My Neighbour Jean-Claude often tells me the rest of the village thinks we are crazy to be doing so much renovation to this old farm house.
“It’s perfectly good as it is” he says.
And yes it is, if you don’t mind living with 30cm of dried mud above your head and round the walls (I say mud, it is a mixture of soil and hay and animal waste). It was used as insulation here in the old days when it was liberally slathered on the ceilings and walls (such a charming dung colour). Or how about the fact that various animal bones come up out of the dirt floors in some of the rooms from time to time. It was a barn I know, but there is something very freaky about finding a cow’s skull in the pantry.
This house was positively luxurious if you don’t mind the whistling of cold air through the ill-fitting windows; or doors made of corrugated iron that swing in the wind and sound like the 9 blind children of Mary Malone are after you (an Irish saying!).
I suppose we are lucky to have a bathroom at all even if there was water running down the wall and forming unpleasant little puddles on the floor. There was an open pipe to the outside world which kept the room aired (also completely freezing in winter) and, thanks to the basket over the end of it, kept the rats out. Many of these old rural farmhouses are without bathrooms and there is an old lady in the village who only got a flushing toilet installed about 8 years ago, before that, the cowshed did service. It is said that the vegetables of her neighbours are the biggest in the village.
It is of course romantic to be able to see the stars at night from your bed – though in our case it was through the gaping holes in the roof. The single fire in the house gave out more smoke than heat, the hall had an inner porch built for hobbits in which anyone over 5 feet had to contort to get through and the kitchen was not fit for the preparation of food for my cats let alone humans.
As a result, the OH (Other Half) and me have been renovating for some years and we are close to finishing. This old French house is watertight, clean, structural work is mainly complete and lots of decorating has turned it into a homely and cosy abode.
The neighbours (including the chickens) have taken to promenading in our little road when we’re outside working. They love it when we’re on the roof or replacing windows (all 37 of them) or mixing up concrete to lay yet another floor. Sometimes they shake their heads in wonder that we would want to put ourselves through this. It’s quite a big house and the way that most of our neighbours would deal with it would be to do up a couple of rooms and close off the rest. Not us Brits though, we’re out there in all weathers, undeterred (well, deterred but determined).
Pierre thinks we have more money than sense, J-P thinks we are crazy, Marie-Therese says we work too hard, Monsieur and Madame J, the ancient lovebirds across the road just shake their heads at us.
Everyone has an opinion about the house of the only Brits in the village – I just hope we live up to their expectations when it’s all done!