Monday, 25 June 2012

Icing Cakes And The Finishing Line

The End is Nigh

The building work that is, not the end of the world, I am not privy to that date.  It has been very satisfying each time we have emptied a pallet of blocks.  It meant we were a little further on with the build but also we were reclaiming a little piece of land that will eventually become our garden and in doing so the site looks a little tidier.  However, Mother Nature has once again played a part in thwarting complete clearance of all blocks as we have had to leave two little stacks standing.  The Leaning Tower of Pisa is home to another family of blue tits and the bungalow is housing a family of mice.  We are hoping they will soon vacate the premises otherwise we will have to go and buy some more blocks to complete the build.
Brendan playing a game of giant block Jenga

The tower block housing another family of blue tits

The Mouse House

I could almost jump for joy in the knowledge that for some time I won’t have to lift another block.  However, in what has now become the norm the rain has put paid to finishing the build today.

Would you ‘Adam & Eve’ it (that is Cockney rhyming slang for my French readers and means ‘believe’) after the rain it turned too darn hot and very humid, and today I am in fear of my life.  It is so windy I am crawling along the scaffold to fill the blocks for the LGB.  He's telling me I need to keep my bum in to let him get past!

Today the LGBs stone cutter is giving him hassle.  We only have a few blocks to go on the main build so as you can imagine he is a little frustrated.  We came to the point where we really needed to demolish the blue tit tower or go and buy new blocks and as we could still hear the chicks the demolition wasn't an option.  We thought after a coffee break we would go and buy the blocks.  Then would you believe it, upon checking the tower after our coffee break the fledglings had departed on their virgin flights. How thoughtful and convenient.  The mice have also departed.

Icing Cakes!
Brendan passed the buckets up to me and I filled the shuttering with the concrete.  He yelled up 'You're not icing a cake!  I am putting more on top, don't be so fussy'!

Front view of finished structure

So, we are ready to start the roof trusses.  Today we will have a good tidy up of the site and clean out the house.  Bring it on!
Brendan finishing off

View through the bathroom windows.
There will be one window in each bathroom, so
a wall is going down the middle here.

Front view from the top of the house

It has been brought to my attention that there are a few ‘closet’ readers of this blog who are not declared members, but it is nice to know that my readership extends to more than the 11 members!  I digress.  I have been told that a little more technical detail is required.  I didn’t want to bog you down with too many boring bits but for those of you who are interested (A.L. and Al) there will soon follow a little summary of the building works.

Monday, 18 June 2012

“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.” 
― Rabindranath TagoreStray Birds

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining
One of the good things about this changeable weather has been the amazing clouds.  These were all taken from the site.  Some are like mountain ranges and some you would like to leap into and snuggle down for a nap.  Fanciful, but it takes my mind off yet another batch of concrete sometimes :)

Back to more serious matters.

A friend was throwing out a fibre-glass cover to a swimming pool filter or motor which Brendan bagsied thinking it would make a little pond base.  It has, however, come in very handy this last week as a concrete holder. This was then lifted up on Daisy, the concrete shovelled into buckets by the LGB and duly passed/hoiked up to me on the scaffold and put in it's final resting place in the ring beam of the house.  It was heavy work but oh, so satisfying now it has been completed.
Anything that will make life easier is good by me :)

Did The Earth Move For You Darling?
Normally I wake at the slightest noise but last week we both slept through an earthquake of 3.4 on the Richter Scale!  But it was a good test for the house and foundations which have remained in tact! All those concrete ring beams and reinforced steel and concrete corners were worth all the hard work.

The Little Geordie Builder asked if I had heard him shouting. I said I thought I had heard something above the noise of the stone cutter, why? He had shouted 'below!' because part of the block he was cutting fell from the first floor.  Luckily I was in a different room because on hearing that Nosey Parker would have instinctively looked up!  The picture shows where the block cut clean through the electric lead to the mixer and cut off the handle of my favourite cleaning brush!  It could have been worse - ouch!

Me walking the plank with great trepidation and below is another view of my working conditions!
Now what was the phone number for Health & Safety!

Red and Yellow and Pink and Green..............
I have been told by the LGB to start thinking about the flooring I want and the paint colour for the shutters and windows.  This all seems a little premature to a lowly labourer but as usual the LGB has all the finer details running around in his little brain and floor heights is one of them.  As for the windows, the plan is for me to paint them before they are put in, therefore, I think he is giving me plenty of notice to make up my mind.  Ah, he knows me so well!  I have a bundle of colour charts from different companies with a myriad of colours and variations of each colour.  What a dilemma. Did you notice I said 'me' to paint them.  I held out for wooden windows over UPVC so the LGB has said I can paint all 24 windows.  I actually don't mind the painting but I don't do brush cleaning.  If  had my way I would throw the brushes away at the end of the day.  I keep hiding the ones that have gone hard, but the LGB keeps finding them!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Ginger Nuts And Ants

It was a year ago this week that all in the one day, we laid the first block for the garages, the area was swarming with police because Sarkozy was visiting a farm up the road. far more important visitors were staying with us – my Dad and Fiona and Madame X stopped by and told us to stop building because she still owned the land!  We are still here, Sarkozy now goes down into the annals of history, Fiona has sold up and moved to Wales and after a letter from our solicitor we haven’t seen or heard from Madame X again.

Curiouser and curiouser

Back to the birdy theme.  When we have brought up blocks from the stacks and gone to lay them we have found 4 nests amongst them.  One looked old, one was a mouse’s and two were birds’ nests made up of the usual twiggy, grassy bits and……………....ginger hair!  Not mine, as sadly I no longer have any ginger/auburn/strawberry blond hair (it may return from a bottle in the near future).  It is quite bizarre that two separate nests have been furnished with the same hair.  It looks like it could have come from a hairdresser’s floor but there are no hairdressers for miles.  I haven’t noticed any ginger nuts either. Well, there is one but it is out of a bottle and a very different red.  I wonder how far a bird flies with its building materials?  Answers on a postcard please.

This week we have put the winter duvet back on, sweltered in very high temperatures and been in and out of the caravan like a fiddler’s elbow sheltering from the downpours.  What a bizarre summer.  However, that aside we are nearly up to roof height on three sides of the house.  Suddenly it all looks very tall. The fourth side is being left open to allow us to get the trusses in for the roof with the help of good old Daisy the Digger.

Side view of the house

I spied a lovely piece of furniture outside Elben’s house. I told his Mother how lovely it was and she said they were throwing it out.  I am now the proud owner of a French bureau which was functioning not as a writing desk but as a high rise habitat for thousands of ants (hence it’s appearance outside Elben’s house).  The top drawer wouldn’t open because we thought the key had been lost.  However, Brendan did get it open and in fact it was locked shut by the ants’ nest.  It was a strange mud like structure and was covering many internal areas.  It is now sat on the terrace covered in white ant powder.  Another little project for those days when I am twiddling my thumbs!  The next picture you see of it will be in situ in the house!  Could be a long wait!                                                                                                

Ant nest in the corner
Blackie and Ginger

Some of you will know that Brendan's nickname since he was a little lad is Blackie.  Many people in Northumberland still call him Blackie.  His nickname for me is Ginger.  You are now wondering how we got these nicknames.  He had black hair and I had ginger hair - simple.  Of course these days Trading Standards would be after us for misrepresentation or not matching the description on the packaging.  I mention this because when I saw this picture it reminded me of the two of us and how dog tired I feel!  Sorry had to remove the picture of two cute dogs, a ginger one and a black one.


Sunday, 10 June 2012

Goats, Dwarfs and Wind

'To do is to be'  - Nietzsche
'To be is to do' - Kant
'Do be do be do' - Sinatra
Did you think I was going all philosophical on you?  No, no........ I read it and it just tickled me!!

Our blue tits flew the nest except for one who landed on the floor.  The LGB attempted to get it air bound but to no avail.  I put it into a box for safe keeping.

Why is it when you don’t want one you are likely to find a caterpillar in your salad but when you need some for lunch (blue tit’s not mine) you can’t find one anywhere.  Brendan found some worms and the fledgling was very hungry for them but the poor little thing seemed unable to eat them dangling from tweezers.  I  syringed them up and fed them to it.  I settled the little bird on my brand new, never been used, hot water bottle (a Christmas pressie from my Dad; I’ve already told you how he likes to keep me warm).  Sadly, my little feathered friend didn’t make it through the night.

Monday was frustrating.  A lot of the day was spent trying to source a starter motor for the ride on mower.

Tuesday was a good day, albeit a long, hot and exhausting day.  In the afternoon my jaw actually hit my knees in shock when the LGB said ‘You can build along to meet me’.  I really was speechless.  At last after 10 years as an apprentice/labourer I was being promoted to brickie!  No, no, no, you’re getting above yourself girl!  I was merely required to fill in between the joists with blocks.  Not quite the promotion I have been hoping for but some block laying nevertheless.

 All the LGB needs is his music, his Willie Nelson bandanna and glasses and he's ready to go.

Musical Statues and Mountain Goats
Wednesday and Thursday we continued building the first floor.  Today, Thursday was extremely windy.  Some of you will know I am no mountain goat as Mary and Alan will testify.  I have had the heeby jeebies with them on a mountainside.  They will be asking themselves 'What mountain, that was a hillock'.  I am not terribly comfortable up a height and now and again I freeze and have to be rescued by the LGB.  I must look a right twit from the ground - like I'm playing musical statues all on my own.  A couple of times I really thought I was going to be blown off the building.  The day was also hampered by a humongous thunderstorm.
As the rain started the LGB suggested I clean, wash and put away everything because he thought it was here for the day.  Now you know how much I detest washing out the mixer.  I also have three large trays, two bucket bag things, a shovel and three trowels to wash. However, the downpour and thunder only lasted just past lunchtime when the LGB decided we would continue building.  I was not a happy bunny to find myself once again cleaning all of the above at 7 pm.
The bucket bag things

My 'office'.  I'm in charge here!

About 6 pm the LGB disappeared and Snow White sent Grumpy to replace him for about an hour!  The LGB was having trouble with one window sill that didn’t want to sit level.  Grumpy mastered it and I now have ten window sills in upstairs with one to go in.

To be fair, although today I had to work with Grumpy the LGB often has to work with one or the other of Snow Whites vertically challenged colleagues. Quite often it’s Dopey, mid-afternoon Sleepy drops by and by end of day Grumpy usually makes an appearance. But I like to think more often than not he is working with Happy, he would probably say otherwise.

Happy (mostly)

Saturday, 9 June 2012


Now that the noise of the rain on the roof is no longer keeping us awake at night we have new noise nuisances.  We are able to open more windows in the evening so we are treated to a rendition of the Frog Chorus with backing from The Crickets.  We’re just missing Buddy Holly and Paul McCartney for a shows stopping concert.  The frogs are really loud. It took us some time to work out what they were as they sound more like ducks.  Once the sun has gone down the owls start.  We then have the morning alarm at 5.30 with the incredible birdsong.  I really have never heard so many birds singing so loudly.

During the day the cacophony doesn't abate.  The cows can get quite rowdy and the donkeys (at least two fields away) are very vocal.  I recognise the cuckoo, wood pigeon, magpie and jay, but not much else.  Of course, you can hear when the woodpecker is at work.  Then come 6pm the children down the road start with their shouts and laughter, especially now they have a splash pool in the garden.  The lovely, lovely sounds of summer!

With the sounds comes the plethora of smells. The smell of wild mint and the cut grass.  The other country smells may not appeal to some; the cows and muck spreading and other unidentified whiffs, but having spent my childhood summers on the farm in Wales they are aromas I really don’t mind.

Come on in, make yourself at home!  A little glimpse inside Chez Nous.

Garden seat rescued from a trip to the dump

All the mod cons

The chair was a charity shop buy
 At the moment the awning is like a green house and we have to put three sides down.  In the evening it is a mosquito magnet!

That aside, it is very useful and means we only have to sleep in the caravan.
The LGB making an outside eating area

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Supermarket Sweep

There was a promotion on windows so we hot footed it to the builders’ merchants. As they unlocked the doors I zig- zagged around the other shoppers whilst the LGB got boxed in by two trolleys.  I dashed to the menuiserie department and secured the windows.  You may wonder what the hurry was.  It was because there was a ridiculously small quantity of stock on special offer.  

The LGB wanted something else that was also on promotion but the assistant said they would be in the following day.  Well that was enough to get Big Chief Moaning Minnie twitching for a war dance. If they were advertising offers the goods should be in stock, blah, blah, blah.  At the checkout the special offer on the windows didn’t register and the war dance was in full swing. He would certainly have scored a S-E-V-E-N from Len on Strictly. To be fair I was having a moan too, to each other you understand not to the cashier.  Then the cashier said the offers didn’t start until the next day, we had arrived a day early! However, she kindly honoured the offer.  The war dance turned into a little jolly jig of joy.
The LGB has constructed what looks a little like a gallow.  We have caught the neighbours looking and I am sure they will have been scratching their heads wondering what it was.  All was revealed when the LGB attached the new hoist to it.

The hoist has proved invaluable.  I mix the cement and sand and shovel it into two large bucket bag things, up they go on a pallet attached to the hoist and Brendan takes them off at the top.  Easy peasy. Certainly much easier than the days in our barn conversion when we used to carry it up.

We have worked some very long days in very high temperatures this week.  Today the thermometer read over 40 degrees in the sun!!  I know that is not how you are meant to take the temperature, but we were in the full sun!  It is quite draining but despite the heat we are up to window height on one side of the house and have put the sills in two bedrooms and the two bathrooms.
Blocks laid out ready for a start

Window sills in bedroom and bathroom
Window openings showing upstairs!
It has been a hectic week, what with building, completing and taking tax forms to the Hotel des Impots and trying to learn song lyrics.  I find any official ‘doings’ very stressful.  I have a fear of doing things wrong and being hauled in by big brother and given the third degree.

I am also trying very hard to get to grips with the songs we are singing with my choir Courant D’Air at a concert on Sunday.  We are singing in English (got that language sorted), French (struggling big time), one of the African languages (know that one), Hebrew (halfway there) and Romanian (I think it’s Romanian and I know that one).  I am the only Anglaise in the choir, I say choir but it is a chorale group of about thirty singers, a nice bunch.  We sing pop, jazz, gospel, scats, blues…….all sorts really.  Our newest song is ‘Chasing Cars’ by Snow Patrol. 

Courant D'Air in action. Me hiding at the back!
I give Brendan the camera to take photos but he says it is pointless because I am always hiding.  It’s true!  Mostly it is because although I love singing I like to be in the background and the other reason is I am usually holding the words behind someone’s back!

All About Niahm
I know I sometimes put ‘moany’ bits in the blog, but believe me when I say it is very much tongue in cheek.  There are days when it all gets a little too much but we have to put these days into perspective. I am reading a blog just started by Brendan’s niece Julie, whose little girl has a very rare childhood cancer.  I know even my very worst days will never be close to what they are going through.  Niahm has been offered treatment in the USA (the NHS will fund the treatment but not a home tutor and they won’t pay for her little brother to go with them) and they are now fund raising.  If you get a chance, please read Julie’s blog   and if you can help in any way either with a donation or you may know an obscure little charity who could help, it goes without saying how many people will be very, very grateful, and especially one young lady.