Bathroom Numéro Deux

Hi! I’m back – did you miss me?

I’m not getting any better at regular blog posts, am I?

So much has happened since the spring and in subtle ways, although we are in the same place, doing the same things, life has changed quite a bit. But that’s for a future post.

First let me fill you in on what Colin and I have been doing to the mill since we last spoke.

The summer was a whirl of visitors, which was lovely! With the whole of my side of the family arriving for a week in August we knew we had to get some more sleeping space live-able and enough bathroom space for 8 people to feel comfortable.

We had already decorated a guest bedroom downstairs last year, but having wrecked the rudimentary downstairs bathroom in the process of plumbing in the new one upstairs, it was now getting a bit urgent to do something about a second bathroom. Another reason for the slow progress downstairs was that it took a while to decide what we were going to do with it. It didn’t really meet our needs as it was, next to the kitchen area and separate from the downstairs bedroom.

Most of the ground floor is a large, open-plan living room and kitchen and although the bedroom at the end is OK, the layout at that end of the house meant that guests had to come out of the bedroom into the living room to cross the corridor into the bathroom – not ideal! Hang on. This is going to get confusing. Time for some visual aids.

Downstairs floorplan (before)

Downstairs floor plan (before)

Unfortunately, I can’t run to rinky-dinky design software, so you’ll have to make do with what I can cobble together in PowerPoint. But you get the general idea…

The original bathroom was large, with a bath and a sink, a large plasterboarded-off area in one corner that held the hot water tank, plumbing for a washing machine and a large towel rail. Granted, there was no hideous wallpaper – but only because Monsieur had never even bothered to finish the walls. Oh yes, and the usual solitary bare light bulb to add to the effect.

Downstairs bathroom - before

Downstairs bathroom – before the Coles duo got at it.

An ensuite bathroom to the guest room would be nice but although there was a small downstairs toilet next to the bedroom, it wasn’t big enough to put a shower or even a wash basin in.

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So, we decided to be a bit creative.

In short, we would pinch some floor space from the bathroom to add to the loo, knock a door through from the bedroom and turn the original bathroom into a utility room/laundry. Simples!

Downstairs floorplan (after)

Downstairs floor plan (after)

The theory was simple but it still took quite a while to do. The dividing wall between the toilet and the bathroom had an enormous heated towel rail mounted on it, so that had to come off before we could knock out the wall. I would have loved a wet-room style shower but the shower tray had to be raised to create an adequate fall for the drain. This was because the original waste water pipe, which ran through the cavity wall along the whole depth of the house, was buried in concrete, above ground level and we really didn’t want to disturb it.

Work in progress

Work in progress

We built a strong platform to support the shower try (our grandson was happy to help with the nail gun, under strict supervision) The stone shower tray we had bought was so heavy that we could barely move it –luckily my son was over to stay at just the right time to help us manhandle it into place on its dry mortar bed. The wall between the new utility room and bathroom couldn’t go up until we had the shower tray in place because it was too big to get through the door!

Knocking a hole in the wall of the guest bedroom to create a doorway was interesting as we discovered that, although the bedroom floor was perfectly level in the doorway to the corridor, there was a 3cm difference in floor level between the bedroom and the former toilet floors!

We didn’t seal off the original toilet doorway as it is useful to be able to access the new bathroom straight from the main living area – so we have a kind of Jack and Jill arrangement, where we keep one door locked, depending on whether the guest bedroom is occupied at the time or not.

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For once the work was going according to schedule. Shower tray in, walls and floors tiled, sink and loo fitted. One week to go until the family were due – just enough time to clean up and accessorise.

Then on Friday morning, as I walked into what was going to be the utility room, there was a bit of a sploshing noise as I walked across the floor. Looking down in horror I realised that the floor was flooded. It took several hours to clear up the mess and locate the source of the leak. Amazingly it wasn’t our plumbing at all. We discovered that the ground floor copper feed pipes, which the previous owner had helpfully buried in the concrete floor, had both sprung leaks. French water pipes have to be sheathed in plastic ducting and the water from the leaks was pouring out of each end of each length of ducting – impossible to see where exactly the leaks were, except somewhere under our newly tiled bathroom floor. We could have cried. Luckily we were able to shut the water off to that end of the house while we figured out what to do. We attempted to dig up the floor in the future utility room, hoping the leak would turn out to be somewhere we could get at without ruining the new bathroom. But it was an impossible task. We decided that we needed some professional help but getting a plumber on a bank holiday weekend, when France was playing in the World Cup final was just NOT going to happen. So we adopted the French attitude to life, went out and enjoyed the weekend and waited for the plumber who arrived bright and early on Monday morning.

I explained to the young guy that there was a leak somewhere under the floor of our new bathroom and asked helplessly if there was anything he could do? “Madame,” he said calmly, “Tout est possible” Anything is possible.

After a couple of hours he packed up and left, having cut the two offending pipes at either end and rerouted the hot and cold feeds up the wall inside a cupboard, across the ceiling void into the next room and reconnecting to the shower, sink and loo at the other end. I could have hugged him but as I thought he might find that a tad embarrassing I made do with shaking his hand and thanking him profusely instead.

So, we had a second functioning bathroom when the family arrived and a lovely week was had by all. And here it is!

Downstairs bathroom

New downstairs bathroom, viewed from the guest bedroom

downstairs bathroom 2

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It’s fair to say that not a lot of progress was made on finishing the utility room until the autumn – I don’t know about you, but it just seems such a sin to be indoors when the weather is beautiful.

But once we got going again it didn’t take long to fit a decent amount of cupboard space, a large sink with one of those spray attachment type taps for washing down all manner of dirty things and refitting the enormous heated towel rail.  This is an absolute boon for drying clothes when the weather is bad (I’ve never been a fan of tumble dryers). The floor will eventually be done in here too, but that will be when we do the whole living room and kitchen floor.

new utility room

The new utility room cum laundry

Utility room sink

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So… That’s done. Time for a rest.

NOT

In two week’s time we will pick up the new kitchen – and that is going to be a bit of an adventure in itself. Watch this space!

(Oh, and if anyone has any tips on surviving without a kitchen for several months – I’m all ears!)

Making our cars legal in France – Getting ANTSy

Getting our vehicles re-registered in France had been a bit like wading through mud. First we needed to get the requisite documentation, then the tax clearance and now we were at the stage of actually submitting our application to import and re-register. All of this is quite time-constrained but the deadlines take no account of the time it takes for the administrative wheels to move – and they ‘grind exceedingly slow’.

Our next step was to access the website of the French ‘Agence Nationale des Titres Sécurisés’, the National Security Agency, who deal with (amongst other things) the registration of vehicles. Now, we already knew that to log in to this we needed a nationally recognised form of ID (a bit like the UK Government Gateway login or Verify). Typically in France this is your income tax reference number, and as we haven’t yet been tax resident here a full year to do a tax return and get this number, we needed to find another way.

carte grise

The garage owner in the next village, who had saved our bacon when our van broke down, two days before our major kitchen-collection trip had agreed to act as our intermediary for the application, so we set off with the bulging file of paperwork as soon as the last bit of paper was in place. We had a nice chat and he explained that his colleague who dealt with all the car registrations didn’t work Fridays but he would pass on our phone number and the afore-mentioned colleague would ring us when he was back on Monday. Monday came and went (as did the rest of the week) with no contact from the garage. So on Friday we ‘just popped in as we were passing’ and were told that his colleague had been off all week with ‘flu, but would be in touch on Monday, when he was due to return. The following week the phone remained stubbornly silent, and although Colin was sure that there was a good reason for the lack of contact, I wasn’t so confident. I didn’t want to spoil the good relationship we had built with the garagiste, (not knowing when we might need his help again), but it seemed pretty clear that he didn’t want to get involved with our application. So we decided to try elsewhere.

That Friday (being a day off for both of us) we took our shiny red dossier into town, to the local Renault dealer (as one of the vehicles was a Renault). The two ladies in the office were lovely and friendly but apologised, saying they were only allowed to register brand new cars on the ANTS site.

Undeterred, we moved on to the next garage/showroom on the local shopping area – this time a brand new Renault used-car dealership. Once again I explained our predicament to the salesman in the showroom. He listened sympathetically and suggested we ask at the Renault garage we had just visited. When I told him that we had already tried there, he jumped onto his mobile phone and I heard him tell the person on the other end that he had a ‘nice English couple that needed assistance – let’s see if we can help them’.

We hadn’t realised that this was actually the same company as the garage we had just visited and the guy we were talking to was the owner of both. Having thanked him profusely we went back to the original garage and the ladies there immediately set-to, photocopying all our paperwork and explaining that they would do their best – maybe not today , but definitely on Monday. We suddenly realised that their initial reluctance ( and almost certainly the same went for our local garagiste) was that they had never had to deal with a foreign import before and weren’t sure how to go about it. They took our phone number in case there were any queries and we left feeling quite positive. A week later and no news. I’d suddenly realised that we would actually need something to show the gendarmes, if we were stopped, that we had actually applied to re-register the car and van, so I went back to the Renault dealer the following week to ask for a copy of the attestation, confirmation of application) The ladies at first looked nervous, saying it would take quite a while for the cartes grises to come through but that there hadn’t been any additional requests for information so they were hopeful… Then looked relieved when I explained why I needed the photocopies, confirming my suspicions about their original reactions.

Two weeks later, our lovely post-lady arrived with a sign-for letter – Yes! it was the carte grise for the car! Straight down to the local auto centre for some new registration plates – riveted not stuck (!) and we no longer stick out like a sore thumb when driving round the local lanes. Yay!

Still waiting to hear about the van, though.

quitus fiscal

Making our cars legal in France – the Quitus Fiscale

I’ve been getting better recently at coping with the French bureaucratic system. I no longer sit seething (well not as often anyway) at the fact that everything has to be photocopied, printed out, saved in paper folders – even when the process is all done online. I’m getting used to the fact that so many organisations insist on sending you a pass code in the post for an online service – even though they have asked for your email and mobile number. But the tax authorities have their own special little foibles.

As part of the process of getting our car and van imported and re-registered in France we had to get something called a ‘Quitus fiscal‘, a certificate to certify that all necessary taxes had been paid on the vehicle. I’d found the recommended list of documentation required, filled in forms, made photocopies and organised everything in folders to take to the tax office. Our first visit to this office when we first moved over permanently had been a bit of an education and our experience hasn’t changed over the many visits we have had to make since.

Our local town with its surrounding communes has a population of around 30,000. The large ugly 1960’s concrete block, sporting the words ‘Centre des Finances Publiques’ looks built to cope with a town this size, but when you walk through the sliding glass door you find yourself in a small room about 4m x 4m with a single glass window at one end and 4 plastic chairs arranged around the walls. As you can only pack about 8 people into this space there is often a line tailing back into the car park outside. Once inside, the experienced taxpayer makes a mental note of who is already there and who comes in behind, so that you can leap forward when your ‘turn’ comes. There’s no privacy so during your extremely long wait you are entertained with everyone’s financial situations and family circumstances, as they try to get some sense from the miserable and taciturn chap whose job it is to sit sideways-on at his computer behind the screen, rarely looking up as he deals with queries. (Mind you, if I had his job, I’d be miserable and taciturn!)

Our joy at only finding 4 people in the waiting area when we arrived quickly evaporated when, having reached Monsieur Services Clients behind the screen, we were told ‘We don’t deal with that – you’ll have to go to La Flèche’.

La Flèche is 40km away and as it was 11.30am and everywhere closes from midday until 2pm, we would have to go home and try the tax office in La Flèche after lunch. Monsieur was in quite a jolly mood today so he (still not making eye contact) volunteered the address of the afore-mentioned tax office without being prompted. I thanked him, saying I had been before, and refrained from mentioning that my previous visit had been a fool’s errand after he had sent me there on another matter and I was redirected back to him with a “What’s the matter with those guys? You’re the 3rd person this week they’ve sent over when it’s their job to handle this”

So, we weren’t terribly confident of success when we arrived at La Flèche Centre des Finances Publiques. This office at least has a ribbon-barrier queuing area for the Accueil, Reception desk, and two people working on it. Having shuffled very slowly to the front of the queue we were told that we actually needed the office on the first floor. (Just a suggestion here guys – why not just have a sign that points visitors to the relevant office as they come in?)

This time there was no one in front of us! A very friendly young man listened as I explained what we needed then disappeared off to photocopy my photocopies and fill in all the necessary forms (which he then photocopied and filed) before finally presenting us with the prized Quitus Fiscal for each vehicle. Yay!

Next, the actual application on the ANTS website.

carte-grise

Making our English cars legal in France

During all the to-ing and fro-ing we have done between England and France over the years that we have had a home here, all I have had to think about is having European insurance and breakdown cover, using the sticky beam-benders on our headlights (to avoid dazzling approaching drivers after dark) and carrying the requisite safety gear.

Things changed when we finally moved here permanently. As French residents we were required to officially import and re-register our trusty motors. Basically what we needed for the van and the car was a Carte Grise literally ‘Grey Card’, the equivalent of the UK V5 log book. Easily said but finding out exactly how to do this was no simple task.

Two things I’ve found out about living abroad are 1. Don’t assume anything works like in your native country; it rarely does, even in these international, global times. 2. I don’t know what I don’t know!!

Until quite recently the system was to pop along to your local Préfecture, County Hall and fill in the necessary forms. French friends who had not changed cars recently were adamant that this was all we needed to do. However France recently introduced their new online ANTS site, where all car registrations and updates to owners have to be done.

But to use this site you need to be in the business (a car dealer) or personally have official identification, which typically consists of an income tax reference, to register. As we haven’t been tax-resident for a full year yet, we won’t get these until we do our first tax return in April/May of this year. Happily (?!) the occasion of our van’s gearbox problem meant that we made the acquaintance of our local Renault dealer. When I asked him if he could help us re-register the car and van he was happy to help. He told us all the documentation we would need and we left promising to return in the new year when we had it all ready.

So all we needed for each vehicle was:

UK log book (VO5)

A European certificate of conformity,

French insurance

A Controle Technique (MOT equivalent)

Quitus fiscale (VAT import tax declaration certificate)

Plus the usual passport photocopy, utility bill (proof of address), bill of sale for the vehicle (who the heck has one of these when you bought it privately?), and a completed “demande” form, cerfa 13750.05

Getting a British registered car insured by a French insurance company is not easy – most do not want to know. We heard via Facebook that AXA would give 3 months’ provisional cover while you went through the process of re-registering so we paid a visit to our local AXA agency and 2 hours of paperwork (and a ‘gulp’ premium) later we left with a little square piece of green paper to display on our windscreens.

Next, the Contrôle Technique.

We booked both the car and the van in for a CT the following week at the local registered CT centre. I quizzed the manager about how he felt about beam-bender stickers on the headlights, as I knew they were technically legal for a CT, but that loads of Brits had had problems getting French CT centres to accept them. “No problem”, he said, and then wanted to know why we were moving to France. Was it because of Brexit? “Not good” he opined. We had to agree.

We knew that the Audi badly needed two new rear tyres so we went down to the local tyre fitter and booked the car in to have the tyres fitted on the morning of the CT test. (The earliest they could do, as they had to order them in)

The following Monday we took the van to the CT test centre and handed over the key along with a spare pack of beam-bender stickers ‘in case the current ones weren’t in exactly the right place’.

Forty-five minutes later the technician came back and reported a clean bill of health and issued our certificate and stuck the little square token to the windscreen. Result!!

A day later the tyre-fitting centre rang to say they couldn’t get hold of the tyres for the Audi for another week. (moderately-rural France is a totally different experience from the UK) I Googled the tyre and found an on-line supplier who could deliver the tyres to a local ‘partner’ garage for fitting. The price was good so I ordered and selected a garage about 6 km away. The supplier reported the tyres had been dispatched but after 3 days I had still not heard from the garage, so I rang to make an appointment for the fitting. The garagiste informed me that he didn’t fit tyres that had been bought over the internet- “he supplied tyres himself so why would he?”, he said.

So I rang the online tyre company and asked what I should do? “Leave it with us”, said the very helpful lady.

An hour later she rang back to say the the garagiste had decided he really did want to stay as a ‘partner garage’ with them (would’ve loved to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation) and that I would hear from him shortly regarding the fitting.

Meanwhile we had the appointment for the CT on the Audi. I agonised for a day about whether to cancel the CT, but decided to keep the appointment anyway and take the hit for the tyres. It would be another 20 euros for a re-test but we would have a piece of paper to say we had been ‘done’ which is all we needed apparently, for the registration people.

Back at the CT centre we read the local papers for an hour before the mechanic came back. He filled in forms without a word, so I summoned up the courage to ask how things had gone? “C’est une Audi“, it’s an Audi, he said with one eyebrow raised, as if only an idiot would think it could fail. Colin and I looked at each other, doing a telepathic hi-five then followed him outside, watched him fix the little Pass sticker to the windscreen, before waving a cheery bye-bye. “Oh, and you might just want to check the rear tyres” he winked as we got in.

Later that afternoon the garagiste rang and offered an immediate appointment, which we accepted, dropping everything to spend an hour sitting with his cheery wife and being licked to death by their Jack Russell while he fitted the new tyres. Not a word did he utter during the whole transaction.

Next the Quitus Fiscale…you’d better go and make yourself a cup of tea.

Part of history

Although sitting doing nothing isn’t normally in my nature ( I drive Colin mad by endlessly compiling and working my way through self-inflicted lists of ‘things-I-just-have-to-do’) I did spend some time this Christmas just kicking back, reading books, catching up on interesting websites I’d bookmarked about the local area and I fell to pondering.

This will be the ninth house I have bought and lived in since moving out to go to uni, cough-cough years ago. Although they have all (eventually) been lovely homes and I’ve many happy memories from each, I’ve realised that there is something a bit different about taking on an old place. And I don’t just mean the woodworm or ancient plumbing! Taking on an old property and lovingly restoring it is quite a responsibility and it doesn’t even have to be a national treasure to make you feel that way. There’s something about being a just a small jigsaw piece fitting into the history of the place, respecting that your house is also part of the local community’s history and memories, that gives you roots in the locality.

When we first came to view Moulin de la Roche, the then-owner had spent several years gutting the original building, removing any original features in his mission to create a ‘modern’ home. He told us that there had been a mill on the site for many years and showed us a photo taken around 1913, which shows a dilapidated building in a bit of a sorry state, with a mishmash of bits tacked on over the years. It’s true to say that it was never a lot of people’s romantic, chocolate-boxy idea of a water mill. It was and always had been a working factory.

I found a few old postcards of the mill which all showed a slightly different layout of the land, different outbuildings and additions to the main mill and even different courses of the water.

I’m fascinated by the organic way this place has developed, including it’s recent history which is all part of it, and I’ve decided to try and find out a bit more of the history of our mill. So you may see the occasional post on here whenever I find out a bit more.

If you have renovated in France, have you done any research into the history of your place? Where did you go to find information? I must admit that the task is a bit daunting, language-wise. I struggle with modern french, let alone archaic language but I really need to make the effort. I’d love to hear your experiences and tips – leave me a comment.

Operation Kitchen Collection – and it’s ‘Go’!

At 3 am on Thursday morning the alarm on my phone roused us to start ‘Operation Kitchen Collection.’ I’m really not bad at getting up early in the morning (just don’t ask me to stay awake after  9:30 pm!), which is just as well as we were booked on the 8:15am ferry from Caen to Portsmouth. We needed to be at the port an hour before sailing and allowing two and half hours journey time to Caen, plus contingency in case of problems with the Gilets Jaunes, Yellow-Vest protesters, we reckoned we needed an early start.

In mid-November Colin and I had spent a weekend in Caen to see a jazz concert. As the concert was Friday night and we weren’t planning to leave Caen again until Sunday, we weren’t too worried by the prospect of the nationwide demonstrations against hikes in fuel prices, planned for Saturday. Caen city centre had been totally deserted on Saturday as the blockades on all main roads had meant the public either couldn’t get in or refused to travel, in support of the movement’s demands.

As we started our journey home that Sunday, the protests had  clearly continued overnight and we were soon stopped by a group of Gilets Jaunes, who were ‘filtering’ the traffic by making vehicles wait for 10 minutes before allowing a few at a time to continue on their way ( at least, as far as the next road-block). It was all very good-natured, and we chatted with them as we waited. Even then, we witnessed one French driver who, clearly not intending to be kept waiting, attempted to drive through the makeshift barrier (a supermarket trolley, strategically placed in the middle of the road), only to be stopped by several protesters running alongside the car, banging on the roof.

Days of protests had turned into weeks and we’d been following the TV news as the demonstrations and blockades intensified, with some nasty scenes, damage to roads and motorway toll stations, and long queues of traffic across France. Hence, we thought it wise to allow ourselves some extra time to get the ferry!

Gilets Jaunes protesters outside Caen

As it happened, this time we saw no protesters at all, although scorched road surfaces and smouldering tyres showed where blockades had been. 

The following morning, in Bristol, we picked up the hire van and set off in convoy, up the M5 to Dudley. When we arrived at the depot I was very happy that they had laid on two strapping lads to load the furniture and appliances into the van for us. 

One was quite an athlete! Ignoring the tail lift on the van, again and again he leapt into the back of the van with fully constructed and fitted kitchen cabinets on his shoulder, swinging himself gracefully over the piled furniture and over the enormous puddles that covered the car park after the recent storms to repeat the process until everything was loaded and ready to go.

An uneventful return journey to Bristol, an evening with friends and a good night’s sleep followed, before another early morning start to catch the ferry back to France. We were due to arrive home in France around 5pm, leaving time to unload the van, have a shower and dinner before doing the next crossing back to England on Sunday.

You know when things are going just TOO well? It was about 2 pm, with the ferry an hour out from Caen and we were sitting in the cafeteria, having just finished lunch,  gazing out at the heaving grey waves merging into the grey mist which in turn merged into the glowering grey sky. It had been a relaxing if very ‘bumpy’ (as Colin likes to call it) crossing. A message over the PA system announced that our arrival in Caen-Ouistreham port would be 50 minutes later than scheduled. Inconvenient – yes, but not a disaster, and given the weather conditions, not unexpected.

Storm Deirdre hits the English Channel

Quarter of an hour later the nice French crew member announced that ‘due to a technical problem’ we would no longer be able to dock in Ouistreham but would have to divert to Cherbourg. Our new ETA was now 7pm! 

We had already passed the Cherbourg peninsular so the ship was having to turn around and go back out into the Channel to make its way along the coast to Cherbourg, through the raging storm.

There were very few passengers on board and we were provided with free cinema tickets and a hot dinner as the ferry battled its way back to port. A fellow passenger, who apparently was a marine engineer, informed us that he’d realised that the boat had lost an engine some time ago, so he was not surprised (Cherbourg being where the maintenance shipyard is).  No one moaned or complained (not even the Spanish truck drivers, who were blissfully unaware of the situation for sometime, there not having been a spanish translation of the original announcements) and the rest of the voyage was completed  in good spirits, despite several revised ETAs.

We finally disembarked at 8.30pm. Cherbourg port was empty –the passport control and customs staff had all gone home – so at least no more hold-ups there. 

Not so lucky with the blockades this time. Once out of the port we were flagged down by Gilets Jaunes, (Come on, guys. You’ve made your point!), who invited us to wait for ‘deux minutes’. We were already hours late, I said, so a couple more minutes wouldn’t make much difference. We chatted about our stricken ferry, and how we were due to return to England the next day. Just as well we weren’t due to leave from Cherbourg, the Gilets Jaunes said, as they were intending to blockade the port tomorrow! I asked them how the Paris demonstrations had gone that day, after the riots of the previous weekend and they bemoaned the hijacking of the protest by right-wing activists.  They were just ordinary people trying to make their voices heard they said and told us about how an American driver in a big 4×4 had charged through their roadblock earlier that day, scattering protesters -he’d been chased down and arrested by the police! Finally we were able to set off home –only now, we had a 4 hour drive home instead of the usual 2 from Caen-Ouistreham, on unfamiliar back-roads in lashing rain and gale-force winds. (Thanks, Storm Deirdre)

We finally pulled up outside the mill a few minutes before 1 am on Sunday morning!

Luckily, I had booked the afternoon ferry crossing on Sunday, intending to have a bit of a lie-in on Sunday morning after our busy few days. No lie-in for us now! A few hours sleep then up early to unload the van. And had anyone been watching, they wouldn’t have seen us leaping and swinging about, I can assure you! The worktops nearly finished us – they weighed a ton! We had originally intended to ask our neighbour for assistance with these if they proved too much, but next-doors were still in the Land of Nod after a ‘switching on of the Christmas illuminations’ party the night before. It had still been going strong when we got back in the early hours.

We dropped the last cabinet in the living room, locked up and jumped into the van with a full 10 minutes to spare before our scheduled departure time.

A living room full of kitchen!

After a somewhat hairy drive back to Caen, (with Colin struggling to keep the now unladen, very skittish box van in a straight line and with all 4 wheels on the tarmac in high winds), we got back to Bristol around midnight without further incident.

The guy at the van hire company asked all about our adventures, when we returned the vehicle the next morning, and said we had made his week. Good to know someone had enjoyed it!  Just one more, final trip back to France – and then the real fun starts.

stuck in mud

Operation Kitchen Collection 3 days away…and no van!

Now, those of you who live in France will know that the French protect their work-life balance quite jealously. Thus, if an organisation or business is open on a Saturday, not only will it almost definitely be shut on Sunday, but quite likely at least part of Monday will be taken as compensatory leisure time too.

fermés

So it was that the garage in the village wouldn’t be open until Tuesday, the one in the next village would be closed until 2pm on Monday and the Renault garage in the nearest town would not send out a recovery vehicle without our french insurance company’s say-so. As we are in the process of re-registering our vehicles they are still insured in the UK with European cover, so that was out.

On the dot of 2pm I phoned the garage in the next village who said they were happy to help but the recovery truck was already out on a job and they wouldn’t be able to come until that evening. He would phone me as soon as it was back and we could meet the driver at the van.

That left us just 2 days to get the bloomin’ thing fixed before we were due to leave.  No point getting worked up, Ella. Just go with the flow. (I’m actually getting much better at adopting the French laid-back attitude to life’s little ups and downs)

Later that afternoon, sure enough, the garagiste phoned to say the recovery truck would be at the ‘breakdown scene’ in 10 minutes.  We jumped in the car and sped down to Jacques’ place to find our knight in shining armour already there, furtling about under the bonnet of our van.

Using my hastily-acquired and rehearsed car mechanic’s vocabulary, I explained that the problem didn’t seem to be the clutch as that was quite new. And the gearbox wasn’t making any horrible graunching noises so it was probably not the root cause either. Perhaps the linkage?

‘The mechanic listened and nodded politely as he wiped hishands on a rag, then climbed into the driver’s seat, put it into gear and drove the van up onto the back of the pickup truck, as Colin and I stood watching with our mouths hanging open! “Mais, ça marche!” But, it’s working, I squeaked as he jumped down from the truck. He laughed and explained that there is un controlleur which had broken, and although he had pushed it back into place to move the van, it would come off again as soon as we tried to change gear. ‘Not a big job’ he assured us, ‘I’ll order the part and it’ll be ready by Wednesday. No need to follow him to the garage. Just give him a ring on Wednesday afternoon.  Ooh, the relief! We went home and had a relaxing evening, which may or may not have involved a celebratory glass of wine.

Wednesday was a busy day for work with several online customer meetings and a video-conference training session that I was delivering to a group of school librarians all afternoon. , But everything was prepped and in hand. Then mid-morning I got an email from one of our friends and former neighbours from the old village, Francine, to say that they had remembered that we wanted some cuttings off their ornamental sage bushes. Antoine, her husband, could come round with them that afternoon and help us plant them.

I love these two to bits, but being retired themselves they don’t quite get that Colin and I still both work, and from home. If you are at home, you’re available as far as they are concerned.

A hasty message back explained that I would be working all afternoon and wouldn’t be able to come down to see them. I couldn’t just leave a room full of people whom I was in the middle of training, even if they were several hundred miles away, to see old friends and plant some cuttings (I did actually put it more diplomatically than that!). And we would be leaving at 4am the following day to go to England. Perhaps we could rearrange for when we got back?

I was on my mobile to a  customer when the landline rang. Picking up the voicemail, I learned that as Antoine had already taken all the cuttings and they wouldn’t keep, he would pop by anyway and leave them outside. I felt awful! They are so kind and we have had such a laugh with them – I really felt bad that I couldn’t take the time out to spend with them.

Antoine in fact turned up about 5 minutes before my training session was due to start, so I at least managed to say ‘Bonjour’ and thank him for thinking of us.  We still got a full demonstration of how we should plant the one hundred or so twigs that he had kindly prepared and brought over, with lots of mime and repetition so that we couldn’t possibly get it wrong.  After a full round of kisses goodbye he set off to complete his next errand and I shot upstairs to my librarians.

Automobiles de Bouessay

That afternoon saw us doing our thing at work, rushing off to pick up the van from the garage, stopping for a chat with the garagiste who told us all about his brother in law, who was Scottish and had served in the RAF before settling in France.  When we got back to the mill the bucket of cuttings was sitting on the mill-pond wall, staring at us in an accusing way. It was true, they wouldn’t last until we got back from England, and we couldn’t let Antoine down, so in the pitch dark, in the pouring rain Colin and I planted 100+ sage cuttings.  I’m not even sure we were putting them in the right way up as we were literally feeling our way across the piece of ground we had earmarked for them. Hopefully at least some of them will be up the right way and will ‘take’ so that we can show them off to Antoine in the summer!

Right. Next. Take delivery of the new kitchen.

Take delivery of the new kitchen – sounds simple but…

The time has come. We’re ready to tackle installing a new kitchen at the mill. We’ve found the kitchen we want, designed it all and ordered what we need. That took quite a while in itself, but that was the easy (and fun) bit.

Having looked at furniture and appliances in France, investigated the choice of sizes and cabinets types, examined the quality and robustness, done the maths…it became clear that we would do a lot better if we sourced our new dream kitchen in England.  (more-than-£6,300-cheaper kind of clear, I mean)

Three years ago when Colin and I were dreaming of life in our watermill (which at that point we had only viewed once and hadn’t even yet worked out how we were going to afford) we decided to spend a cold, wet English Saturday exploring the National Self Build and Renovation Centre in Swindon, Wiltshire.This centre brings together expertise, products and exhibitions of everything the keen self-builder, renovator or green technology enthusiast might need, under one roof. We had spent the day looking at energy-saving boilers, septic tanks and all manner of whizzy ecologically sound items that might be useful in our future renovation, when we happened upon a display of kitchens. Not only were we taken with the style and quality of these cabinets but the prices were incredibly reasonable. We left with armfuls of brochures (OK, not very eco-friendly) and yet more dreams in the planning, to add to the massive project we were working on in our heads.

Wind forward to August this year when we decided to go and have a look at this company’s offerings again. They are based in Dudley in the Midlands so we combined visits to friends and family and did a whistle-stop couple of days trip during one of our visits to the UK.

New kitchen plan
New kitchen plan

To cut an even longer story a bit shorter, we liked what we saw, placed our order and arranged a date in December to take delivery of the finished kitchen.

So far, so good.

Except that the company doesn’t deliver abroad. Hiring a delivery service was going to cost silly money, so we would need to go and collect it. Rather than flat-packs the cabinets come as rigid, ready-built cupboards, complete with all internal accessories, so our own Renault Trafic would not be big enough. We would have to hire a box van. However, there was nowhere within 100 kilometres that had a box van and would let us take it across the Channel. So we would need to hire a van in Bristol, drive up to Dudley to collect the kitchen, drive home to France, unload and drive back to Bristol to return the hire van. OK. That’s do-able! The hire van was located in Bristol and reserved.

So far, so good.

Except that we weren’t sure that the van we would get would be long enough to take the 4m+ lengths of worktop. We would need to go over to Bristol in the Trafic, rather than the car, in case we needed extra van space and to strap the worktops onto the roof-rack. Right, we would drive up to Caen and catch the ferry to Portsmouth on the Thursday, pick up the hire van on Friday and drive both vans up to Dudley on Friday, load up the kitchen and take it back to Bristol. (With me so far?) On Saturday we had a crossing booked to take the hire van back to France, where we would arrive home at about 5pm, unload the kitchen and then on Sunday catch the ferry back to the UK to return the hire van. That meant we could then spend a few days seeing friends and family before returning to France in our van, the following weekend.

So far, so good

With everything ready and packed during the weekend before we were due to leave on the Thursday, we were looking forward to spending a relaxing Sunday afternoon with our friends, Jacques and Marie-Claude, enjoying one of the regular informal concerts they host at their lovely watermill. It had been raining a fair bit during the week and they live at the end of a long, single track lane, where the only parking is on the grass verge. So we decided to take the van rather than the car, which is more of a low-slung, two-seater affair.We arrived to find the lane full of concert-goers’ vehicles so decided to turn the van around in the entrance to a field so that we could get out easily at the end of the afternoon. But the van got stuck on the muddy terrain, didn’t it?. It wouldn’t move backwards or forwards, just settled further into the grass, transforming it into a sticky, red gloop.

After a quick discussion with our hosts, and not wanting to delay the start of the concert, we decided to leave the Trafic sinking gently into the field and round up some helpers to get it out after the concert. Jacques’ son had offered to tow us out of the mud with his van, but when we all went outside in the dwindling daylight later that afternoon, he discovered that his van had also nestled itself cosily into the soft grass verge. By the time a team of volunteers had freed his vehicle and he had hitched a rope to our tow-bar it was pitch black dark and raining steadily. Luckily he managed to extricate our Trafic and drag it onto hard ground again.

Phew!

Once the rope was uncoupled, I went to reverse back to the edge of the lane to let the now-departing concert-goers pass in their cars. Erm…“Colin, I think we might have another little problem”

No gears. Nothing. The gear leaver just wobbled about like a Weeble, but wouldn’t engage with anything.

Nothing for it. We wouldn’t be able to get anything sorted tonight, so after pushing the van off the road into a (firmer) field entrance and gratefully accepting a lift from a lady who lives in our village, we went home… and opened a bottle of wine.

BOG OFF

Well, here we are then – already a month into 2018! Can you believe it?

It’s been a while since I posted something on here, I know. Never having even succumbed to a head cold in 40 odd years I’d always prided myself on being immune to winter bugs, but a dose of flu laid me low for a couple of weeks in December,  followed by Christmas, New Year and birthday celebrations and a couple of weeks spent  in the UK for work.  So, have we managed to make any progress on the mill this winter? Well, actually, yes – a bit.

After finishing the upstairs bathroom, it was always our intention to get going on the downstairs bathroom straightaway. But because the cost of buying stuff in France is pretty high compared with the UK (even buying  online incurs massive delivery charges in France) we left it until our next visit to Bristol to get what we needed for our next project.

So instead of starting the downstairs bathroom we decided to do the separate toilet upstairs.

I have to admit that it was a bit of a no-brainer because we already had practically everything we needed – and at no extra cost! For those of you who read this from non-Anglophone countries and who are wondering about the title of this post, BOG OFF (or Buy One, Get One For Free) is a common marketing ploy in supermarkets, to encourage consumers to purchase in bulk. (‘bog’ being  a slang term for ‘toilet’ is a totally unintentional pun , of course!)

upstairs toilet

The upstairs toilet, complete with water leak damage from the loft and bare light bulb.

With the prospect of a new bathroom and toilet downstairs, I had spent several months trawling internet sites to find the fittings that we would need for the project. One of the items needed was a new loo, as the hard water here had ruined the cistern on the existing toilet. We had already fallen foul of the metered water system in  France at our last house, when we had returned to the UK after a lovely holiday, unaware that our last visit to the bathroom had left the toilet cistern jammed open with limescale.  The constant trickle over the ensuing months until our return had resulted in an astronomical water bill – something we were not keen to repeat!

I managed to find a lovely toilet (that sounds really strange, but there are some lovely designs out there) at a fantastic price, and better still, there was a ‘buy one, get one free’ offer on. So, of course, I bought two.

The disastrous delivery of broken tiles for the original bathroom had left us with a lot of half-tiles for the walls and as I always over-order a wee bit anyway, we also had some spare floor tiles.

Et voilà!

upstairs toilet

The upstairs toilet after its make-over

Wall tiles, floor tiles and a free loo. Just what I needed to complete the toilet next the bathroom we had just completed.

During our last visit to Bristol I found these lovely alabaster, hand-blown glass vases in an outlet store – one to hide the bottle of toilet cleaner and one for the spare toilet roll. And the framed print was a birthday present. Result!

vases

A new toilet – almost for free!

The more observant amongst you will have noticed the the masking tape and new paint around the door – yes, we’re also doing the corridor upstairs. Watch this space!

Have you had similar cost-saving, lucky finds? Please do share!

The bathroom is finished!

Total make-over  of upstairs bathroom – tick!

Oh, if only it were that easy!

If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll know that we started this project, part-time, back in February.

Ever since we first moved into Moulin de la Roche, last October, we’ve been intending to totally re-do the main bathroom as our first priority. The large room, full of natural light is lovely, but (call me picky) the faded turquoise vinyl wallpaper covered in pink water lilies and leaping dolphins, the rusting shower enclosure covered in black mould and thick gobs of discoloured sealant (presumably to combat the numerous leaks) were not exactly to my taste.

The bathroom - before

The bathroom – before

After the renovations of numerous previous homes, you would think I had learned my lesson.  Stick to the KISS theory of design (Keep it Simple Stupid). But … nah!.

After immediately stripping the aforementioned wallpaper and fired with destructive fervour, we realised that we had no idea how the plumbing was put together. So we had to do some research, didn’t we?

All the stone walls of this centuries’ old water mill were dry-lined by the previous owner when the building was converted from a factory mill in 2001 to a residential property.  All the plumbing had been installed behind these false walls so we didn’t know where the water/heating/drainage pipes went. Added to that, when we drilled through the bright yellow tiles on the floor we discovered that the upstairs floor was 10cm thick concrete, with a large void between it and the plasterboard ceilings of the rooms below.

It was something of a disappointment to discover that all the huge original beams hidden behind plasterboard boxing-in were in fact steel RSJ replacements from the earlier conversion. Oh well, at least we didn’t have to worry about woodworm.  The white-washed, oak-beamed mood board quickly morphed into a more contemporary design!

I was adamant that I wanted to install a large free-standing bath in the hitherto bath-less bathroom, as well as a big walk-in shower, which meant running the water supply and drainage to the opposite side of the room. It would obviously be easier to approach the task from below, so without further ado, we removed the bath, interior wall and a fair bit of the ceiling from the bathroom downstairs, to gain access.

Downstairs bathroom

…and so now the downstairs bathroom is wrecked too!

In so doing we discovered that the drain from the existing shower upstairs was no longer attached to the waste pipe so every time we showered, the water was cascading down between the inner and outer walls of the room below, eventually soaking away, somewhere (?) This was actually a great relief as it explained the damp in the downstairs bathroom and was a lot easier to put right than we had originally thought.

The shower cabinet is out

The shower cabinet is out

Back to the bare bones

Back to the bare bones

Armed with our new understanding of the plumbing system, we removed rotten plasterboard, installed new pipework and taps for the sinks and shower, built a new false wall and ran water and drainage under the floor for the new bath.

The brown, greasy, nicotine-stained bare bulbs that the previous owner had not thought to replace with light fittings in the 15 years he had lived there were replaced with downlights which give lovely warm pools of light in the room.

We spent 2 days removing the floor tiles and chiselling off the old adhesive, before deciding to level the floor with self-levelling compound, then laid oak plank effect ceramic tiles.

The walls were tiled with stone effect ceramic tiles and the new shower enclosure installed.

Tiling almost finished

Tiling almost finished

The leaking washbasins on their wobbly brick support were exchanged for an American oak sideboard, picked up in the Park Furniture sale, back in the UK, and topped with new countertop sinks, sourced from the internet.

We were under pressure to finish the bathroom as we had 4 guests arriving to stay in 6 weeks’ time and as we had also destroyed the yucky-but-functioning bathroom downstairs we felt we should at least have somewhere for them to shower. Having worked flat-out during August we were getting close but disaster struck when we discovered that the last two boxes of wall tiles (which I had ordered separately, having decided that I would tile an additional wall) turned out to have been  smashed to smithereens by a courier driver presumably  practising his shot-putting skills when loading the van.

So close to finishing, then disaster!

So close to finishing, then disaster!

The large red lettering on the parcel tape covering each box, denoting that the contents were FRAGILE, had obviously not deterred him.

I emailed the supplier, Walls and Floors, who immediately replied to advise that they had dispatched two replacement boxes, (but to our address in England where we had ordered the first lot from) Luckily my son was able to intercept them and they were waiting with him, for collection. So we didn’t manage to get the tiling finished and the bath in before our visitors arrived but at least we had the shower and sinks working.

After a pretty full-on week back in the UK for work commitments at the end of October, we packed up the van and headed back to our moulin to finish the bathroom.  A Thonet-style bentwood café chair from Ebay and a few new storage solutions later and we are really happy with our new bathroom. What do you think?

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( Just to say that we have not been sponsored in any way for this post. I have mentioned suppliers for your information and because I have been impressed by the quality of these companies’ goods and customer service.)