I know it's cheating but I've nicked half a dozen or so (eight actually!) postings from my old blog and added them here just to remind myself of half-forgotten times and events that are almost interesting or amusing - even second time around. The first of which concerns the on-going saga of our barn purchase - a saga that probably confirms I'm bonkers. However, I have no regrets about ignoring every bit of advice written in the French property magazines and forging ahead with the purchase regardless, despite the consequences. It's been (and still is) a roller-coaster ride. Some may call it a nightmare, but to me it's a dream.
(Nicked from old blog - April '07)
As I've said before, things happen slowly around here. Especially where the doing-up of houses is concerned. One of the reasons may be that there aren't enough registered 'artisans' to handle the increasing demand for renovations, largely brought about, I presume, by the rapid exodus of Brits deserting the sinking ship. You're lucky if you only have a two year gap in-between a builder turning up for an estimate and then turning up for work. For this reason, I consider myself fortunate that Monsieur Chaulet only took six months before putting wheels in motion to resurface the lane to our Beaulieu barn.
He phoned a couple of weeks ago to say he'd arranged a meeting at the Serilhac Mairie in order to be granted local authority approval of our plans. This took place at 9.30am last Saturday.
As I'd be meeting the Mayoress for the first time, I wanted to arrive bang on time. This meant setting off at 7am. So, just to play safe, I rose from my pit at 4am. Three hours to get ready would be bags of time I thought. Well, I thought wrong. Don't know how it happened but we (les mutts et moi) eventually hit the road at 7.30. Arrived at 9.38, gave the dogs a two minute 'wee' run, shoved 'em back in the car, ran up the Mairie steps, knocked on the office door and breathlessly entered clutching my file of official papers.
As it was a Saturday, I was only expecting the Mayoress and Mr. Chaulet to be there, so I was quite surprised when five heads turned in my direction as I burst through the door. I recognised Mr. Chaulet of course, and Laurent Cougneux (the very pleasant farmer who'd sold us the barn - didn't know he'd be there) and I rightly presumed the lady behind the desk to be the Mayoress, with the other man and lady being government officials of some sort. I stuttered apologies for being late and for being useless at French (quite a handicap in this situation as nobody spoke English - apart from Laurent who's about as fluent in English as I am in French) and then, following much hand-shaking and bonjouring, I joined the discussions. Well, not strictly true. To be more exact, I sat back and listened while a bunch of strangers nattered away in alien mumbeau-jumbeau.
About five minutes later, another couple entered and joined the fray. Turned out they were our husband and wife farming neighbours who were there to confirm exactly where the public part of the lane ended and their private part began. This involved the dragging out of various dusty old maps which were then spread out on a huge table, followed by much finger-pointing, tapping and vocal gobbledeegook. Peering over their shoulders from time to time, I noticed that, strangely, fields aren't marked out as on proper maps. Instead they're defined by a series of haphazard numbered boxes or 'pockets' which seem to bear no relation to reality. Consequently, our field is defined by about half a dozen separate jig-saw shapes, each of which has probably been registered at the Mairie for centuries.
Meanwhile, a couple of other animated conversations were taking place in another part of the office: Laurent appeared to be deep in conversation with the Mayoress while Mr. Chaulet was busily chatting to one of the officials. To be honest, I hadn't a clue what was going on. None of it seemed to be my concern. So I started having a closer look at one of the photos on the wall. Seemed familiar. Suddenly realised it was the old house we now owned, next to the barn, before the roof caved in and it slowly degenerated into its current state of disrepair. Fascinating. So the old roof was reeds, not slates. Which would, of course, explain the mysterious absence of roofing slates on the floor. And why the old beams (now sadly collapsed) seem so weather-beaten.
Suddenly, everyone stopped nattering. The Mayoress had dragged out another old map and was now calling for attention. Apparently she'd just noticed that the barn, house and field were listed as 'agricultural'. So, while there would be no objection to lane resurfacing going ahead, it may be a completely wasted exercise if I/we, as non farmers, wished to make ANY changes to the buildings or land. Quite simply, we couldn't. Only people registered as farmers are able to submit plans for ANYTHING to do with this property. So, while Laurent was right in thinking that it'd be little more than a mere formality to be granted a CU (permission to convert the barn) or to 'do up' the old house, he may not have been fully aware, or even thought of, this potential stumbling block.
So, as it stood, we'd spent a king's ransom for half a field, a pile of old stones and a dilapidated cowshed. Brilliant. The Mayoress, bless her, sympathised with our predicament. To lessen the blow, she then pointed out a number of other properties that were previously 'agricultural' but are now 'domestic'. So change is possible. But what with an impending general election and growing governmental disapproval of the seismic shift away from local agriculture as farmers cash-in on the property boom, I'm wary of being over-optimistic.
Anyway, all seems to hinge on a conversation between the Mayoress and a mysterious Madame LaPorte (whoever she may be), which is due to take place sometime this week.
Meanwhile, I've been thinking about farming goat's cheese.
Oh yeah. Pull the udder one.
(Part 2 - June '07)
Had a thoroughly deflating meeting at the Serilhac Mairie a few weeks back where the powers that be informed that the barn, the dilapidated house and the land were all listed as 'agricultural' and therefore any permissions for proposed renovation works could only be granted to persons registered as farmers or keepers of livestock.
Although I have a beat-up Barbour, a pair of leaky wellies, occasionally chew on a blade of grass and once got up before sunrise, I'd have a tough time passing off as a farmer. And it's unlikely that a bad tempered Westie and a killer Patterdale constitute livestock. So it looked like that was the end of the matter.
However, the meeting ended with a slight glimmer of hope when a sympathetic official pointed out that a local agricultural property had recently been granted a 'certificat d'urbanisme' and re-listed as 'domestic'. So a precedent had been set. Maybe our barn could also be an exception to the rule. But I wasn't counting on it. Everything now depended on the whim of the local mayoress who hadn't been at the meeting...
Had a phone call the other day from Monsieur Chaulet, the chap who's quoted for doing the proposed resurfacing work to the lane that wends up to the barn. Was half expecting him to say that the mayoress had officially rejected our plans. Instead, he said that 'everyone' had to meet up at the lane at 2pm on Thursday 14 June and we'd all walk up to the barn for a general inspection and discussion in order to reach a final decision.
So I turned up at 2pm on the dot. And spent a very pleasant half hour listening to birds, watching my terriers frolicking in the woods and supping tea from a Thermos. At 2.30 I drove to the mairie to check where everyone was, only to be informed that I was a day early. Brilliant. I presume someone had changed the date without telling moi. Then drove the 75 miles back home.
Drove back again yesterday, minus dogs, and parked halfway up the lane in the usual rendez-vous spot. The 2.30pm deadline came and went. Nobody turned up. Then the rain came and didn't went. Still nobody. Maybe we were supposed to meet at the mairie. So I slithered the car back down the muddy lane and bumped into a whole gaggle of cars and various very damp local bureaucrats at the bottom, plus Mr. Chaulet and Laurent. Seeing that I'd managed to drive up the lane, which now closely resembled a red river, they all hopped in their cars and headed uphill with me bringing up the rear (after turning round in a narrow mudbath).
At the first staging point I caught up with the patrol. Everyone had stopped, cars were abandoned and a thin line of very wet Froggies was making its way on foot. Amazing how ill-prepared for inclement weather some of these chaps and lassies appeared. Anyway, dressed in Barbour coat, hat and stout commando dogwalking boots, I again brought up the rear, sploshing through puddles in boots as others hopped from mudbank to mudbank in summery shoes.
A quarter of an hour later we reached the gate to the barn field where my fellow walkers, most of them shirt-sleeved and peering through rain-splattered specs, were beginning to resemble a bunch of drowned rats. To say they appeared not to be in the best of spirits would be an understatement. There then followed a somewhat animated discussion with much arm-waving and finger-pointing, none of which I understood. Could have been discussing whose bright idea it was to meet up here instead of in the warm and dry mairie. Or maybe they were trying to decide whether there was enough money in the council kitty to purchase half a dozen umbrellas. Who knows. Anyway, after about five minutes someone made the bright suggestion that we seek partial shelter under some trees instead of standing in the open as the rain continued to pour. The discussion continued.
Then we headed back downhill. Every so often one of the drenched shirtsleeved speccies would stand at one side of the lane and march across to the other shouting out "un, deux, trois et demi". Then "un, deux, trois". Complete nutters. Eventually I twigged that they were measuring the width of the lane. This apparently seemed to have gained some significance. Then the main speccie slipped into a ditch at the side of the lane and re-emerged with sodden shoes and a ripped shirt. Something told me that he wasn't entirely in favour of granting a smug (and very dry) Barbour-wearing Brit permission to ruin his beloved French landscape with vulgar renovation works.
Back at the cars the discussion continued. More arm-waving. More gesticulating. More references to the "anglais". At which point I'd had enough and barked "excusez-moi, je ne suis pas anglais, je suis ecossais!" This seemed to break the ice and it suddenly dawned on them that I might not be a dumb zombie after all. With the wind in my sails I then dredged up as much basic French as I could muster and started rabbiting on about the need to sympathetically renovate those few original French buildings that still remain or else they'd fall into disrepair and eventualy become piles of rubble. Neglect and, dare I say it, governmental red tape was responsible for many of the ruins I've seen on my travels through France over the last couple of decades. All I want to do is renovate a barn and live here as a resident, not as a holiday visitor. Grr...
This outburst momentarily hushed the crowd. Maybe they hadn't understood a word I'd said. No surprise there then. I hadn't understood a word either. Then, following a brief bout of further banter and arm-waving, the mayoress announced her final decision on the matter.
The lane resurfacing could go ahead but it had to be of a more solid construction (and therefore more expensive) than originally planned. We'd be responsible for costs of resurfacing but, once laid, the council would be responsible for costs of upkeep.
Permission would be granted for the renovation of the dilapidated house. If possible, it should be rebuilt as original but with a tiled roof instead of the original grass roof. Plans have to be approved before building works proceed. Any decision regarding the granting of a 'certificat d'urbanisme' for the barn can only be considered after the little house has been renovated.
And with that, the bureaucrats, who I felt had slightly warmed to my ringing tones of conservation, shook my hand and then dribbled off to squelch into their cars and head back downhill, presumably for the sanctuary of the mairie.
Soon as they left, the sun came out and Laurent, Mr. Chaulet and I then headed for Laurent's farm where I had a coffee and the Frogs had Ricard. Both the Frogs seemed quite concerned that I might be hugely disappointed in not getting permission to renovate the barn. Well, yes, it's a bit more than a shame but at least we now had a go-ahead. Look on the bright side. We're no farmers, we don't have livestock and yet here we are with permission to do up a little farmhouse in gloriously secluded farmland with a strong possibility of eventually being granted permission to convert a barn with one of the finest views in France.
Shame we ain't got the dosh though.
Better get my easel out.
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