Starting as I mean to go on – a promise to start a regular update on our renovation projects in Limousine, France; we finally had a water supply installed at the barn. Our properties seem to have an habit of providing us not with just one building, for example our barn, but two. The new farm building also has a little house. The estate agent always seems nervous about pointing out these little buildings, as if it will deter us from buying. Instead we get excited and forget about the Big House, as the Little House means a studio, an outdoor garden house, a place to store wine and food, a place for friends to stay. They are often thrown in for nothing. That makes me very excited.
The barn came with a small, sad, unloved Germanic type bunker building. It had been a wood turners cottage, our neighbours table tennis room as a child and then abandoned to the brambles until we took pity on it and spent most of 2016 and 17 renovating to create the future La Petite Maison. A lick of paint can do wonders. We added a green timber clad workshop on one side and a barn like building on the back as an outdoor kitchen space and now it has a purpose.
When we first arrived, the place stank of cat pee and the roof had a resident rat who had spent probably the good part of year stashing the neighbours chicken eggs in the insulation. God knows how it got up into the roof, but rats are capable guys. He had passed on by the time we arrived and rotted in the roof. It all had to come down. We strung an old sheet up above our heads to stop the insects dropping onto us and wondered what on earth we were doing in such a place. In a past blog post I explained, but simply it was lack of money and an opportunity to escape the mortgage trap.
The Little House therefore, became our home and even though we had no hot water, or a shower, or a toilet until last summer, it was owned, it gave us a chance to start our new life. But now in another reincarnation as we have had to move to the barn, its to be a cold storage for our autumn produce, home-made cheese, and a well stocked larder. Upstairs I can store all our household bits n bobs – sheets, duvets, spare blankets and a sewing machine for small home repairs.
The bench outside was made from two of my late Dads scaffold boards – Travis Perkins – a shop long gone in the UK. We sit and watch the world go by on sunny mornings.
I digress. Water. We have an eco-obsession with saving this wet stuff that falls from the sky. We have now 4 large 1000 litre containers around the property, soon to be a couple more to feed the barn toilet. In the other properties we will install barrels too. It rains hard here – downpours that feed the cow meadows and make the lush grass, that means for Limousine and The Auvergne, great cheese. The extreme heat in summer, up to 45 degrees means drought. Sometimes there is no rain for 6 weeks. We all kick up dust and bake.
So there is a mathematical equation here. Winter equals rain. Summer equals drought. A brain cell or common sense adds one with the other to get a whole barrel of water to feed the veg, geese and chickens, and I get to shower rather than itch like a pigwig.
Here is our washing facility in the barn. From finally having a shower and wash basin installed last year in the Little House, Big House was back to basics. We had been back and forth to the UK for three years to mitigate tax problems, [I am a tax accountant by trade], but this year we permanently moved. The Little House has no heating – we would just freeze solid. So we moved to the Barn, installed a stove [toasty at last] but once again no water! Back to buckets. But we did splash out on a porta-loo. Oh bliss. No more precariously holding a jug between my legs and hoping I don’t dribble!
Then today the water company turned up. We had asked them many months before that we needed to get our habitation certificate and for that you need water and a septic tank. In France that’s red-tape and lots of visits to the local town. In England its all on line. In France you still talk to people. The barn luckily had an old water connection and within a couple of hours the new connection was made and we were one thousand euros lighter. But we could now have a bathroom. Oh heaven – a bath. I haven’t sunk into a proper bath since 2015. I hallucinate about bubbles, steam, a glass of wine and reading a magazine in the bath – me time, soft skin, moisturizers and pedicures. “Pop”!!!! well maybe sometime in 2019. For now its still orange bucket or running down the road to the Little House for a quickie shower – if you can stomach the cold.
Here’s our lovely Eco-fill septic tank. It took three years to save up for this. Its about four thousand euros and a thousand euros to dig the big hole to put it in. It can be positioned about 3 meters from the house and needs no garden to filter into as many other used too. The effluent is filtered so well I am told, you could drink the water. Err well maybe not, but that’s the gist of it – clean water to shed into the bottom field. Every couple of years it gets cleaned. SPANK [what an odd name for the septic tank authority – I thought it was a heavily elasticated body girdle manufacturer – but I could be wrong], approved. A tough bunch to please. But then again – not treating your waste properly should be a big deal. We have to install septic tanks in our other properties too. The Eco-Fill though is small and can fit anywhere. The hole dug is then backfilled with pea-shingle and your good to go.
When you live in the countryside, often your water issues are not straight forward. If you have land, animals and want self-sufficiencies to some degree, its a bit of planning and work. The rural buildings we Brits love, but the French neglect, need septic tanks and often mains water is not an option. You can get excited about your chalky paint finishes and lime wash dreams, but unfortunately the start of the project is all about the brown stuff.
The geese have to have water to keep themselves waterproof and as here to play in and squabble over squeeky pig. They poop over four pounds of poop a day each, and much of it ends up in their orange pond. In the summer they have a large pond to swim in. Every week it must be cleaned out as geese like to put mud into their water, poop in that water and drink it!
Goose poop water is garden gold. We pump the poop water up-to the garden and then over the summer spray the veg. In winter the barrels refill with rain water and these then fill the goose pond. A water cycle where we benefit and the geese do too. Our tomatoes grow and flourish and we laugh in the face of drought! Well I didn’t laugh last year – I got sun stroke and felt very miserable and had to stay in doors for months. The hospital bill wasn’t too funny either!
So that is my first post for Big House, Little House. Next stop is thinking about laying floors, drainage and plumbing. Off to fill my hot water bottle!