February 2005

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Polar bear country

1 May 1988 - 1 March 2005

The layout of the house and barns

Perry has drawn up the plans and elevations

The space above the back kitchen that will become the master and guest bathrooms. Hopefully.

When the sun shines, it's warmer outside than in the house.

Making the most of the weather with long walks

Suzanne meets some of our friends at the café in Marciac

As we write this, the snow is settling and the temperatures are dropping below minus five degrees Celsius. Looking at the European weather charts, we are not alone. Thankfully, we are staying in our landlady’s house whilst she is away in southern Spain. The pavilion is freezing. February and the beginning of March have been abnormally cold in the Gers. Some say that it is the worst they have seen in 50 years. Although we’ve lunched outside in the winter sun on numerous occasions, we often follow that with thick-socked, fireside-evenings as the arctic winds whistle by outside.

In memorium
Talking of numbers, we are one down since our last update. Our cat, Elwood, suffered kidney failure just short of his 17th birthday. He was laying in the sun, no longer purring in response to being stroked, as the vet came and gently eased him into the beyond. He now lies next to his brother in a beautiful spot under French soil. The Blues Brothers reunited. Having travelled so far together, we will miss them at our final destination.

I'm not a number, I'm a human being!
Numbers and statistics have also been our preoccupation during the last four weeks (28 days). After much emailing, phoning, writing and going round in circles, we finally have our (temporary) Social Security number, our SIRET and SIREN numbers (Tax and business code), but are still waiting for our pension number.

Red sky at night, get off my land!
Other number crunching involved a rogue piece of land belonging to us that inexplicably stood in the middle of our neighbour’s fields. He too had a strip of land amongst ours. Turns out that they used to be communal tracks that are no longer in use and that were given to the adjacent land owners. Unfortunately someone confused a 6 for a 9 along the way and we have parcel 379 instead of 376. Two visits to the new Mayor revealed the source of the problem and it seems that they have been working on a solution for over four years. Watch this space.

'Allo 'Allo...
Madame Montegut, the present owner, was not sure about the position of the border between her land and a neighbour, so we have instructed a Géomètre-expert (surveyor) to measure and place the Bornes (markers) at the appropriate position. Caroline took the call and heard him quote € 1630 (seizecenttrente). We found that expensive and asked someone else. He came in at € 625. Phoning the first Géomètre, he repeated the price to Perry, who also heard € 1630. Turned out he said € 530 (cinqcenttrente) but his accent was so strong that neither of us could tell the difference. Glad we sorted that one out. Mind you, the invoice could have a completely different price again.

Good call
Telephone numbers turned out to be an easier project. We not only get a new number on April 1st, but we also receive ADSL within the same week. Good news for Perry’s business and our Skype connectivity. The new number will be announced the moment we are connected.

Sign here, here and here
We also moved our Credit Lyonnnais bank account from Mirande (Gers) to Lannemezan (Hautes-Pyrénées). Unfortunately, in France, since account numbers are linked to branches, it means changing your account number too. So that means new cheques, new cards, new sort codes.

Just checking the walls, Dear
February also saw us pacing the fields around the house with the farmer Christian Poque and a long tape measure. (He has worked this land for the previous owner for more than a decade, so we have asked him to continue.) He will start sowing the maize at the end of March and we had to mark out how far away from the house he needed to be so, that we could dig out the drainage channels without destroying his crop. The north and west walls of the house and two barns need better drainage. This involves digging a deep channel, dropping in a large pipe with holes along the top half and finally pouring pebbles and gravel over the top. This will ensure that rain drains away from the walls quickly and allow them to dry out. Damp is a problem in all the buildings in this area, since they are built directly on the earth.

How much?!
We also invited two plumbers and a specialist in the renovation of Gascon houses to look around the property and make quotes. We drew up plans for the annex attached to the house where the only sanitation is. The idea being to keep the toilet, shower and washbasin where they are, but add and remove walls around them so that we can create a larger, less basic bathroom. We discovered that the smaller barn will need more work than we thought to keep it standing. This is due to bad drainage around the building and roof timbers pushing the walls out.

Digging deep
Whilst we are digging the drainage channels, we will also use the digger to carve out a trench for the fosse septique (septic tank). This has to be renewed - according to the new sanitation regulations - and will be positioned further away from the main house so that the small barn can branch on to it, once it is converted.

Say aaaahhhh
Whilst all this was going on, Caroline was not having much fun visiting more specialists. She had her blood tested for Lyme disease and her thyroid glands echoed for abnormalities. All negative. We also visited a Dutch internist in Auch who was very helpful and Caroline was able to describe the nuances of her symptoms more easily. Apparently, 50% of all throat complaints can be related to psychological stress. It could be that all the uncertainty of our situation has erupted in Caroline just as it did with Perry, through his excema attack. Thankfully for her, there seem to be days when it isn’t so bad. Let’s hope that when we are settled in, that the symptoms disappear all together.

Oh, I couldn't eat another thing
There were some fun parts too, you know! We ate lunch outside quite often; in the sun and out of the wind. We had a glorious dinner; lamb chops, at our neighbours, Claire and Gérard. Pierre’s mother, Marie-Louise, baked us a delicious tarte tatin with a touch of calvados and superb crispy pastry. Not to mention a visit from Perry’s friend Suzanne, who flew over from London for three days to indulge in foie gras, Pacherenc wine and champagne. We took her for a sneak preview of the house, a personal tour of a family farm where they make foie gras and to the market at Marciac, where she met some of the usual suspects at the Café de l’Hotel de Ville.

Finally, we managed to register the name and logo of Perry’s company, ‘La Baguette Magique’ (French for Magic Wand). He is currently working hard to get the website up and running before we make the move in April. It will showcase his work and will eventually have a shop to sell reproductions of his paintings, drawings and photos. Support your favourite starving artist here!!!

We are so thankful that we can stay in Nieke’s house whilst she is away. The temperatures would have been killing in the pavilion, which has no insulation. Her cats are extremely happy to be able to spend time indoors, instead of trying to chip the ice off their water bowl outside.

Cuppa tea, Mister Shifter?
With just a month to go, we are tying up the last details such as; measuring the space needed to allow the twin-container removals van to turn into our drive, working out where all our stuff will go once it arrives and preparing a schedule for the renovations. Madame Montegut needs a little more time to complete her move, so we will sign the final contract and receive the keys on April 5th. That’s when we really have to roll our sleeves up!

Our first visitors are already passing by in May, so we need to get a lot done in the meantime. Wish us luck.

Perry and Caroline




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© 2005 Perry Taylor and La Baguette Magique, France.