It’s all about the people

How do you get on with meeting new people and making friends? I’m quite a reserved person and find it quite difficult to get to know people.

Our new village has about 1200 inhabitants – not enormous but not so tiny that everyone immediately meets everyone else. It has been quite a different experience here from where we live in England. Yesterday morning as I cycled up to buy our daily baguette, twelve different people said ‘Bonjour ‘ to me – in fact, everyone I saw! Quite a contrast to the city where we live in England, where even eye contact is a no-no when you pass someone in the street. Everyone seems welcoming and interested and patient with us. Sadly, I’m not sure the same would be true for a French person visiting England. Perhaps it’s just the difference between living in the countryside rather than a city.

One day over Easter, we were all working away in the garden, in the sunshine ( visiting children and grandson lending a hand to tame the wilderness ) when an elderly gentleman walked down the driveway from where he had left his car parked up on the lane.

He introduced himself as Monsieur LeRouleux and explained that as a keen local historian he was writing a book about the history of the village and wondered if he could ask us some questions about the mill. He’d originally approached the previous owner without much success , but had found out from Monsieur Lebrun, the local roofer who had helped us out when we first moved in, that an English couple had moved in. He showed us the draft of his book in a bulging ring binder and we talked about what we knew about the history of the place.

Colin climbed down to the water wheel under the house to take some photos for him and I photocopied some old post cards of the place that I had bought in on-line auctions. After about an hour of chatting, he waved goodbye and walked back to his car.

The next morning, as we were eating breakfast, we heard the crunching of tyres on the gravel outside and saw Monsieur LeRouleux climbing out of his car. He had brought us prints of all the old photos he had of the mill, that we didn’t already have. How lovely of him!

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Moulin de la Roche – early 1900s

It was the day we were leaving at the end of that visit that I returned from the village with my baguette in the morning to find a strange car in the drive and the sound of voices in the living room.

(You may have gathered from the last ‘early’ visit that we are not very good at getting up early in France – I put it down to the sun rising an hour later here,  than in England)

Wondering who it was that my husband was chatting to, I parked my bike and walked into the living room to see a couple, a bit older than us, talking to Colin. They were apparently ‘nos voisins de la rivière’ our neighbours on the river, and lived in the next water mill about 3 km downstream. They had heard from Monsieur LeRouleux that the mill had changed hands and had come to introduce themselves.

We found out that Jacques and Marie – Claude were both ex teachers, now retired, and that they had renovated their mill over the last 35 years from a derelict shell. We chatted about our plans, the fact that Anne Marie had spent some time in Exeter as a student (not that far from where we live in the UK), the possibility of getting  green electricity from our waterwheel and all sorts of other things. They left us with their address and phone numbers in case we needed anything. We had a laugh about how the whole village now seemed to know all about us, but it was lovely to think that they had taken the trouble to drop by and introduce themselves.

Last weekend we took a break from the bathroom renovation and decided to go for a cycle ride out along the local lanes.

Countryside around Auvers le Hamon

Countryside around Auvers le Hamon

A couple of kilometres down the road we saw the name of Jacques and Marie-Claude’s mill at the end of a side lane and decided to cycle down and have a quick look.  We didn’t want to disturb them on a Sunday so just walked quietly down the lane to the beautiful old stone-built watermill in its idyllic setting in a hidden valley, miles from anywhere. But Marie – Claude saw us and as soon as she realised who we were, she called Jacques and they excitedly invited us in and gave us a guided tour of their lovely home, their garden, their animals (black sheep, chickens, ducks) and the gite, holiday cottage that they have created in an old sheep barn.

They invited us to share their lunch, (Just à la bonne franquette, a simple potluck lunch Marie-Claude emphasised, and we spent a wonderful few hours over a meal of fresh garden produce, local cheeses and a lovely clafoutis with Mirabelle plums from the garden, discussing renovations, family and everything from wildlife to opera.  We left with a bag load of courgettes, basil and chard from their garden, and promises of getting together again as soon as they and we each got back from our impending trips. (Marie – Claude and Colin are planning to give each other conversational language lessons).  So, not much cycling done, but we got home feeling we had made some wonderful new friends and even happier in our new location.

Plans for the bathroom were put on pause again this Sunday, as whilst in full plumbing swing, a text message from my mate Marianne reminded us that there was a big vide grenier in a lovely nearby medieval village and that she and her hubby were planning to go along and have lunch there if we had nothing else on?

Vide grenier/Troc/Bric à brac /brocante are all names used for a community car boot sale where the streets are closed and stall holders and visitors gather together to buy and sell all kinds of tat and the occasional rare find.

Lunch outside the 11th century church at Asnières sur Vègre.

Lunch outside the 11th century church at Asnières sur Vègre.

There is always food on sale (invariably sausage and chips in these parts), but it is done in typical French style with a set menu of aperitif, starter, main course, cheese and dessert for about 10€.

We promised ourselves a quick trip out to meet for lunch and then back to work, but sitting in the sun outside the 11th Century village church in Asnières sur Vègre we were joined by and introduced to a stream of people who knew Mireille and we spent a good three hours listening to tales of the war in Tchad, how François Fillon, the disgraced ex French prime minister who lives locally is now reduced to driving from his chateau in his 2CV to buy his own bread from the bakery each morning to being quizzed as to whether we thought the Royal family had ordered the élimination of Princess Di (a topic which still seems to fascinate the French).

Vide Grenier - Asnières sur Vègre

Vide Grenier – Asnières sur Vègre

Needless to say no plumbing was done when we got home. But who cares?

What sort of experiences have you had regarding settling in to a new area and making friends? I’d love to hear about them.

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Back to the building site

Given that it’s nearly five months since I last did an update on our renovation progress,  you might be wondering what we’ve been up to in all this time? Although it’s been a long time since my post in March, we’ve actually only spent 3 weeks in France between then and our current visit. So what did we do on the mill in that time? Let me give you a quick update.

First, we tackled the dangerous and totally useless fireplace. After taking professional advice on the state of the fireplace and chimney that we had inherited, Colin started taking the existing fireplace and chimney apart

attacking the old chimney

Investigating the old chimney

Dismantling the old chimney

Dismantling the old chimney ready for the new log burner

and we had a new wood-burner installed.  We now need to refinish the living room wall. (But that is not a priority for the moment)

Flushed with pride and enthusiasm back in October, after our somewhat traumatic house purchase, as we moved all our stuff into the mill we spent nearly 2 hours at the local insurance office, setting up our household insurance. Enter it on the computer (Computer says ‘no’. Consult colleague on how to get around the constraints of the software. Print everything out in triplicate, sign all copies and file in numerous paper files)

‘Un vieux moulin, bien entendu vous avez des volets ?’ With an old mill, you have shutters of course?

Err, actually we don’t.

Sorry, we can’t insure you for theft then. Everything else is OK; fire, flood, third party liability – Just get shutters installed on your downstairs windows and come back – we’ll set up the theft insurance.

I’m not terribly convinced of the return on investment here – eye-watering sums of euros spent on installing shutters to make the fabric of the building more secure (and therefore insurable) against the actual risk of loss and the value of the contents within! But they will look good and provide some energy efficiencies, keeping the heat in during the winter and keeping the house cool in the summer. Pity we couldn’t have been tax resident in France when they went in – we could have got some significant tax credits for the energy saving aspect.

Colin and I spent a full week in May giving sixteen shutters two coats of ‘lasure’  on each side, in 30 degree temperatures, to protect them against the weather, before we went back to England.

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Varnishing shutters

But I was really pleased with the character they give to the house.

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Safe and secure with our new shutters

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New shutters give a certain style.

Over Easter my son and his family came to stay and it’s fair to say that nothing got done on the house as the weather was gorgeous with temperatures over 30 on some days. We worked on our tans by planting scores of rural hedging trees for wildlife habitat and to consolidate our border along the roadside, currently marked by a row of elegant mature acacia trees. I was delighted with these acacias when we first viewed the house in the spring (when they were covered in blossom) but not so enamoured of them when I discovered they are very invasive, with an annoying habit of sending runners out underground and popping up all over the garden. They’ve got wicked thorns on them too, as we painfully found out.

And apart from stripping, scrubbing and whitewashing another bedroom in readiness for family and friends who were due to visit that’s about all we managed to do this spring. Oh, and some running repairs on the vanne, sluice gate mechanism that controls the flow of water under the mill – ably assisted by one of our friends who were staying for a few days R&R.

repairs to the sluice gate mechanism

Running repairs to the winding mechanism for the sluice gate controlling the flow of water onto the mill wheel.

So that about brings us up to our arrival this summer. We had a fortnight’s holiday booked off anyway, before our decision to move over permanently so we decided to crack on (finally) with the bathroom renovation that had been put on hold – we couldn’t inflict the very basic sanitary arrangements that the remodel would involve on visitors, now, could we? Not that they were much to start with, but at least there was a shower of sorts and running water upstairs.

Here’s a little teaser of where we started – more to follow!

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Old bathroom stripped out and ready to go

Thank you so much to all of you who have posted messages of congratulations and support on the blog and facebook regarding our move to France. We’ll miss everyone in the UK but are close enough that we can pop back regularly for short breaks. And of course we’re always happy when friends and family want to come and visit…but you might want to wait until the bathroom is finished!