It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

February  2015

The snow finally arrived in Compolibat, although you might call it more of a dusting. Either way, it has given us a new perspective of the surrounding landscape, as we get to experience the ever-changing Aveyron winter for the first time.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERASANYO DIGITAL CAMERAWe have had a bit more of it these past few days, but the best thing about the snow here is that it doesn’t seem to last long. There’s no need to dig out the car, our Lhasa Apso, Clive, is much happier knowing that his furry legs are without risk of attracting giant snowballs, and although it’s reasonably cold, it’s not exactly what you’d call alpine ski resort cold.

A small covering of snow does help us to momentarily forget about the increasing mud patch out the front but it has also been enough to catch me out on the icy roads, only once mind, but enough to scare me a bit. It’s strange to think that I’ve been accustomed to driving in deep snow for years now without any difficulty, but put me on a wet, ungritted piece of sloping tarmac in the countryside on an icy morning and it’s enough adrenaline to keep me going until at least the end of the month. I didn’t crash into anything by the way, I just made a few new tracks in the road, held my breath until I reached the bottom of the hill and then prayed I’d come to a halt at the junction, where I let out a few choice words of relief, before continuing on my way.

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Pete’s bought himself a new set of wheels, a 1990 Citroën C15 van: a must-have for all working men aged 40+ in the area. Since he’s less than two months from turning forty himself, he will fit right in with the farmers and workers who grace these windy roads with their noisy presence. Plus, it does help him to get to work, and serves its purpose transporting wood and other materials to the house.
imageFor the moment, Pete is doing carpentry work for a chalet-construction firm in a nearby town. It’s only a temporary contract but it might lead to other opportunities. As for me, I’m enjoying my free time, but I’m eager to find work too. I have set up a website for my English workshops and I’m hoping to get things moving in the spring, but in the meantime I’m open to job offers to enable us to continually fund the work on the house.

Besides English workshops, I guess my ideal job would be running the local bar-hotel-restaurant in the village, but it has been closed for the past couple of years and is in desperate need of a buyer to put a bit of life back into the village. Lou CantouThe sellers told me that despite the profitable bar and restaurant turnover, they were left no option but to close the entire business, after tighter hotel regulations meant that the hotel side was no longer a cost-effective venture.
I’m told a future investor should consider running this former 7-bedroom hotel as a B&B, which would demand less rigorous regulations, and continue to run the restaurant for lunches (including the preparation of meals for the school cantine) and the bar, the ideal meeting place for locals and tourists alike.
It would seem word of mouth works wonders round here, so if, on the off chance, anybody knows a potential buyer, here are the details:

Lou Cantou 2

Large village house with 2 independent gites
Enclosed garden of 900m2, swimming pool, double garage.
420m² of floor space including 2 gites, cellar, kitchen, salon and restaurant with annexe and terrace leading out to the swimming pool, 7 ensuite bedrooms, 2 offices and a loft.

All for a bargain of 199,000€!
(including agency fees, but not including notary fees)

Now that’s enough daydreaming for one day, moving swiftly back to the reality of Chez TêteBlanche…

It can be somewhat disheartening to imagine all the work that needs doing to our place, so with only one wage coming in, we’ve decided to set ourselves small projects, so we can tackle it one step at a time. Our friendly neighbour, Gerard, turns out to be a gardener by trade and has kindly offered to help us with our vegetable garden. He tells us the soil we have on our plot is the best there is, and that with a little tlc, we will have the best garden in the area. I like this man!
Gerard has his own vegetable plot but it is about 30km drive from his house. His wife makes all her own conserves and he proudly tells me that the two of them practically manage to live off their own produce all year round, with a little help from a polytunnel of course. It would seem we couldn’t have chosen a better place to live, with our very own gardening guru living next door. He is even going to ask his farmer friend to come over with his tractor and remove the grass layer, exposing the soil so we can get on with the vegetable beds. We won’t actually need to put in raised beds now, so it will save us, sorry I mean Pete, an awful lot of digging.

Our local plumber also turns out to be a qualified electrician, so he is coming over this weekend to speak to us about the electrical systems in place in the house, or should we say lack of them? It would seem the electrics initially installed in the 1960’s when it was built, have never been updated, and we fear there may be quite a bit of work to be done here. We will have to cross our fingers that a total rewire will not be necessary. On a brighter note, he might be able to tell us why our heating pipes make such a terrible noise!

I recently spoke to somebody from ANAH (Agence Nationale de l’Habitat) regarding us improving the energy efficiency rating of our house. It would seem that being low income homeowners of our primary residence, providing we can improve the efficiency of our house by at least 25%, we would be entitled to some government grants, allowances, tax credits and lower vat rates. We were warned that the process is ‘extremely long’, but since we don’t yet have any money to carry out the work, we figured we might as well send off the application anyway. The ‘Habiter Mieux’ programme begins with an expert carrying out a diagnostic on our house to determine the areas where we can save the most energy and the approximate costs involved for us. Presumably the areas of concern will be the single-glazed windows, lack of wall and roof insulation and the fuel-guzzling industrial-sized boiler that came with the house, but then, we’re not the experts! It does make you wonder just how long ‘extremely long’ is out here, when I have already become accustomed to ‘un petit moment’ being anything from 2 weeks to 3 months! On this basis, I’m guessing it would be optimistic to expect an answer before summer 2016. Still, if it helps us to eventually finance the projects we already had in mind, it must be worth a try.

In the meantime, we have decided to turn the cubby hole under the stairs into a composting toilet. When it’s finished, it should look like any other downstairs loo, except for the fact that the sewage won’t be flushed away, but covered in sawdust and emptied when full, into the compost pile, where it will be ready to go on our vegetable plot one year from now. It seems to be quite the norm around here…even when Pete asked for some sawdust at work, they simply asked if it was for a composting toilet and if so, to take the shavings from untreated wood. To me, it seems the most natural thing we could do with the space and I don’t see any problem with going in a bucket, but some people just look at us like we’ve gone completely mad. Contrary to popular belief, composting toilets ‘apparently’ don’t smell. Having never used one myself, I cannot say for sure but I will give you an honest answer in a couple of months or so, when ours is up and running.  The 25-litre buckets are ordered and the wood has just arrived in the form of four pallets that Pete picked up today at the tip. If you’re still intrigued, check out The Cabin Can, where we found our inspiration.

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One thought on “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

  1. I am so thoroughly enjoying reading all your posts, Lisa, I started in the wrong order this morning but after our Christmas dinner of curly kale and mashed potato with meatballs I am relaxing and reading each story in the proper order. You are a good and entertaining author, Thank You for making a blog, it is most inspiring.

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