Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Steps...forward and back...but some giant leaps!

Let me start this post by saying that, even as I write (or type, I suppose I should say), Danny is in the pool hole acting as John's assistant, as they square off, plumb and fix all the side panels of the pool!  And here's proof...
Of course, I'm far from being a technical person but it never ceases to amaze me just how involved these jobs really are!

Anyway, moving on, as the title of this post suggests, the new steps for the pool finally arrived last Thursday.  With them due to be delivered at 8am that morning, I made sure I was up and about, dogs fed and organised.  Just as well as the lorry turned up at 7.40am!  This is almost unheard of here and indeed we had all been joking about what time they might eventually turn up.  Just goes to show eh?  And what a surprise I had when I saw the new steps as they could not look more different from the ones originally delivered if they tried!  Look and see for yourselves...

And this is where we took a step backwards! 
The depth and width of the steps were now correct BUT the arc of the new steps is considerably bigger.  Basically, this meant that John had to change the concrete base he made a couple of weeks ago and would need more supporting blocks than originally planned plus more cement etc.  And, it would cost us an extra one to two days of his labour!  Oh great!  Fortunately (and to cut a long story short) the pool supply company have agreed to pay half of the extra cost!
On Friday, the new steps were lowered into position and I think it is really starting to look like a pool now!
The kitchen doorway is progressing but John is giving the pool priority so the doorway will be left for a few days.  I do have a door now but it is not yet in use!  This is a collage showing the progress made last week...
This last week, having been one of steps going backwards as well as forwards, I should mention the slight problem we had when the plumber came!  The central heating pipes ran along the wall where the kitchen window had been.  We had arranged with our plumber (who, incidentally, is a lovely man for whom nothing ever seems to be too much trouble) to remove the radiator, sink the pipes below the new floor level that John is making and fit the new radiator that we bought some months ago.  He had already removed the old radiator for us a couple of weeks ago and last week returned to do the rest of the job.  Sinking the pipes was not too much of a problem but when he went to fit the new radiator he discovered that we had bought a radiator without any means of fixing it to the wall!  Again, long story short?  We decided to cut our losses and buy another radiator!  This does mean that the plumber has to come back to finish the job (he'll be here later today!).  Plus we ended up buying a heated towel rail which will fit better in the space on the wall but it cost about five times the amount we'd spent on the duff one!                    
Well so far in this post, I've told you only about the jobs that other people are doing for us.... what have WE been up to?  Actually, we have both been pretty busy.  We have been enjoying some fantastic weather - hot, sunny and DRY!   So we have left the utility room for the time being so that we can get on with some jobs outdoors and enjoy the good weather at the same time.
First on the list, Danny hung some bird nesting "boxes" we had bought last year.  We deliberately waited for the spring, not wanting to hang them in the winter because they are ceramic, which we thought might get frost-damaged.  Here is Danny in the middle of fixing one up on the barn wall together with a picture of the two "boxes" in situ....
So far, we've seen no sign of birds even remotely interested in nesting in them!  But nonetheless, they're a nice feature in the garden!
Over the course of a few days, we have been cutting down a very unruly hedge of  pyracantha.  For those of you who are not familiar with it, it is a particularly thorny plant making it quite unpleasant to deal with, although of course it is very pretty when it flowers and, in winter, produces berries. We had trimmed it the first autumn that we were here but it had grown quite wild since then.  As we have done gradually with the other hedges around the garden, we wanted to reduce the height to about my shoulder level as it makes future maintenance far easier.  But it was a massive job!  I finished it off on Sunday and I can now show you that we altered it from this...
......to this..
and it took over three loads like this....

(As an aside, you can see from this that the trailer is really proving its worth!)

Danny has also been very busy building two raised beds which I am going to use for my potager.  I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, but we had a number of old oak beams in the barn which we had decided to use for the "walls" of the raised beds.  But first, the beams had to be moved from the barn to the back garden!  We have made various attempts at this, either by ourselves (hopeless with such a weakling as I) or with Danny's son Paul, who in fairness has been busy with motor repairs on his last two visits.  Finally, Pete, a friend of ours who is unbelievably strong, came and moved them for us! 
Having got all the beams to the area we had designated for the beds, Danny and I rather foolishly thought we could manage well enough by ourselves!  Wrong!

So, last Friday, Pete returned and spent pretty much the whole day, helping Danny to build the beds while Pete's wife and I looked on!  All of us except Danny assumed the beams would be just piled up on top of each other, but our intrepid ex-engineer Danny had better ideas and it was a much more involved (but clearly sturdier) job! Here is the first bed being made...

 And here are the finished articles...

I say 'finished' but for me, this is just the start.  The next step in the process is to put a layer of compost at the bottom.  I made a start on it yesterday and boy, was it hard work!  Using a pitch fork, I loaded rotted compost from our "heap" into a wheelbarrow then tipped it into the first bed.  I have calculated that it's going to take at least 24 wheelbarrow loads in total and so far I've managed four!  Then, of course, they'll have to be filled with topsoil.  And all this before I start planting in April! 

Well, that's about it for this update.  Bill the plumber has just arrived so it shouldn't be too long before I have the new radiator up in the kitchen.....or is that being a bit optimistic?

I'm going to leave you with this picture of FIVE happy dogs!  Our friends who helped us on Friday have two dogs and they brought them over with them when they came to help Danny build the raised beds.  Here they all are....

So, until next time, à bientôt!


Sunday, 9 March 2014

No pool steps.... but strides in other ways..

As you may well deduce from this post's title, the new pool steps which were to have been delivered "in a week" have not yet materialised! But, as you have also probably deduced, we have leapt forward in other ways this week!

To begin with, the weather has changed dramatically!  From weeks of almost incessant rain, we suddenly have glorious warm sunshine.  What a difference it makes!  Our spirits are lifted, we can start working on 'outdoor' jobs, John is able to work without the encumbrance of his waterproofs and generally, the world seems a better place!  Even the animals seem to have taken advantage of this sudden burst of spring weather...

So what have we been doing?  Well, in terms of the building work, John continued with the new doorway from the kitchen to the garden (or more accurately at the moment, to the building site!)  The job has been far bigger than any of us imagined, mainly due to size of some of the boulders that John has had to remove from the wall.  I took this picture of some of those boulders this week and hope it gives you some idea of the size of them.

Anyway, the doorway progressed in the following way, this week...

There has also been progress on the utility room this week. Thanks to the fine weather we finally got the chest freezer moved out into the small barn.  Danny was convinced that I would be able to move it with him but as usual it proved too heavy for my weak little arms!  Thankfully John was around so he helped with the move (in a matter of about two minutes!) and here is the freezer in its new home.  The plan is that this freezer will be for "long-term storage" and I hope it will come into its own when my potager (kitchen garden) is up and running and producing fruit and vegetables. (Watch this space!)
Now that the utility room is free of the big freezer, I was able to move all the other 'stuff' around and get to all the walls, which are now all stripped of the wallpaper that was our predecessors'.  The ball is back in Danny's court as his job now is to go around the walls, filling in various holes and generally preparing the walls so that I can paint them.  We bought the filler yesterday, so that job has moved a step nearer!

The improved weather has given me the impetus to get out and start tidying up the garden.  As I look around, I see countless tasks waiting my attention but I am just taking it in stages and doing it as I fancy.  For example, late one afternoon this week, after doing some wallpaper stripping, I decided to go and trim some of the hydrangeas.....
And yesterday, in glorious sunshine, I did quite a bit of weeding in a couple of the flowerbeds in the front garden.  Unfortunately, it showed up the distinct lack of colour in one of the beds, but I have made a diary note to buy plenty of spring bulbs later this year!

Perhaps the best thing about this glorious weather, is that Danny and I have been able to simply ENJOY being here.  Not that we don't love being here in France all year round.  We do.  But for the last few days, we have eaten our lunch outside and of course, partaken of our early evening apéritifs in the garden!  And as we sit there, in every direction we see rolling green fields and blue skies.  And simply space.  It just reminds us how lucky we are to live in such a beautiful part of the world and that we are blessed.

On that note, I am now off to carry on with some gardening!  First, I need to put on my shorts and some sun protection.......

À bientôt!

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Oops...another setback!

The week started off well but it deteriorated! 

On Monday morning Danny woke up feeling less than 100% but went off for his French lesson as usual.  By the time he came back he was feeling worse and by the evening, it was clear that he'd caught the virus that John had had when he started with us last Wednesday.  (He was most apologetic for it of course!!).  Danny spent most of Tuesday and Wednesday in bed while I did my best to dose him up with various medicines, nourishing chicken soup and so on! 

And I was left in charge to deal with John and the issues that arose regarding the pool!  It all started off swimmingly (if you'll pardon the pun) and by Monday evening, John had erected the panels which will form one side of the pool plus he'd marked out the area that will be terraced and where he is going to have to cut away the level of the ground as our garden slopes quite a bit away from the side of the house.  And this is what the site looked like by the time he left on Monday.

So far so good!

On Tuesday, John continued to erect the panels.  Unfortunately, this was a job that Danny was going to help John to do but clearly he was too ill to do so.  But all is not lost as John told me there will be other tasks further down the line that Danny will be able to assist him with!  Nonetheless, by Tuesday evening we had three sides of panels erected...

(You can see from this picture, how much smaller the pool is compared to the size of the hole!  You can also see the rainwater which we are having to pump out on virtually a daily basis!)

Now this is when things took a nose dive when John discovered that the wrong steps had been delivered!  Remember, the pool kit was delivered some seven or eight months ago so it was a nail-biting time while John spoke to the supplier to find out where we stood.  To add insult to injury, it turned out that the manufacturer no longer makes the steps in the necessary dimensions and we had to wait until Wednesday evening before we knew what would happen.

In the meantime, John went ahead and laid the concrete for the steps...
....... but we had to decide on what to do next.  In the finish, John said he would leave the pool and make a start on the work to put the doorway from the kitchen to the garden.  This job had been planned for the time when we would be waiting for the pool liner to be delivered but obviously for us it was better than have John disappear off to another client!
I had to ring our plumber and beg and grovel for him to come round to remove the kitchen radiator on Wednesday evening so that John could make a start on the doorway on Thursday.  Luckily, the plumber is such a lovely man who gave up his time to come and do this for us after he'd finished work on Wednesday.  He will of course be coming back to put up the new radiator and to alter the pipework so that it runs underground.
While he was doing that, we got a phone call from the swimming pool supplier.  Luckily they were accepting liability and would replace the steps.  But they are going to have to be specially manufactured because, as I said, they no longer supply these same steps!  Of course, we all waited with baited breath to find out how long this will take!  But we have been told we should have them in a week!  (My fingers are crossed!)
So, come Thursday, work started on creating a doorway from the kitchen to the garden.  I am so excited about this as it's something I've wanted from the day we moved in!  I think I've spoken before about the thickness of the walls of our house and clearly this is going to be one hell of a job!  The house was built in the 18th century and we believe it would have been the original farmhouse of the hamlet in which we live.  Houses would have been built from the granite and stone that was cleared from the land around the area.  They are varied in size from huge to not so huge and are just erected in a pretty higgledy-piggledy way.  So after a full day of drilling through it, this was the hole at the end of Thursday...

On Friday, John removed the kitchen window......

....and has left it boarded up while he continues the work.  He is working from the outside so there is practically no mess indoors (yet?).  Danny (who was better than he had been but still a long way from full health) and I went out Friday and bought the door to go in the doorway.  I had hoped for double doors but it is not going to be possible so a single 80cm wide door will suffice.

John should resume the job on Monday but in the meantime this is my boarded up window (it's SO dark in the kitchen!) and the bigger hole in the wall - seen from the outside, that we're left with over the weekend!

One good thing we've discovered is that the rendering on our house has been done particularly well!  John was suitably impressed with it, as he was with how well the window had been installed!  As good as these things are, it just means his job of dismantling them is made harder.  Ah well, you can't have everything can you!  As we say here in France, c'est la vie!

Enjoy your weekends, folks..

À bientôt