recognised the johnny-come-lately roofers who only yesterday finished a repair to the house across the square. The Belgian has obviously decided enough is enough. Poor Pascale.

According to Michelle (the toothless one-eyed cadger with a speech impediment) Pascale has been in the grip of la grippe for the last 2 weeks. I tend to take most things Michelle says (when I can decipher them) with a pinch of salt as it's usually a meandering prelude to trying to borrow money from me; however... In this instance, when I think back to the horrendous weather, and the poor little Frenchman being lashed by torrential rain trying to nail down laths and insulation in the teeth of a fierce gale, I wouldn't be surprised if she is right.

Will the Belgian's roof ever get finished? Will Pascale ever get his scaffold back? Will anyone notice if I sneak out under cover of darkness and collect the old laths and off-cuts for kindling?

Twitch Twitch!!

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

CURTAIN TWITCHERY

My name is Michaela Paine, and I am a nosy neighbour.

Now, the Belgian that lives round the corner is having his roof done. I know this to be true because sometime in early November a man arrived and put up a scaffolding. He also removed a significant number of old slates, covered the roof with a blue tarpaulin then disappeared.


In the following week, the lady next door had her ENTIRE roof replaced. For an idea of the scale of this job, see left. It took the roofers a week. Granted there were four of them and they had cherry pickers; but they started at 8:00h and worked through til 18:00h being careful to observe the mandatory 2 hour lunch break in the middle of the day
(photo credit Nick Terrett)


Exactly WHY she, at the age of 93 has decided to have her roof done now is another mystery. My dear friends the Halls-Holmsens are particularly curious as she owns a bit of land that backs onto their property that she has hitherto refused to sell them...

The Belgian's roofer is called Pascale. Whenever I pass comment with any of my other neighbours about the spectacularly sedate pace at which work is progressing on the Belgian's roof, I get a conversational rap across the knuckles and told how sympathique he is, and how amazingly good at his job. I'm not passing comment on his skill, how could I? I'm yet to see any of his actual work.


Mid December, just as the weather changed from temperate and sunny to very wet and windy, the blue tarpaulin came down. Poor Pascale spent a few horrendous days up on the roof, which now looks like this. I felt so sorry for him, I took him out a hot cup of coffee and a biscuit; and then he buggered off again for Christmas. It doesn't take Hercule Poirot to work out that his priorities are not with the Belgian's roof.

I've nothing against the Belgian (except when he parks his bloody huge car practically inside my front window) but I think if he spent a little more time in the Haute Vienne and less time in the land of Stella Artois his roof would be done by now. That said, when my roof needs doing, I won't be asking Pascale.

The reason I'm telling you this is that the Belgian has just re-appeared. Pascale has not.

Twitch twitch twitchetty twitch!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

THE MYSTERY OF THE AMAZING REJUVENATING PLACENTA

There have been dramas. There has two days spent doing nothing but washing baby clothes and hanging curtains(me); and painting walls and ceilings (the Tall One). This allocation of tasks has nothing to do with gender stereotyping and everything to do with body size and mental application.

However, having been told that my amniotic fluid is disastrously low and my placenta is looking dangerously old on the Monday, I arrive, suitcase in hand expecting to be induced on the Wednesday only to be sent home again.

Subsequent scans reveal that my fluid levels are fine and that my ancient placenta has rejuvenated itself. We're ruling out Botox on the grounds that if my placenta decided to slip off for a spa weekend it would have to take the baby with it and that I would definitely notice. Everyone's a bit mystified but it means I'm given a get-out-of-hospital-free card that is valid until my due date; now agreed to be the 14th January.

I KNOW that my baby is fine. Obviously given that I have no medical experience and no previous experience of childbirth they're not about to take the chance that I'm right; and in their shoes I'd probably do the same. But watch this space. When the time is right, I'll be able to say:

JE VOUS L'AVAIS BIEN DIT

Sunday, 11 December 2011

DUFF

A conversation with a Nina W's teenage daughter* lead me to ponder on the following:

BEING DUFFED UP

BEING UP THE DUFF

Two very different things entirely but both fairly terrifying for a teenager. As you get older the fear of the former (hopefully) recedes and the latter for some becomes much sought after.

Oddly, the word DUFFER is not a term used to describe someone who causes either of the above conditions, rather someone who is perceived to be a bit of a pillock.

It should be pointed out that just because someone is a bit of a pillock doesn't mean they won't duff you up or get you up the duff. However, the word "Duffer" is seldom used outside of Enid Blyton books so unless you're planning a Famous Five re-enactment event, confusion is unlikely to occur. Luckily.

*Just to clarify, Millie is not to my knowledge up the duff. Although she did get duffed up at school. That's what you get for using words of more than one syllable in front of people with fewer than the average quota of functioning brain cells.

Millie needn't worry. When she and her fabulous bohemian friends are in the vanguard of a new and exciting 2020s arts explosion, the violent thickos will still be struggling with the meaning of the word 'imbecile'.

Friday, 9 December 2011

I KNOW, I KNOW...

I know I said no more knocking off of plaster, but I couldn't hep it! It came away in my hand!

When you discover this:


it makes you curious to know whether it could be turned into something like this.


So you do a bit of this


until you get this.


Then you either have to wait until Paul is free to do the same kind of pointing job he did on the second picture, or you have to read the chapter in the DIY book on pointing and have a go yourself.

This (below) is too much and will require you to either escalate the plaster removal to the entire wall and window surround or stop immediately and read the chapter on 'amateur plastering and the gentle art of botching it'


Oopsie.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Good, The Bad and the Partially Diabetic

A while ago, Paul Hipp, a friend from across the big pond wrote a satirical song about the world healthcare rankings and America's position therein (No. 37).

Check it out HERE

From this I learned that Britain is ranked #18 and FRANCE is ranked #1. Not sure that in this post-Bush era this still stands but I'm certainly getting a huge amount of attention from the healthcare professionals here.

THE PARTIALLY DIABETIC

There's a routine test over here where you go in starving, they take some blood, give you a glass of glucose-laden, radio-active poison then make you wait an hour on the hardest chairs outside of a monastery. Then they take more blood, make you wait ANOTHER hour, take yet MORE blood before releasing you into the autumnal morning; cold and nauseous, with a very sore arse.

On one of the tests, I'm .4 of a gram over what they expect so immediately I'm packed off to Diabetic School with the unhealthy and the clinically obese, where I'm given lectures on how to eat and exercise properly. The only thing that prevents me from chewing my own arm off is the fact that it is all in French. Big thanks to the Tall One for sitting through it with me and giving a convincing impression of someone who is at least half awake.

They prescribe me an apparatus for testing my blood, and I am yet to see a result that is even vaguely worrying. It's not like the British Justice system. I am diabetic until proven innocent.

THE BAD

The same SAGE FEMME (midwife) who packs me off to Diabtetic School for .4 of a gram also tuts and huffs about my baby being small. BAD lady. He's NOT small. He's fine.

THE GOOD

Madame Huffy-Tutty Pants books me in for more echograhie (scans) and gives me a prescription for a private midwife to visit me CHEZ MOI twice a week. This is amazing on so many levels.

i) Someone is paid to spend up to 2 hours per week with me obsessing about my baby.

ii) We listen to his heart for a full 30 minutes at a time. I even get a print-out.

iii) I don't have to travel to Limoges for the privilege.

iv) As my attestation for my Carte Vitale has come through, I don't have to pay a thing. €90 per visit. Woo hoo!

v) The Tall One found me a midwife who not only speaks a bit of English, but also trained in the UK and KNOWS THE NHS SYSTEM. Together we deduce that the reason Mme HTP thinks he is small is because they have my dates out by at least a week. The French count the start of your pregnancy from conception. The English from the first day of your last period. 2 weeks difference.

vi) This fabulous lady is also my personal admin terrier. It transpires that even though my attestation has come through, because I don't have a piece of paper confirming my pregnancy from CPAM I'm not officially pregnant. She is on the phone to them, sorting out their bureaucratic asses.

So there you have it. Whether I am diabetic or not, whether or not he is small (he's bloody not), the good far outweighs the bad. Hurrah for France. Number 1 healthcare system in the world.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Slaying The Hydra

I stand victorious. I scoff in the face of French bureaucracy. Afraid of a few silly bits of paper? MOI??

Never let it be said that Lallymaggoo doesn't know her CAF from her CPAM. I've sent both organisations mostly everything they asked for, plus a few extra bits for good luck. I even sent the CPAM woman a copy of the letter from CAF for good measure.

French letters are very formal. A bit like those dances in Jane Austen costume dramas where everyone walks around sedately in simple geometric shapes. They look quite dull on the surface but are actually quite fun when you look at what lies beneath.

My favourite bit is the sign off.

Dans l'attente de votre réponse, Je vous prie d'agréer, Madame, l’assurance de ma considération distinguée.

There's no real English equivalent but the sense is something like:

I will sleep by the post box in fond expectation of a reply and with your kind agreement respectfully climb up your poo-hole.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Depot Vente versus Castorama

Mme Smith went to the Depot Vente and she bought:

2 x lengths of aluminium pipe €10 (cost at casto €22,40)

2 x paint trays €3,80 (cost at casto €9,60)

1 x bumper pack of raw plugs €1 (cost at casto €100 probably)

1 x second hand sechoir €5 (clothes horse. Cost new horrendous, €25 or something ridiculous)

1 x antique cupboard €10 This I am très excited by. She gave it to me cheaply because it is un peu abimée and has mouse droppings inside it. It's lovely and has old metal locks with all the keys and everything!

This is why we love the Depot Vente. Even though the bloody man wouldn't let me use the loo. At 7 months pregnant.

Mme Smith went to Castorama and after she'd used the loo she bought:

1 x insulated fireboard. Yay! Thank you Nick HH for letting me know that it was called a plaque pour hotte. Who would have guessed? €56 but apparently worth it.

3 x sets of long cotton curtains in different weights and colours and a matching cushion in the sale, €20 the lot. Bargain!

1 x chrome collar for a 125mm aluminium pipe €8 Bloody rip off but the depot vente didn't have one.

Assorted radiator fittings totalling €40! Daylight flipping robbery but Paul is coming to fit my radiators on Monday and I'd rather be over-stocked than under. Hopefully, he won't need half of it and I'll be able to take it back.

This is why we hate Castorama a bit but can't really do without it. We love the curtains in chocolate brown, cerise and white but we hate that the sales assistant left the ink-spraying security tags on. Useless bint.

Sealing The Chimney

This morning I wanted to tell you about my neighbour. The cheeky bint who thinks because she's nearly 70, has no teeth, one eye and a speech impediment that I'll let her use my phone to make premium rate phone calls when I know she has a phone herself because she gave me her number.

Instead I'm off looking for something to seal the chimney. Paul says there is a product that exists and is for sale at Casto that is an insulated, fire-resistant board. Fire resistant plasterboard I can find. Insulated? Nope.

Friday, 18 November 2011

J'habite en France

It's official. I'm here.

I am now a true resident of the commune of St Germain les Belles in the Haute Vienne. There's no going back. Actually, that's patently untrue, of course I could go back, but why would I want to?

THINGS THAT ARE BRILLIANT ABOUT LIVING IN FRANCE:

Everyone speaks French. Don't talk to me about cleaning women, talk to me about femmes de menage. Pass me that rag please? Mais non, passez-moi ce chiffon. Of course, it's not all bon appetit and merci à vous, there are times when I cry with frustration, particularly on the telephone.

My Little House. I'm still 'indoor camping' but it feels like home. Paul came and fitted my wood-burning stove this morning and is returning on Monday to do the radiators. Furthermore, he and Nikki have got a new cuisinière and are giving me their old cooker. I will have 4 rings and an oven! I've scraped nearly a third of the lino glue off the wooden floor boards downstairs. I'm about to splash white emulsion everywhere to brighten it up. Please note: I am not decorating as such. There will be no prep and I will be painting over all manner of ghastliness in terms of flaky paint and holes in the plaster, but I have ceased kidding myself that I'm going to be ready to decorate this side of next Christmas so expediency is the name of the game.

Proximity of The Tall One. Whether or not the tile section of Castorama was to blame for my gravid state, we are both incredibly excited by the mingling of our genes in a whole new person and not being able to share that except telephonically has been torture. Not to mention expensive. And anyway, baby aside, I missed HIM. Now I can listen to his disembodied voice on the phone knowing that a) it's not costing the earth and b) I'll see him in person that evening.

Mushrooms. I'm sure they have them in the countryside in England but I have never managed to actually live in the countryside since I was old enough to relish fungi for anything other than their psychotropic qualities. Today I found a huge haul of shaggy parasols. Yum. Guess what we're having for supper?

I could go on, and I probably will, in another post. Just to balance the picture, here is a taste of the more challenging aspects of living in a foreign country.

THINGS THAT MAKE ME WANT TO CRY/SHOUT/THROW STUFF

The paperwork. It's insane. Declarations and attestations are required for pretty much everything. I'm currently wading through the paperwork you need to have a baby. I'm not allowed to go into labour until I have successfully negotiated the following:

i) A carte vitale. Essential for accessing free maternity care

ii) Declaration de grosesse. This little form seems innocuous enough until you send the copies off to the relevant departments (CPAM, CAF) and then, like a bureaucratic Lernaean Hydra, it generates more and more forms and demands for documentation that all have to be dispatched separately. My only consolation is that once completed, this mountain of paperwork may actually yield some benefits. Remember those? We used to have them in the UK once upon a time...

iii) Declaration of Paternity. When I saw the midwife at the appropriately named Mother and Baby Hospital, after she'd finished berating me for my lack of paperwork, she told me that until we'd signed a declaration at the Mairie, the baby is, until the divorce is finalised, considered to be the offspring of my dear ex-husband. Bizarre, non?

Luckily, the French calculate full term pregnancy at 42 weeks rather than 41 weeks. The rate I'm going, I'm going to need that extra week.

Did I mention that everyone speaks French? Yes, the charm of communicating in a foreign language can also be a curse. Especially on the telephone. Or if you need to get something done quickly.

Fortunately, part of The Tall One's business is looking after helpless foreigners who haven't a clue. Van Den Berg Immobilier will not only sell you a lovely property, they also have people to support you whilst you take your first baby steps on this alien French-speaking planet. I of course, being stubborn and a bit of a masochist prefer to wrangle with it myself and weep buckets to baffled and incomprehensible bureaucrats on the phone for hours first, but it's good to know I'm not alone.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Chorley Cakes & Torchwood

There is much to be done. I'm having a baby. In France. The paperwork and the organisation required to claim my reciprocal healthcare and maternity benefits are making me feel dizzy.

Marlene re-opens next week. I haven't a clue how it goes. I don't retain lines if I'm not using them. This is not laziness, but an inbuilt safety feature to ward off multiple personality disorder.

I need to do my tax return so that I don't spend what I should be giving the government. My pay cheques stop at the end of September. I need to generate some more!

I need to think through what the Herbert is going to need when he's born (the working title is courtesy of Jo Parkin, I actually think it's a girl). So many friends have so much baby stuff to pass on which is amazing but I need to make lists of what has been offered and from whom so that I don't end up with six breast pumps and no cot.

Hardly surprising then, that I feel an urgent need to bake Chorley cakes and sit down in front of BBC i-Player catching up on 'Torchwood'.

A word about Chorley cakes. The best ones are available from Waites bakery in Hebden Bridge as I'm sure Sally, Kate and Daniel will agree. They will understand that the four-pack plastic-wrapped imitations you buy in service stations and all night supermarkets just don't measure up which is why I decided to bake my own.

Chorley cakes are like Eccles cakes but with shortcrust pastry instead of flaky pastry. It's not rocket science. The amounts I used were as follows:

200g plain flour
100g butter
1 teaspoon baking powder

Usual MO for pastry: rub the butter into the flour to the consistency of breadcrumbs, add water to bind and chill. The pastry that is, not you. You're busy making the filling:

75g currants (I used sultanas, works fine)
30g melted butter
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon mixed spice
Orange/lemon zest (optional)

I used white flour & white granulated sugar. This is not supposed to be a healthy snack. You can use wholemeal flour and brown sugar if you like, but it won't be the same.

Mix all the filling ingredients together. Roll out your pastry, cut into rounds. On each round put a spoonful of filling. Fold in the edges, turn and roll gently with a rolling pin until it spreads so that the currants show through.

Bake in a moderate oven (I used 175 centigrade) for about half an hour. Do not overcook. If the pastry starts to go golden, it's too long.

Serve with a glass of cold milk and a double helping of Captain Jack (Harkness, not Daniels).

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Tiles And The Consequences Thereof

Paul has finished the tiling in the bathroom. Doesn't it look great? All that needs to happen now is to tile the side panel of the bath and fix the shower in place.

It's going to be a tall shower. One of the saddest sights I have ever seen is a 6'5" Dutchman folded into a UK shower cubicle with his head bent against the ceiling. It was supposed to be a steam/sauna/massage facility and he couldn't even get hot water. There will be no such cruelty to our taller European cousins in my little house. Simple shower controls, sliding shower bar set high.



It has occurred to me that these tiles may in some way be responsible for the baby. Faced with a gleaming array of ceramic joyousness, I find it impossible to make a decision, so I took my tall friend along. Partly for company, partly for his capacious boot and partly to stop me spending the entire day going "Um..." in the tile section of Castorama. I think there's a very real possibility that this gave off mixed messages and my body mistook my solo renovation project for a nest-building exercise and reacted accordingly.

I never planned to exchange shabby chic for babby chic, but having had a little time to get used to the idea, I am of course delighted. And terrified. Come September, I shall be properly resident in France, and negotiating the French maternity system. I've managed it with the Mairie and permission for the échafaudage, I'm sure I can work out how to give birth in French.

One thing gives me cause for concern: M. le Maire is also M. le Docteur. I hope he's good at changing hats.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

One of the things I really like about working for the Stephen Joseph Theatre is that we are playing in repertoire, which means that sometimes, quite randomly, we get time off. Actors normally do 8 shows a week and work six days out of seven (panto season is the exception, over Christmas it's not unusual to do 20 shows and work eight days per week. I'm exaggerating less than you think) so a three day weekend is a rarity and a delight.

How delighted was I to discover I had one of these coming up on August 5th! Ladies and Gentlemen, I have taken a double dose of carbon footprint denial and booked my flight home early Friday morning.

I am going to catch up with the excellent work Paul has been doing in my absence. I'm not expecting that much will have moved on as I know that Paul took Nikki and family to the UK for their holidays (lucky them!) but I know that he has stripped back the crappy wood round the windows and re-pointed:













He's also stripped back the rotten flooring in the attic. The good pieces to be recycled as oak shelving, rotten pieces to be stored in my sentry box and burnt on my woodburner. When I get it. The floor joists appear to be in excellent condition but he's given them 3 coats of xylophene just in case any future nasties get any bright ideas about coming to stay.

My bathroom will hopefully be finished, I may have a new floor in the attic and best of all, I get to see the father of my baby and decide what colour to paint the nursery.

Baby??? Nursery???

Sorry, rather sprung that one on you from nowhere, didn't I? More later, I've got a show to open...

Thursday, 21 July 2011

BLAME IT ON BIZET

Rehearsing a full-scale opera in 4 weeks, with 12 actors is no mean feat.

We’re singing. We’re acting. We’re fighting. We’re dancing. When we’re not on stage, we’re with the musical genius that is Richard Atkinson, augmenting his piano gymnastics with French horn, flute, soprano sax and clarinet. We’re jumping in and out of costumes as we change character literally at the drop of a hat. The costume changes have a plot of their own that scares me with its complexity.

All I can say is that it’s lucky for the Netherlands that the man responsible for this military operation is too busy trying to run Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre to cast his eyes eastward over the sea. If his ambition were world domination rather than bums on seats, the Dutch would have reason to be very afraid.

Unfortunately, we are a cast member down. One of our number has been hospitalised with a debilitating infection that is going to take her out of action for a few weeks yet. A temporary replacement has been drafted in. As we approach the end of our final week of rehearsals, our focus will be split between teaching her what has taken us four weeks to put together; and still trying to get it bloody right ourselves!

Luckily most people are pretty on it. One of our number, who shall remain nameless, is struggling. We go back over their musical lines with alarming regularity whilst they plaintively profess bafflement at why it’s “not going in”.

As this person's a mate, I take them aside and gently suggest that the reason that it’s “not going in” is that they don’t do any private study and spend too much time in the pub. Probably a bit too much truth for a Tuesday afternoon. Better blame it on Bizet! What was he thinking, changing key like that??

So despite naughty naughty Bizet (darn him!) and his confoundedly complicated music, we are opening the show a week today. Our sub doesn't arrive until tomorrow, so the probability of us being able to run the show in its entirety before the dress rehearsal is hovering somewhere around zero. Luckily, my personal circumstances preclude any serious drinking so I have been able to prioritise my work; and as my responsibility in this show is comparatively light, I am preparing to sit back and watch the fun.

Bring on the Bizet!

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Swimming Club

Dr Ibrahim al-Duwaish is a 'former' Islamic reactionary who opposes women driving not because it would be un-Islamic, but because it would cause too many accidents. He welcomes new technology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia because email means that women are now able to work from home and thus avoid contact with men who are not their husbands or immediate family (Thank you Jason Burke, for your illuminating article in Saturday's guardian).

"If you ask women all over the world if they choose a mixed environment or to be away from men, they would choose the latter."

Erm, HELLO?

This man is talking through his arse. Our merry band of thespians has now grown from 3 to 12 and half of these are men and jolly welcome they are too. Obviously, they need a little gentle guidance form time to time but their personal hygiene seems to be acceptable and they're damn good fun.

We now have swimming club. In approximately 5 minutes time I shall put on my swimming costume and go and plunge into the north sea. Before breakfast.

I wonder if Mr. Corbitt will remember to bring a spare pair of knickers this time. Last time, having no swimmers, he swam in his undercrackers but finding himself without any replacements ended up sharing stripes, if you'll forgive the expression, in a pair of Mr Rutherford's white jockeys that had already seen a day's wear from their owner.

Two things occur to me:

1) Never borrow or lend a pair of white pants from or to another man unless you know him to be a regular user of andrex wet-wipes.

2) No matter what your gender, it's always advisable to carry a spare pair of pants. Particularly when you have a costume fitting that morning.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Bit Of A Catch Up

It seems like millennia since Marlene, and you'd be forgiven for thinking that I'd given up on the Little House and decided to auction my vital organs in order to buy a share in a Barratt Home in Barking.

Pas de tout mes amis, pas de tout. At the end of Marlene, I resisted the call of Glastonbury Festival... particularly difficult this year as JL was playing with practically everyone except Beyoncé and had offered me a free ticket, PLUS backstage access and a warm bed in the event of bad weather... and sold my soul to Michael O'Leary for safe passage from Leeds to Limoges.

I elected not to hire a car for the week, partly because I didn't want to spend my holiday running round the Limousin like a crazy fool, but mainly because it was fiendishly expensive. Get this:

CAR HIRE, 1 WEEK, SCARBOROUGH: £63

CAR HIRE, 1 WEEK, LIMOGES: £200


So a big THANK YOU to all my friends who variously visited me in St Germain, kidnapped me and fed me, did my laundry and delivered it back to me, chauffeured me to and from the airport and assorted supermarkets and were generally tolerant of my lack of transport and extreme work-related fatigue.

Now onto the fun bit: The Little House is of course less habitable than it was when I bought it. Natch. However, exciting things are happening.

The courtyard wall is not longer in danger of collapsing. The well/breadoven (the more informed among us are plumping for well) has been transformed from a soggy chipboard cupboard into a magnificent arched sentry-box. Unless I can find a handy beefeater hanging around Place de L'Eglise, I'm going to use it for storing wood.

The chimney is no longer giving a creditable impression of a banana on top if my roof, in fact it has temporarily disappeared.


And in order to facilitate the normalising of the chimney situation, an échafaudage has been erected and the road duly closed. I'm so proud. I made that happen. Me. I'm the reason my neighbours can't park their cars round the back. And there's nothing they can do about it. I got permission from the Mairie. In French and everything!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Random Scarborough

On the way back from a long walk along south beach and the headland beyond, I beheld a theremin player on the sea wall. Like you do.


He is in fact posing for a publicity shot for "Hands Off 2011", Scarborough's annual theremin symposium.

Secret Scarborough

Difficult to find even when you know where it is. Maybe they should name it the G-spot...

Friday, 3 June 2011

Something Is Missing

I've just realized what. I'm on a train south. Woof woof.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Greetings From The Haute Vienne To Tamil Nadu

FIRSTLY:

I'd like to welcome Sri of Chennai to my blog. I like that I have an international readership. He introduced himself by way of a comment on my post "Thank Goodness For Friends". He appears to work for a scaffolding company, so if anyone is building in the Tamil Nadu area, check out his site: www.lotusscaffolding.com

SECONDLY:

Check out what Paul is doing to the wall in my courtyard:


This is the party wall between my courtyard and the garage/storage area next door that belongs to an unspecified woman in Montpelier. At some point I plan to make contact and charm her into selling me the garage, which I will turn into a walled garden.

There has been a lot of debate amongst friends as to whether this opening, which used to contain a saggy old chipboard cupboard, is in fact a well or a bread oven. I have asked Paul to retain the curve of the top rather than just concrete the whole thing over. One thing's for sure. It's not going to be a bloody barbecue, which is what Aussie John is lobbying hard for. Erm, hello?? I don't even eat meat! I love barbecues. Just not at my house.



This is what it looks like from Mme. Montpellier's side. She ought to feel very kindly towards me as she is getting her side of the wall fixed for free.




FINALLY: All acro props used in this photo shoot are the builders own. If I was building a skyscraper in Southern India, I would definitely use Sri at Chennai Scaffolding.

Have a good weekend y'all.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

MARLENE: Matters Sartorial & Theatrical

The suit is finished. It is a triumph. I confess I prefer it without the jacket, which has turned out a little boxy, but a triumph none-the-less. However, all pales into insignificance beside the Marlene dress, and the COAT.

I've been forced to capitalise the COAT because nothing else will convey the immense scale of this extraordinary garment. It's worthy of a programme biog in its own right. White (imitation) fur, high collar, full length with a train so long Parksy has to walk a full 10 feet to turn it round. She manages to bully it into submission for three numbers then she loses it and you get the full effect of the dress.

"Don't tell me I got a great voice. On the contrary, I sound like a duck shoot on a salt marsh in Siberia. Why do you think I wear the dress? So they forget the voice!"

Apparently she was forced to adopt undergarments for the London shows at the Café de Paris because it was thought that the royal family might attend. How times have changed.

In the final scene, as we make our slow, dignified exit, she turns to me and says:

"OK sweetheart, let's see if we can fool them one more time..."

We pass out of sight of the audience then run hell for leather for the quick change area, shedding shoes and garments as we go. Christ knows how, but by the time the announcer's said:

"Mesdames et messieurs...Ladies and Gentlemen... Ce moment que vous attendiez... the moment that you've all been waiting for.. Mademoiselle Marlene Dietrich!"

there has been a miraculous transformation. She's in that get-up and I'm safely tucked away in trumpet corner in my white tie and tails (a big nod to 'Morocco') giving it plenty of grandioso on the intro to La Vie En Rose.

Theatrical magic.

At least the invited audience that came to last night's dress rehearsal thought so. Let's see what the good folk tonight think, who will have parted with their money for the privilege.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Meanwhile Back In The Haute Vienne...

Paul has been busy. The downstairs is now unpartitioned:

The cupboard in the corner that used to house the loo has gone. No more embarrassing audio overshares from the downstairs toilet, on the subject of which, I am going to digress for a wee moment.

Do you remember the post about the open sewer running through my house? Well, Christophe-le-Plombier's dear boss sent me his bill.

€500!!!

Now I greatly appreciate the speed with which Christophe came to my aid, and the toilet, for the month or so it was in situe, was a joy to use. However... call me crazy, but I feel that €500 for replacing a bit of pipe and putting in a new loo is a little on the steep side. The loo alone cost nearly €150. It's a thing of beauty, but in my impoverished state, I'd have been perfectly happy with a budget bog from Mr. Bricolage. I email M. Carreau and make this point, also asking him to give me a breakdown on Christophe's hourly rate and the number of hours he worked. 6 apparently. At €40 per hour. I shall not be using them again.

The lovely loo is being moved upstairs to the bathroom, where Paul has discovered a fireplace. Like you do.


Isn't it fabulous? Trouble is, it interferes with the layout for the bathroom. The options as Paul sees them are to change the layout of the bathroom, or accommodate the fireplace within the bathroom, which may involve rebuilding the side of the fireplace. I'm not sure. How can I be? I need to be there, to look at it and scratch my chin aimlessly for a few hours. I need to contemplate a corner bath, decide whether I really hate them as much as I think I do (with apologies to my brothers Leo and Giles in whose corner baths I have spent many a contemplative hour) and think whether I'm prepared to sacrifice the 170 cm bath I've already spent €120 on...

Suggestions gratefully received...

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Rehearsals Week Two And A Half: THE SUIT

I promised an update on the suit. It's amazing. Ossie Clark eat your flipping heart out.

OK here's the thing: Imagine an intricate paisley pattern on a fabric that wouldn't look out of place on a sofa. I'm not really selling it, am I? Bear with me. Then imagine this fabric in a suit so beautifully cut it makes you want to weep. Jennie, our wardrobe mistress is a genius. Her pattern matching skills are second to none. She's even been considerate enough to avoid placing the more... erm... vulvaic elements of the pattern in my groin area.

The jacket is long-line double breasted but fitted, the trousers are high-waisted and boot cut (flares are so much more flattering when given a modern twist) and the waistcoat is delightfully trim. OMG, happy? I think this is possibly the most fabulous costume I have ever had in my entire stage career. And so perfectly apt! I scream 1970s when I make my entrance. Not literally of course. That would be silly and anyway it's not in the script.

Vivian, my character, is a writer. She has her own career, is successful, articulate, yet she chooses to drop everything to come and be with this capricious old bag who is twice her age and treats her like a servant. Yesterday in rehearsals we were finding the graph of how she comes to recognise this but actually doesn't care. Marlene says:

I ask all the time favours from loving slaves

Vivian is a loving slave, but there's more to it than that. Marlene needs someone like her, she can't have strangers in the dressing room but she doesn't suffer fools. Vivian's role in Marlene's life jumps between protegée and dogsbody, but she never knows which she is at any given moment.

Vivian is an amalgam of various female personal assistants Marlene had in her life. Marlene collects writers and intellectuals, and the assistants fit into these categories. Vivian aspires to becoming a permanent fixture in the mould of Ginette Vachon, a Canadian writer and sometime olympic champion who was Marlene's 'companion' for quite some time. She's even prepared to give up her work, abandon her new play that is due to open on Broadway in 6 months.

What kind of person would do that? More importantly, how compelling must Marlene be to inspire that kind of love and devotion from a woman half her age?

Damn I love my job!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Rehearsals Week Two And A Half

It has just occurred to me that I have posted nothing about how rehearsals are going since my somewhat melodramatic post on the weekend terrors a week and a half ago. For those of you unfamiliar with actors, I'd just like to point out that it was an exercise in exorcism. Not to be taken entirely seriously.

For the record: It's not disaster, I've been rather well cast in the role, my American accent is perfectly fine and as for my portrayal of an intellectual lesbian writer... Come and see the show. Leave your expectations at the door. I'm not wearing dungarees and sensible shoes. In fact, I'll update you on the suit situation when I've had my costume fitting today.

So given that I'm not (and never was) about to be fired, what else has been happening in rehearsals?

We are starting to pull a story from the words on the page and bring it to life. Lucky that really, given that we open a week tomorrow! We are at that lovely stage in rehearsals where we know who we are, what we are doing and why we are doing it and can just get on with the business of communicating and reacting.

The music is starting to sound like... well... music, as opposed to a cacophony of wrong notes interspersed with "fuck","sorry" and "bollocks!". That's a very myopic view, obviously. Richard NEVER makes an unintentional mistake and whatever Rebecca plays sounds gorgeous to me, but I'm in awe of anyone who can make a pleasing sound from a wooden box and 4 lengths of cat gut. However, we are starting to sound like a band. Which given that there are only three of us is a testament to our skill and Richard's clever arrangements.

I love love love the trumpet parts, which are at times subtle and at times 'poco grandioso', which in the musical world is Italian for playing loudly and showing off quite a bit. A lot of the 'poco grandioso' sections are quite high and they need to soar. I'm practising my 'whisper tones'. This is an exercise where you blow so gently that the metal only just vibrates creating a sound not unlike a glass vibrating when you run your wet finger round the rim. It's a very good exercise for building stamina and high notes. So says Wynton Marsalis. If he's wrong, it could end up being 'poco flatuoso'

Meanwhile, on stage, Parksy is giving it the full-on Marlene. Since my last post we've been joined by Bev the choreographer and between them they have brought Marlene's last concert to life. Not that I have much time to pay too much attention. I have to concentrate on the conductor. If my gaze wanders, Richard is liable to bring me off without me even realising. Quelle horreur!

On a more serious note, we had some very sad news this week. Our author, playwright Pam Gems died on May 13th. I guess that solves the question of whether or not she's coming to see our show.

I was in two minds about whether or not to point you towards the obituary in the Guardian as Lynn Gardner (affectionately referred to by some directors I know as Osama Lynn Gardner) dismisses 'Marlene' as being among Pam Gems' least convincing plays: "no more than biopics for the stage that provided star turns for star actors".

Now she tells me! And I thought it was a love story about Marlene and a woman half her age. But hey, it's a free world and one thing you've got to say about Lynn Gardner is, she calls it as she sees it. However painful it may be being on the sharp end of her pencil, you've got to respect her for that.

So: Pam Gems RIP and Lynn, if you come to Scarborough, feel free to be as brutal as you see fit. That is your job after all.

Monday, 16 May 2011

THE GIG OF THE CENTURY!

Firstly: We Rocked. Think Pink Floyd live at Pompeii, then scale down the budget and relocate to Shoreditch.

Secondly: More respect due to GG and his total fearlessness when confronted with a strumpet with a trumpet. The usual band on-stage hierarchy involves lead singers/guitar-heroes and their egos at the front, horns and backing vocalists at the back. So when GG asks me where I want to play, I'm assuming he's asking whether I want back right or back left. I'm not that bothered.

He puts me at the front. It's a new experience. And let me say, just for the record, I definitely play better at the front. Grant himself, looking like a mad professor who has just emerged from a wind tunnel, flanked by the Strumpet and on the other side Fiddler Harris*, with his equally mad hair and Byronesque bowing. Bring it on!

To be fair to the others, you simply can't put a cello on the front row. They take up too much bloody room! Ditto drummers. I think if Jari had been on the front row with her accordion she'd have been sick, keyboards are a trip hazard, and as for theremin players... they just look plain weird. Everyone is rocking out on stage and then there's this guy with a box with an aerial standing absolutely stock still with his hands a metre or so apart. He can't move. If he even breathes, he changes the pitch of the theremin. Fascinating, but a breed apart.

Thirdly: We rocked. Did I already mention that? You should have been there.

* He's a master of the art of violinnning. Not a dirty old man. Just thought I'd clear that up.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Moving House

Why do I need digs? I should've just put the little house on a lorry and brought it to Scarborough. Then I could've parked it outside the theatre and had painting parties between shows on matinee days.

NOTE TO STAFF: check width of junction before attempting turn

Monday, 9 May 2011

Seven Musicians In A Very Small Kitchen (and that's just the ones that made it today)

I'd like to take a moment to give respect to Grant Gordon, composer of 'Century':

"...an ambitious, experimental total theatre experience. Acoustic and electric instruments mix with samples, sound effects, archive news reel, and project specific speech interviews from witnesses of the events"

That blurb is not what inspires respect. The respect is for this:

Me: Grant, don't you think this might be a case of 'less is more'?

Grant: No, Lally. More is always more in my book. I want as much trumpet as possible.

With an attitude like that how could I fail to have an utterly fantastic weekend? Aside from the deep joy of making music with loads of mates, some old, some young new, how amazing to be working with a man, (what's more a twanger of strings!) who blatantly does not fear the mighty horn. Bring. It. On.

He has also been completely unfazed by my lack of availability for rehearsals. Mind you, having listened to the rehearsal CD non-stop for 11 hours in the car (6 hours down, 5 hours back), I probably know it better than he does himself.

Over the course of this weekend, Grant and Jari have had in their kitchen the following: Cello, electric bass, bongos (in lieu of proper kit, the ONLY concession to the neighbours), accordian, amplified acoustic guitars, fiddle, 2 keyboards, a mini cinema and of course my trumpet.

For those of you that are free, the gig is next Saturday, for one night only, at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. It'll be an amazing concert. Come if you can. If you book in advance it's only £8. If you're a last minute Lionel, it'll be £11 on the door. I was blown away by what we did today. I'm almost sorry I'm in it, as it means I won't get to be in the audience. But you can be, follow this link:

http://www.richmix.org.uk/aandc_century.htm

Be there or be a triangle

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Weekend Terrors

It's all a disaster. I've been hopelessly miscast in the show. My American accent is terrible. My portrayal of an intellectual lesbian writer unconvincing and sometime today, or tomorrow, or even Monday morning, I'm going to get a call from the director (he's a nice man, he'll do his own dirty work) saying that they're really sorry but they've made a mistake and they'll pay me to the end of the week but they'd like me to leave now as my replacement will be arriving to be measured to see if she fits the fabulous Ossie Clark suit they've found on ebay for tuppence.

Can they do that? Can they only pay me til the end of the week? I reckon they can, but they'll have to bypass the equity agreement and go straight for trade misdescriptions: Your agent said you were good and you're so not. "Excuse me m'lud, this actress is blatantly not fit for purpose..."

I won't be able to pay the mortgage, the Little House will be re-possessed and will stand empty for 25 years until the xylophene protection wears off and then it will be eaten alive by capricorn beetles and woodworm.

I dreamed last night that it had a huge swimming pool and I was tying myself in knots over how to maintain it. Won't be my problem now though, will it? All my teeth are going to fall out so I can't even play the trumpet, my family friends and agent will all disown me for being useless and I will end up sad and lonely in the workhouse.

Or I could just get over myself, take the dog to the park and learn some lines. Hmmmm.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Rehearsals Week One

THINGS THAT ARE BRILLIANT:

Having a job and all the associated joy that comes with gainful employment, to wit self respect, paying the mortgage, eating...

The staff at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. My they're a jolly bunch! People take tea breaks at the same time and make cake for each other.

The 'Marlene' team. Like them all immensely. The Musical Director I know of old. When I was in Keswick giving my Hedgehog and Fox in 'Wind In The Willows' he taught me to play poker. He's also a fine instrumentalist, composer and arranger but stuff all that. I'm hoping that this summer will see my texas hold 'em skills honed to the point where the Man in Black, the Ginger Annihilator and the Guerilla Gardener are shaking in their Corrèzian boots. Bring on the winter tournament!

Special mention for Sarah Parks who is playing Marlene and is going to be BRILLIANT! Ably supported by moi as Vivian, her manager/lover. Book your tickets now! And yes, we have to kiss. Get over yourself. Stephen Joseph Theatre

Having the third and final member of the cast in place. They have been looking for the taciturn 'Mutti' for a while now. Did I say taciturn? Perhaps 'Trappist' would be a better description. However, now we are overjoyed to be joined by the lovely Rebecca Jenkins, whom I worked with in the West End several years ago. I have managed to erase all details of that particular show from my head and replace them with memories of jolliness in Groucho. Such was the trauma of Sweeney Todd. She'll join us next week with her cello.

Ozzy Clarke Suit: As a proper American intellectual lesbian in the '70s, the designer has drawn me in an Ozzy Clarke suit. Oh yes. I'm not kidding myself that the budget of a repertory theatre in these straightened times will stretch to an original, but still... In my head, we're doing a play called 'Vivian'. I am wearing the suit and Marlene's dress comes from Primark.

THINGS THAT ARE LESS BRILLIANT BUT ONLY SLIGHTLY:

The amount of practice I am going to have to do on the French Horn in order to sound half decent. When Marlene does her concert at the end of the show, I play in her band. Trumpet I was expecting. But think about the cello and the horn in glorious counterpoint and understand that I will do what it takes.

Paying £45 to get my car stereo fixed. This car has its gear box welded together and the engine is patched with polyfiller, but that little citroen has taken me from Leeds to London, to St Germain-les-Belles and back, and up to Scarborough. And now the stereo works, so bring it on!

How little work I have done on Grant Gordon's epic musical "Century" in which I am performing a week on Saturday at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. Check it out, if you fancy it, come along. If enough of you commit, I'll up the ante and do some practice, promise! ;-)

How much my boobs are hurting at the moment. Sorry if that's an over-share too far for those of you not familiar with my blogging style, but they do!! And they have been since I left France. Maybe it's psychosomatic.

How much colder here it is here in Scarborough than the Haute Vienne. I know, I know. I'm several hundred miles further north, but still... Last Friday, I had dinner at this amazing little auberge in La Porcherie, OUTDOORS as the sun went down. Sigh.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Friday, 29 April 2011

Thank Goodness For Friends

It's my last day. I have spent the day in a pretty frock tying up loose ends and toasting myself and my friends with champagne being very very glad I'm not in London with all those ghastly people in my back yard.

THINGS I HAVE ACHIEVED SINCE MY LAST POST:

3 coats of xylophene on my poor timbers.

2 bolts on the back door to the courtyard.

Wall paper stripped off in stairwell and bedroom.

Mouldy black blooms gone gone gone.

Walls cleaned with lessive du pin & treated with anti-fungal spray

Credit where credit is due, the above wouldn't have been possible without the help of Andy D. He turns up with a car-load of tools wearing the blue overalls favoured by all serious bricolageurs.

Note to self: Get some. Blue overalls that is. Tools can be borrowed.

He does all the complicated stuff like fixing the bolts, opening and pouring the MASSIVE can of xylophene, and puts my efforts with paint-stripper and a scraper to shame with some angle-grinder/sander behaviour that looks and smells jolly dangerous but cleans up the beams a treat.
I am not faint hearted. I AM going to learn to do all this stuff myself and I am perfectly capable of doing so, but one needs

a) the right equipment
b) more time
c) blue overalls

Paul starts on Monday. I have permission on paper from the Mairie for him to erect un échafaudage (scaffold tower) in the street outside my house. Hurrah for my first successful foray into French bureaucracy!

I just hope he remembers to wear his blue overalls.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Things I love About The French

THEIR ENTHUSIASM FOR CHEESE

I love cheese. People I know love cheese. I have seen grown men open the fridge with the same anticipation a child with its stocking on Christmas morning. I have witnessed the almost religious wonder with which a person can dip a lump of gouda into a pot of mustard. But nothing I have seen can rival the passion that greeted an innocent query from me about the difference between brie and camembert.

I’m dining al fresco on Easter Sunday (in April, yes, how fabulous?) and one of the party has brought some brie from Paris that is literally running off the plate. It tastes like heaven: yellow, with a crenulated skin, and a flavour that shakes up your taste buds and gets them dancing like they’re in the final of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’. The pasty white camembert doesn’t even get them past the selection round. Apparently this is all wrong. It’s usually the other way round. Camembert, I’m told, is the king of cheese. This brie is obviously the Robespierre.

THEIR WINE SNOBBERY

It’s the same as the cheese thing. It’s not actually snobbery it’s about discernment. They don’t like bad wine. Or even mediocre wine. Or even good wine served in the wrong order. I’m with them on the bad and mediocre thing. I still can’t get with the order thing, I’m just happy to be drinking something that doesn’t come from Australia or California via Sainsbury.

THE POLITENESS

Bonjour. Bon journeé. The niceties of everyday conversation. I love it but I still forget and lapse into brusque foreigner mode without even realising it sometimes. There’s a kind of old-world gentility about my every day exchanges here. I’m told the Parisians are rude but I’ll bet you they’re not as rude as Londoners. And it’s true that northerners in the UK are more friendly but they’re still not in the same league as the people here.

Merci à vous versus Ta duck

See what I mean?

THE MEN WHO WORK ON THE ROAD

They are much better looking than in the UK. Much.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

HELP!!!

Time is running away with me. I have so much to do before I start rehearsals for 'Marlene' in Scarborough and can’t see how for the life of me I’m going to get it all done. I feel like I’ve done nothing but the HHs who came round yesterday tell me I’ve done loads.

I’ll be happy if I can get three coats of Xylophene on all the timbers in the place and get all the shopping done so that Paul doesn’t have to spend half a day wandering round Castorama and can get on with the clever stuff like making my chimney look less like a precarious brick banana and more like a sensible enduring smoke-conduit.

Monday sees me wandering round Castorama, then Leroy Merlin, then Casto again comparing prices and quality in the company of a long-suffering friend who not only makes sensible suggestions about baths, but also helps, albeit a little reluctantly, to transport them. It.

The bath question vexes me for at least half an hour but when it’s a question of paying an extra €50 and having a larger bath that doesn’t look cheap and nasty, I eventually agree it’s worth it. I mean, I’m hardly going to be changing it on an annual basis, am I?

But still. My timbers scream out for treatment. No matter how much pastis I drink, the 25 litre tin of xylophene is not going to miraculously distribute itself in three coats over my attic beams.

The walls are still covered in black blooms from when the condensation fairies got trapped inside the house because somebody closed all the double glazed windows too tightly.

The back door to the courtyard is still being held shut by a piece of weaving my mum did on the Isle of Arran; that I would like to re-instate as a scarf/belt before I leave.

I have no time to see anybody, to sleep or even eat. It's all a disaster. The house is going to fall into the cellar and the woodworm are going to hold a party as the dust settles on my decomposing body.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

No More Plaster Insanity!

I am going to give the hammer and chisel back to Aussie John. I am going to cut off my hands. I am going to lock myself in the cellar so that I cannot hack away at the colombage with my bloody stumps. I cannot, repeat, CANNOT allow myself to knock anything else down. The dust is driving me potty.

I'm escaping to the Correze this weekend for some jollity involving a party and a trumpet and no dust. When I go back, I'm going to get on with the far more urgent task of applying 3 coats of Xylophene to all the beams. And for a little house, there's a heck of a lot of beams.

It was this that got me started. Remember the post that ended: There's only on way to find out? Well, this was what I found. Obviously needs a clean and some Xylophene...

I was actually attempting to CLEAN UP when I had an innocent little poke about and ended up doing this. Jolly good thing, as these beams all need treating.
Now I could be going a little crazy as a result of an overdose of dust but it looks to me like the previous owner has put in a decorative beam and that triangular nonsense isn't actually supporting anything. Hmmm. Paul???

The real insanity is this. I got overexcited at the sight of colombage and started chipping away at a partition that Paul is taking out anyway! I now have straw and mud at my back when I sit on my 'sofa'. Nice one Lally.

So a little R & R is just what I need. The Correze is further south than the Haute Vienne and generally warmer by about 2 degrees, which in April is definitely a good thing. They'll all be coming to me in the height of summer when they can't move without leaving a trail of sweat behind them.

If you want to daydream check out some of the properties here: http://www.francehouses.com/
It's an agency run by nice English-speaking Dutch people who've been selling houses in the Limousin for donkeys years and have oodles of experience. Anything is possible when you don't have to pay astronomically high UK prices...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The Master Plan

My Little House is bigger than it looks. It has 2 large downstairs rooms, two double bedrooms and a huge grenier that runs the length of the house.

My original plan was to spend my entire budget renovating the attic. WHY? I have no kitchen or bathroom. What fricking good is an attic going to be if I can’t eat or bathe? Perhaps I could practice yoga up there until the stench of my unwashed body drives all thought of food from my mind. Or maybe not. Hence the need for a new plan.

I have been back and forth, round the houses and to the foot of our stairs and back trying to decide what to put where.

Some things are fairly obvious. Like having the bedrooms upstairs. No point in being contrary for the sake of it. We’re not in Salford now.*

Other things are less obvious. Like which room is the kitchen and which the living room. Where do the things go that need water and electricity? Where the heck am I going to put the second toilet? Andy D. gets me thinking outside the box and the plan starts to take shape.

The kitchen has to go at the back because I am going to have a utility room in the courtyard. With … and this is the bit that has me jumping up and down… a terrace on top. L'Architecte des Bâtiments de France won’t like it. So flipping what? He doesn’t need to see it. I think, if I remember rightly, if he can’t see it, I don’t have to apply for permission. I’ll have to check.

My nice neighbour AJ is a bit doom and gloom about it, but I’m sure it’s only because I’ve rejected his idea of a glass roof as a passive heating system. I want a terrace dammit! Geraniums! Croissants and morning coffee!

Even if I’m banned from having a terrace it makes complete sense to utilise the courtyard. It’s too narrow and the walls are too high for it to work as an outside space, so making it an indoor space is sheer genius.

Paul comes round tomorrow morning. Terrace terrace terrace terrace terrace…

I need to check the Architecte's rules.

*Urban Splash's achingly trendy Chimney Pot Park sees Salford's old red brick terraces reinvented as loft-style living areas by, yes really, putting the bedrooms on the ground floor and the living space up above with terraces and balconies.

The Bank, The Satnav & The Missing €2,400

THINGS THAT ARE GREAT

The Vision

I have been tying my brain in knots trying to get a master plan together that will enable me to use Paul’s superior building knowledge to full advantage whilst I skip off to the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough to play at dressy-ups. Today, with the help of Andy D, that comes to fruition. More about that later.

Cut Price Xylophene

On my way out of St Leonard along the Bujaleuf road, I pass a Briconaut. Such is my obsession with all things renovatory, I cannot resist stopping and looking at power tools and paint and the like. Inside they have the tipetty-top kill-all-insects-and-anti-fungal-into-the-bargain Xylophene for a mere €31 for a 6 litre tin. I buy 3, hoping that the local builders yard will give me a refund on the Cecil on the grounds that the name is not scary enough. Hmmm. If they don't, I will have spent €200 on woodworm treatment.

THINGS THAT ARE A BIT RUBBISH

Payback time at the bank.

They’ve given me my mortgage and in return I know that I am going to be pressured into taking out their package, which will include a bank card, cheque book, insurance for these items, internet banking, £400 overdraft facility… and for these privileges they are going to charge me, yes people, CHARGE me, over €100 per year. When I empty my purse and show Mme Faury my array of free UK plastic, she is gobsmacked. However, if I don’t take out the package, it all costs a lot more. I hate it. €18 per year for internet banking??? Tant pis.

Road Closures.

I’m a bit wrong footed when I get to the bank because a journey that should take me half an hour has taken three times that. I’m bowling along through rural limousin loveliness when I’m hit by a yellow sign. Route Debarré. Bollocks! I don’t believe it but yes it’s true, they’ve closed the road exactly at the only point I can cross the river to get to St Leonard de Noblat.

Satnav.

Useless useless bloody useless! People who know me know my view on Satnav. I know my own view on Satnav. So why oh why do I choose to rely on it?! When the road closes, it recalculates then spends the next hour telling me to turn round and go back the way I’ve come, whilst I end up at Feytiat before I have the good sense to stop at a garage and buy a bloody map. My view on Satnav is, for those who don’t know me: Invented for people who can’t read maps and deserve to be lost.

The Dodgy Notaire:

Whilst at the bank I get sight of a statement that says that the bank have paid just over €30,000 to the Notaire. Remember him? Scary teeth and a dodgy dye-job? Well I got my maths O level and it doesn’t take a genius to work out the following:

Cost of house: €24,000 (yes really)

Agent’s fees: €3,000 (I’m in the wrong job)

Notaire’s Fees: €3,000 (are orthodontics tax deductable in France?)

So what the hell has happened to the €2,400 I paid as my deposit?? After the bank, I head straight for the Notaire’s office. Access to him is restricted by three female pitbulls so I’m frightfully polite and ask to see the relevée de frais du prêt as I think there may have been une erreur. They are frosty in the extreme but do as I ask, and from the adjoining office I distinctly hear someone say: ‘Merde!’ Suddenly the atmosphere thaws and they are being extremely nice to me. What name would I like on the cheque? I ask for a transfer electronique. There’s no bloody way I’m driving all the way back to St Leonard, map or no map.

Actually, this should really be in the ‘things that are great’ column as I totally kick ass, in French, and get my money back.

It’s all good.

Shiver Me Timbers part ii

The pay off for all the scariness in the cellar is when I get to put on plastic eyewear and a gas mask, and play with dangerous chemicals. Yeeeehah! If any woodworm or capricorn beetles are lurking in my beams, the sight of me in my protective gear brandishing an innocent looking flower spray will strike terror into the very fibre of their beings. My fibre. From MY timbers. There is no nice way of doing this. This is war. They have to die.

A quick word about products: I’m going down the nasty-nasty route. Apparently you can use boron solution, which is less evil but I don’t want to take the risk that it is also less effective.
My builder has recommended Zylophene. I can’t face the drive up the A20 to castorama so I go for what the local builders yard have, which calls itself ‘Cecil’. As names go, it’s not one that inspires fear but it’s still got little orange pictures of dying fish on it and is guaranteed to keep the little feckers at bay for 10 years so I reckon it’ll be ok.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Shiver Me Timbers!

Today I am mostly scaring myself rigid by tackling the timbers in the cellar.

I had a good meeting with my builder, Paul, on Friday. He and Nikki live up on the plateau of a thousand cows. I lodged in their guest apartment before Christmas and Nikki was the first person I called when I drove my car into a ravine. Logical. If she can cope with raising four sons, she can cope with anything.

Paul and I agree that as my current budget is limited, he’ll do the more skilled, builder-orientated work like stuff involving roofs and walls and plumbing; and I shall stick to reasonably disaster-proof tasks such as timber treatment and painting.

Ha! I am not a faint-hearted individual. I am not afraid to tackle scruffy-headed youths who drop litter on city streets, but my knees start to buckle at how much rotten wood comes away when I attack the beams in the cellar with a wire brush.

Here’s the thing: the theory is that oak is so invincible that the little bastard woodworms can eat away at a good third of the outside without touching the heartwood. Nice theory. These beams are holding up the entire house, so I defend my right as a property owner to be a bit scared.

TIP OF THE DAY:

Get someone else to do it. You’ll save yourself a fortune in valium.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

How Cool?

This is the swimming lake that is 5 minutes walk from my little house. 'Nuff said.

Hidden Treasure

I've always been good at demolishing things. Food, wine, relationships...

When I tell JL I'm getting busy with a crowbar he laughs wryly. He remembers the time I pulled down the ceiling in his Chelsea flat then promptly got a job and buggered off on tour leaving him with piles of rubble.

In this instance I am buggering off, to Scarborough this time, but not for a couple of weeks. Plenty of time for a little exploratory work...


I'm just trying to imagine the thought process behind it. I mean WHY? Why brick the fireplace up in the first place? And why hide not one but TWO woodburning stoves behind it?

The chains, I'm reliably informed by my neighbour, were used for cooking. No reason whatsoever why I can't recycle them in the torture chamber I'm planning for the cellar...



Aha! OK, this is starting to make sense. Central heating. Boiler. Flue. No wood burners required.

Now how the feck am I going to hide that boiler flue?

The Cracked Pipe

Winters out here in the Limousin are very cold. No need for the word ‘apparently’ because I’ve been here in winter. I know. The lady who owned the house before me obviously didn’t know, or didn’t care or was very stupid, because she didn’t drain the system the last time she was here. One of the first things Mr B showed me was how to turn the water on and off, and how to get all the water OUT of the pipes. Had she been more knowledgeable/caring or less stupid, the following would not have happened:

1. The beautiful cast iron radiators in both upper bedrooms would not have split

2. The embryonic shower plumbing in the bathroom would not have blown

I was lucky in two respects. Mr & Mrs B noticed the radiators and had them capped off. They didn’t notice the shower but were here testing the boiler with a plumber when the water was switched on. He fitted isolation tapas for the shower. Olé.

When the HHs came round for champagne and jollity, Nick worked some plumbing magic (I think he just took the flexi pipes off and capped them but one never knows with plumbers!) so that I could have water upstairs, use the loo and shower in the bedroom; where either the plumbing is more robust, or the temperature doesn’t drop so low. I’m really hoping it’s the latter. I’ll let you know in November.

I’m digressing madly on the subject of plumbing, a dangerous thing to do. I can’t blame the previous owner for what I’m about to tell you next, although I suspect she may have known about it.

So here’s the thing: I’m sitting having breakfast when I remember that a few days ago I put a bowl under a drip in the cupboard where the downstairs loo used to be. I meander over to check it only to discover that not only has it overflowed, but also the water in the bowl is suspiciously murky.

Murky water. Former loo. A bit niffy. Oh shit. Shit shit shit shit shit.

I phone Nick. He’s calm as you like. Of course he is, it’s not his loo that’s backing up! He says it’s probably where my pipes join the tout-à-l’égout in the street. He tells me to pop over to the Mairie and ask them to get someone to look at it.

Is tennis popular in France? The receptionist at the Mairie has obviously been practising her return serve because she tells me I need a plumber. Mr. B’s French plumber is booked up for weeks but on hearing the problem comes straight round.

Can I just take a self-congratulatory moment here? I had to leave him a message. On the telephone. In French. About
PLUMBING. And he understood!

He identifies the site of the blockage (unfortunately in my cellar not in the street outside) and gets out his rod (oo-er Mrs). It’s only when the rod doubles back and hits him in the face that we realise that this is not just a simple case of irresponsible sanitary towel disposal. Look at the picture below. That is the soil pipe that runs under my floor carrying waste from the loo. Notice it’s cracked? The reason it’s blocked is because all the ancient rubble and dust has fallen INTO the crack. I have an open sewer running underneath my front room.

Lots of Gallic shrugging ensues. I prefer this to the teeth-sucking behaviour of the British. The main problem appears to be that he is supposed to be working at the boulangerie down the road. He speaks to his boss. I am banned from using my facilities for 24 hours. I can still wash up and shower, I just can’t do anything that involves lowering my pants for lavatorial purposes. Fortunately there are excellent public facilities in the square that are clean, warm and open 24/7. I love France!

The following day I make Christophe-le-plombier un café then depart for Castorama (Think Wickes) and the SFR shop. By the time I return with some self-adhesive decorative plastic and an internet stick, he has fitted a new loo downstairs. This is a temporary measure as to fit it upstairs requires the removal of the large metal soil pipe that is of the same provenance as the one featured in the picture above.

I am feeling cheerful about my new loo for the following reasons:

1. My dealings with Christophe and the Mairie were conducted entirely in French and I have learned several new words.

2. It has totally cured me of the notion that I will be able to fit a second loo downstairs. There are huge privacy issues before you even address the question of hygiene and odour management. The other thing is that because the cubicle is so wee (no pun intended) there is barely room to close the door if you’re sitting down, so God knows how the gents are going to manage!

I am feeling apprehensive about my new loo for the following reasons:

1. My curtains downstairs are not substantial. If I neglect to close the door whilst the light is on (very likely: see above), there is a danger that I will be sharing my toilet behaviour with the square outside.

2. The last time I used the upstairs loo, I didn’t flush. At some point, I am going to have to empty it manually.

3. I haven’t had the bill yet.

MOTS DU JOUR

Le tout-à-l’égout = mains drainage
La vidange = waste pipe
Completement pourri = completely rotten
Boucheé = blocked (can be used for traffic and noses as well as drains)

Friday, 15 April 2011

What Lies Beneath?

I’m taking a break and writing as I’m working because I want to share whilst it’s all still fresh.

Today was supposed to be a ‘clean’ day. Yesterday, I was so grumpy after trying and failing to plan the layout of the kitchen that I needed some serious therapy. Cue intensive hammer & chisel action on the fireplace.

Lally & brickwork: 1
Old fire-blackened plaster: 0

After 3 bags of rubble, the clean up took me nearly as long as the work so today I swore I’d just make a start on the mouldy wallpaper.


Ha! I certainly made a start on the wallpaper, but then found some wood. And some plaster. And then I grabbed the chisel and started working.


Here’s the thing: The plaster I’m about to tackle looks really old.
It’s lath and plaster with proper horsehair mixed in. Does that mean the wood underneath will stop? Or does the wood pre-date the plaster? Am I about to make a huge mistake?

Only one way to find out…

Thursday, 14 April 2011

THE BOITE A LETTRES:

Mine doesn’t conform to post office standard apparently, so one of the first things I do is buy and fit a new one. One of the things the Notaire kept repeating was that ANY changes to the outside of the house have to be agreed with the Architecte de Batiments de France, a process that involves applications in triplicate and sometimes pentaplicate. M le Maire, who is also M le Docteur at the surgery next door comes round to introduce himself so I take the opportunity to establish that La Poste ranks higher than the Architecte and my boite a lettres is exempt. Phew. He looks uncannily like my youngest sister’s husband, a man I would definitely trust on matters postale, so I take his kind advice on where to put the new boite.



Wednesday, 13 April 2011

FIRST NIGHT IN THE LITTLE HOUSE

I’VE GOT THE KEYS!

Officially. Unofficially, I’ve had them since I arrived back in France as the vendor’s representatives gave them to me so that I could unload my car, measure up, stand in the middle of the floor with my mouth open looking dazed for hours at a time…

The HHs come round and we celebrate with champagne. As well as having first introduced me to the Little House, they have loaned me a bed. I have a lot to thank them for!



When they have gone and it’s just the Little House and me; I dance for joy and sing in every room, including the Grenier. The acoustics are generally excellent, especially in the front bedroom. I feel the hour is a bit late to take out the trumpet, especially given that Mme M next door has already leaned out of her window as the HHs were leaving. Fortunately they know each other.

Note to self: Try not to upset the neighbours

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Build-Up

CHOOSING A HOUSE:

Ha! There are rules for this one and I broke them all. I recall an evening less than 6 months ago, standing in a garden, smoking with some new canasta-playing chums, Immo amongst them, saying:
Yes, I’d love to live out here, but I’m not rushing into anything. I think I’ll rent for a while, look around, see what area takes my fancy. Put in a few low offers here and there, see what comes back…
Double Ha! Wise words indeed. Do all that, then do what I did and chuck rationale out of the window, fall in love with somewhere and buy it because a tarot card you pick randomly out of a pack says you should.
I think I’ve been lucky. My Little House is in a pretty village with a swimming lake 5 minutes walk from my front door. It’s near a main auto route, easily accessible from several airports, has a railway station, and I got it at a good price. Occult influences notwithstanding, look around, weigh up the pros and cons and don’t pay over the odds.

MAKING AN OFFER:

I’ve always been rubbish at this bit. When I bought my first house, even though I was temping in the property industry, I still laid all my cards on the table and offered what I was prepared to pay. The estate agent obviously came back asking for more and was shocked when I refused and withdrew the offer.
On this house I decided what I could afford to pay, which was significantly under asking price. The Immo was a personal friend so I levelled with her and told her how it had to work for me and how she then structured it was up to her. I didn’t want to muck about putting in stupidly low offers just to do the dance and get to the figure that was my best offer. It worked for me. Do whatever works for you, just remember that the French market is flooded with properties right now. It’s a buyers market. That said, there are some properties that will get snapped up regardless so gosh… I don’t know. Chance your arm. I did.

GETTING A MORTGAGE:

My mortgage is with Banque Populaire. Things I like about it are:

1. They’ve given me a fixed rate of 4% for the duration of the mortgage. No mucking about, no reverting to standard variable rate, EVER. A decent rate for the duration of the loan. Payments fixed at €250 per month, including insurance. Get in!
2. It’s a mortgage for a ‘maison primaire’ as opposed to a ‘maison secondaire’. If I ever decide to sell, the distinction will save me a shitload of tax. This is quite a coup. Britline, with whom I also applied for a mortgage, were only prepared to lend as a second home purchase. This is because despite intending to have my main home here, I’m self-employed and earn most of my money in the UK.
3. They are also lending me money to renovate. French banks will do this. It’s brilliant! You have to submit a quote for works (a devi) from a registered builder with your mortgage application. When the builder carries out the works, he applies to the bank to be paid so that there’s no danger of frittering away your renovation budget on champagne and naked dancers. The downside is that if you plan to do the work yourself, you have to be a registered, qualified builder as opposed to a talented amateur. Banque Populaire however, have gone the extra mile and have juggled the finance so that my personal contribution of €8000 makes up the bulk of the renovation monies whilst the mortgage pays for the house. This means I can get whomsoever I please to do the work. Bring on the dancing boys!
4. I’ve got a proper bank manager with a face, just like in the olden days in England. Remember the days when human beings in suits made sensible decisions about whether other human beings were responsible enough to be given money to play with that wasn’t theirs? When firm handshake, a winning smile and a daring hemline actually counted for something… instead of the ‘computer says no’ culture that now dominates our UK banking life.

Things to watch out for:

As with all banks, there is a danger that they will try and sell you insurance of all kinds, some of which you need and some you don’t. Fortunately my nice bank manager realised that there was little point in a self-employed person having unemployment insurance. I was pressured into taking out buildings and contents insurance with them but as it came to a grand total of €162 per annum, I rolled with it.

The bank that gives you a mortgage will want you to have a bank account with them. Banking is expensive in France. Your current account can cost you several euros a month and you pay for pretty much everything, including your carte bancaire. Oh, and the French don’t do irresponsible money-management. Not that I have a cavalier attitude to my finances, pas de tout, but it’s worth being extra vigilant as unauthorised over-drawing on your account can lead to you being taunted in French and pelted with rotten tomatoes in the village square. For more details, see this excellent article.

Other options: BRITLINE, mentioned above, are part of Credit Agricole. They are an excellent, efficient organisation with English speaking staff catering to Brits who want to live in France. They cover all aspects of finance in your mother tongue. That makes some people feel more secure. Not me. I never really understood the mysteries of banking so no change there. Britline weren’t offering as good a rate as BP, and they’re based in bloody Normandy! It’s not like in the UK, your bank is the branch you open the account with. Had I gone with Britline, I’d still have had to close my Credit Alcohole bank account in Chateauneuf la Foret up the road, and open one with them. In Normandy. That’s like banking with the Orkney branch of Barclays when you live in Berkshire. I like my local bank for local people. They have a translator for if the going gets too tough but this is France, people! Speak French!

NB I reserve the right to make a U-turn and eat my words at a later date if it all goes tits up.

SURVEYS:
Didn’t get one. I went a bit native on this one. The attitude seems to be over here that if it’s been standing for several hundred years it’s unlikely to fall down for a while yet. Croise les doigts!

COMPROMIS DE VENTE:
This is the first piece of paper you sign, and is the equivalent of exchanging contracts in the UK. If I change my mind, I lose my 10 % deposit, all €2,400 of it, and if the vendor pulls out, she has to pay me the same sum.
I agreed 2 clauses suspensives with the vendor: the first that the contract was subject to mortgage approval; and the second that the boiler, unused for 7 years, had to be working. This was one of my better ideas: It meant that not only was the boiler checked and tested by a French plumber, but my lovely Immo took responsibility for the admin involved with getting the water and electric switched on, and the first lot of oil delivered. All I had to do was pay for everything…

Lx