So, it is now Easter weekend and we are meeting with Katie the latest named storm to hit Europe. Now that we have given them names it is like expecting old friends to come knocking on your door. However Katie seems to be comprised of violent winds, torrential rain and this afternoon the prospect of thunder and lightning! So I don’t think we want to be friends with Katie, and she sounded so nice.

Fortunately the rest of last week was full of sunny days and so we were able to get on with the demolition of our ruined building. Regular readers of the blog will recall that the ruin is a building in a state of collapse, being held up with some Arco props and a real danger. It was originally not part of our house when we bought it 3 and half years ago. But it adjoins our old storage barn. Now of course the Palais des Chats (Cats Palace). The ruin was an old farm labourer’s cottage built of stone, with a storage cave next door. The cottage had fallen down and the store was in danger of falling but still had its mezzanine floor and slate roof. The buildings also backed onto our courtyard area and were covered in ivy. They were a bit of an eyesore from our side of the wall.

The ruin from our courtyard, covered in ivy

The owner of the building was English and had sold his house in the hamlet leaving the ruin in his ownership. After some negotiation he agreed to sell us the ruin for only 1 Euro as work to make it safe was now urgent. After some consideration and advice we decided that we should have the building demolished and the site cleared. We don’t need the space and so we will make it safe and then decide in the future what we could do with it.

We commissioned a local French mason, called Pascal to do the work. I reported last week that Pascal’s terms of engagement include the provision of coffee while on site and lunch at the restaurant in his village. So on Monday absolutely on the dot of 8am Pascal arrives to start work. I was ready in my working clothes and offered to help. Pascal looked me up and down and decided that I was clearly a soft retired English office worker and said that he would be OK on his own. He had brought a large Manitou with him.

The manitou with crew, driver Moggie and bucket mistress, Minou

The manitou is sort of bulldozer with an extendable bucket. After his 8am coffee off he went and soon we saw the bucket come up over the ruin and start to pull it down. As part of the deal we had agreed that Pascal could take away the pick of the stones that he could reuse in building work. The remaining rubble was to be taken away, either to our friend Ian who wanted rubble to reinforce a bank on his lake or to some other landfill site. The ivy would be left for us to burn and any wood reclaimed would be for use to use. What I hadn’t quite appreciated was just how much wood was left in the building. The roof timbers were still holding up the slate roof and there was quite a large wooden mezzanine floor which had been protected by the roof from the rain. So there were wooden planks, roof support wood and beams to hold up the floor, including one very large buttress. All the wood was oak so there was quite a pile. Pascal carried the wood on the Manitou round to our lane where Mrs. Parish and I spent two days moving and storing the wood as well as moving great piles of ivy down to the bottom of the field to be burned. Some of the wood can be reused and there is also a big pile destined for our wood burner.

The wood reclaimed from the ruin

Meanwhile Pascal was hand sorting the stone he wanted to keep and loading up his lorry to take this back to his workshop and then loading up rubble to go for landfill. By lunchtime on day 1 Mrs. Parish and I were knackered and ready to take Pascal for lunch. Actually, Pascal drove us in his lorry so we could dump some stone on the way. This was an experience as once upon a time the lorry had suspension but now it seemed to judder and vibrate all the way there.

What we had not appreciated was the size of the Ouvrier’s lunch at the restaurant at Oisseau. The restaurant offers a help yourself salad with cold meats for starters. The main course seemed to be a great pile of couscous with a sausage and chicken breast. Pile being the operative word. Fortunately there was an option for steak and chips and Mrs. Parish and I opted for this. It did come with its own mountain of chips. Pascal had the couscous and demolished this almost as quickly as he had the roof. On Tuesday we had the chicken and pasta option which came with two huge chicken breasts. We failed to finish the meal! Then you can have cheese and finish off with dessert (in my case a huge mousse au chocolat. The journey back in the lorry with an overfull stomach and all the shaking and shuddering was a bit of a challenge!

We had been warned by a friend that Pascal was a brilliant mason but that his driving left a lot to be desired. His ability to change gear seemed to be very random and this did not help the vibrations and the feeling that soon I am going to be sick!

We come back in the afternoon and Pascal sets back to work with a vengeance while Mrs. Parish and I try to avoid the temptation to have a nap. It was at this point that the incident with the post box occurred. Pascal had spent all day driving the Manitou filled with ivy, stone or wood from the ruin up the lane and either round the corner into the courtyard to fill up his lorry or round to the lane to dump the wood and ivy. I was sorting and moving wood when I heard this noise of metal being scraped and squashed and turned to see our French post box, on its’ metal pole being demolished. Pascal was most apologetic but offered to replace the box and fit it into the wall of the house.

On Wednesday our friend Ian came round to help and he and I with spade were dodging the Manitou and clearing earth and small stones. Pascal also managed to break the bottom o step of the steps up to the Palais. Again he used his mason’s skills to mend it. At the end of the week the ruin was completely gone and the wall rendered with a sort of mixture of render and glue to hold the wall together. It certainly improves the view from the courtyard and while it does look from the lane a bit like a WWII machine gun post it is safe!

The ruin is gone

Mrs.Parish is happy as she has had the opportunity for a huge bonfire. I now have a pile of wood for making things. But this means more work and already I have had to sort the wood and treat it against woodworm and store it away. The huge buttress beam I have cut into three and plan to use this to make three garden benches. So, never ending sources of work but at least this is recycling and as well we have started to burn the wood that is not worth reusing. It is keeping us warm doing all the work and at the end of each day this week Mrs. Parish and I have collapsed on to the sofa before getting an early night. I am not sure whether it was the challenge of eating all the massive ouvrirs lunches this week or all the work.

The cats have kept a low profile with all the noise and strange people being about. That has not stopped them coming out when it is quiet to take control of the Manitou. Just as well Pascal has taken the key or goodness knows what chaos they could have created as they are even worse drivers than Pascal.

So a good week (including a very nice wall fitted new post box) and a useful job completed. I am now sat completing the blog while Katie rages outside the door. Despite the clocks going forward the cats have adjusted already and are here ready for tea at 4pm. I am looking forward to roast lamb this evening washed down by a very nice drop of red wine and I think another nap on the sofa. Next week promises to be busy as I have benches to make, the gite to spring clean ready for guests and no doubt the tractor will need an outing. There may be exciting news next week........

Bon Pacques