Four years ago we could see the sky through the tiles. Mmm nice and sunny today! The joists had insulation made from spiders webs, a dense white drapery befitting Mrs Havershams world* and the beams looked as if the woodborers had a work in progress ‘re the new lunch menu.
With no money the prospect of getting the roof repaired was tucked away in the depths of the filing system marked Sometime Never. We managed to save enough to spray the timbers with anti-insect and termite treatment, (take that you little critters) and cut away some parts of the beams where the wood had been honeycombed by insects chewing. But that was all. By miracle the roof tiles were very good and no leaks of any significance found. We concentrated on other tasks, pointing, land clearance and chicken coops. In fact we seem to spend most of our time building homes for our feathered friends. Chicken love is a serious pastime! Life jogged along and with graft we made progress.
Then last year I inherited. Life changed. Suddenly we could actually get our roof repaired. We bought the barn adjoining ours and sent an enquiry over to our local roofing firm to provide the devis, the quote in French for both and our little house too. The poor old thing had a patched mess of black plastic, insulation and tape keeping the rain out. The wasps, ants and other crawlies shared the roof along with sparrows and their fledglings, hornets and more spiders. We slept under that roof for three years, hanging an old sheet from the rafters to stop things landing on us at night. When the winds tore up from the south, where the volcanoes slumber in the Avergne, you felt as if the house would be wisked up and away like Dorothys house, to Oz.
A good roof will save a house. The French never used felt and many house here fall when years of rain finally rot the roof trusses. The tell tale gaping holes in the roof signal the swift death is imminent. Within 6 months the walls start to breakdown as the rain washes out the sand and lime between the stones. Another year and the walls bulge from the lopsided weight of a roof now imbalanced and finally a gust of wind brings the whole crashing to the ground. Three months more and the brambles and nettles have consumed the rubble. The lime, sand, stone and timber returns back to the earth from where it was once dug. Nature devours efficiently.
When we consider the price a house costs back in UK, this lack of interest in looking after these ancient buildings beggars belief. The French have yet to feel the pain of capitalism, of lacking a home, of being in debt till they retire. With the depopulation of the countryside and the French dislike of renovation, our area, like many, is filled with ruins waiting for adoption. Time for these Brits to get their roof fixed and at least leave a legacy behind of what you can do with an old cow barn, if you have a mind to do so.
So we looked to our local roofing firm. The devis came slowly. The arrival of workers even slower. The French do not indicate times. They turn up suddenly.
A flurry of action and in just two days half the first roof is removed, new pine joists installed, a metalic backed anti moist insulation sandwiched between strandboard and the battening and the tiles rehung.
The odd flung cigarette butt luckily doesn’t ignite the straw we have stored in the barn. The French casualness to health matters just alarms us, but they work hard and lunch break permitting, we are on target for completion in three weeks.
The old oak beams had rotted in some places and were replaced by pine to ensure the roof was laid straight. It seemed a shame but practical. The oak will be reused for our new chicken barn. Hang on..more chicken housing!
The barn is quieter inside. It’s definitely warmer and the company has done a grand job completing the gutters and extremities of the roof – ridge tiles, chimney etc. The spiders have finally sauntered off to find new rafters and we now feel we have finally got our home weathertight and secure.
The cost is around twenty five thousand euros. The investment to us is priceless.
*In Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations, poor old Mrs Haversham awaits in her wedding dress for the groom who never arrives. Her banqueting hall draped in aged cobwebs as the years roll by. It’s a great story and the moral is….don’t wait…grab life or it will pass you by. That’s how we feel about being in France…great expectations!