Tuesday, 25 June 2013

L'Appartement à Louer / Flat to Rent

I open the drawer in the bathroom and sigh as I look down on nail clippings and hair stubble from a razor. She claimed to have cleaned before she left. Not much evidence of that. Anywhere.

I wonder about the hair stubble - hers?  Or a man's?  She said she was on her own with her toddler, (in order to get the maximum from "the social")  but I found a pair of large sweaty sports socks flung in the top corner of the hall cupboard along with a tin of body-building protein - not hers I think, or her young son's.

Over the weeks of cleaning and re-decorating, the flat slowly reveals to us snippets of the lives of its previous occupants:
- The remnants of transfers that we remove from every wall and piece of glass. A sticky shadow of Spiderman still visible on a bedroom window.
- Hundreds of staples and small pins in the walls from an earlier family. Three growing girls covered every inch of the place with their favourite posters.
- The bureau behind the kitchen, where the father of the three girls retired to smoke furiously, leaving a thick yellow coating of tar and nicotine in the walls, ceiling and lino. That one small room alone took Tod a week to clean and re-paint.
- The small black and brown edged pock marks in the lino of the master bedroom where said father lay in bed smoking and flicking cigarette ash onto the floor.
- The contents of a jar of honey with a child's toy stuck in it oozing behind the plinth below the kitchen cupboards - how did it get there?
- The deep scratches in the lounge floor where small hands had run sharp edged toys back and forth.
- The black drag marks across the lino of the bedroom with the jungle animal wallpaper.  Some piece of furniture, too heavy to lift, just hauled out of the room as they left.
- The unstuck stained lino and swollen door that wouldn't shut in the bathroom where water had seeped from a badly installed tank over a weekend  when the place was empty.

Mum with toddler "brightened up" the flat with vibrant orange, dark brown, bright red, smoky blue, acid green paint - all of which had to be painted over in a clean, neutral white. But the colours wouldn't let go easily. Three coats of white later, the kitchen still has a blueish tinge. And bits of orange and brown peep out round the edges of uneven skirting boards and corners in the lounge, despite repeated attempts to brush over them.

Bare wires through the ceiling now feed into smart looking spotlights bought cheaply in a "closing down prior to re-opening" sale in Conforama.

The dust-dull glass lampshades hanging from metal chains thick with grime and grease that I wanted to throw away and Tod said "clean" now sparkle and throw out interesting shadows in the hall.

The lumps of black soot in the ceiling corners of the bathrooms and kitchen, hoovered and soaked and scrubbed, reveal themselves to be cream plastic louvred covers for the ventilation system that (now the air can circulate freely) no longer whistles and sighs.

The confusion of meters and bare wires right by the front door - the wall stained where there had been (another) water leak - is now covered by a smart white painted cupboard.

The flat has 100 electric sockets and light switches.  Every single one has had its grubby faceplate removed, soaked in hot soapy water and scrubbed, while the fitments on the wall have been carefully cleaned (trying to avoid the exposed live wires) with kitchen towel soaked in grease remover.  The final task as each room is finished is to put back the faceplates.  Amazing the pleasure to be had in a room full of pristine light switches and sockets!

I find a pile of off-white plastic tiles in the loft and wonder where they are meant to go.  A week later, as I start scrubbing away the grime on the lounge floor, I realise: the tiles in the loft match those in the lounge! Over the years, as the original wooden floors underneath have sagged, the old, brittle plastic tiles on top have started to crack. I decide to replace some of the most damaged with the clean ones from the loft.  As mentioned elsewhere, this proves to be less than a good idea. Ideally, we would replace the flooring throughout, but cleaned, most of it looks fine and pragmatism steps in.  We have already spent far more than we budgeted and we are told by the agent: "c'est pas méchant".

And at last we have a new tenant!  Our weeks of  hard work have paid off. She and her teenage daughters moved in at the beginning of June. She's a teacher and not "on the social" so her financial situation should be secure. Hopefully, she and her daughters will care for this sunny, sparkly, newly-painted home and want to stay for many years.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The number of times ...

... in my business life, on the eve of going on holiday, I would be finishing off a report at what, two, three o'clock in the morning and exhaustedly posting it through the office door in the middle of the night to be typed the following day while I went away.

It's beginning to feel a bit like that now.  I'm in the UK next week and looking at the tasks I'd hoped to finish before I leave: huge areas of the garden still need strimming down; with our first guest arriving shortly after I'm back, the cottage still needs a final clean and the furniture moving from upstairs where we shifted it while the downstairs woodworm was zapped; there are large lumps of foam (now dried out) from the boat lying around the house that need new cushion covers and inner liners; the boat ceilings need painting and the work-surface in the galley replaced; I've still pots to plant, furniture to shabby chic and an idea for a mosaic on the cottage terrace wall that I'd hoped to do.

This is not to mention that yesterday evening Vita started a new "hot spot" and spent most of the night trying to get away from it and fighting the urge to lick it. While Bertie this morning found her steroid tablets on the kitchen table and ate the entire packet and had to be rushed to the vet to be made to sick them all up.  He seems none the worse for wear for his experience, though I am.

That list of things to do - all before Tuesday. It isn't going to happen, is it.

I thought retirement was going to be less stressful than this.  I need that week in the UK to recover.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

We've Bought a Boat

Or rather Tod has, since I get sick in a rowing boat on a duck pond, so it's not my first thought on what we might do with our time and money. Mind you, I do have this sort of image of messing about in boats - I loved the Arthur Ransome books, especially Swallows and Amazons - but reality is rather different.

Anyway, he bought it (her?) last autumn and I took no interest whatsoever and then we were busy all winter and spring and she just sat there at her moorings on The Lot, unloved and uncared for.

But now we've time and we've been lavishing some attention on her. Well it gives us something to do now that the good weather has gone again!

She's a wooden Norfolk Broads Cruiser, built in the sixties, and amazingly there is a photo of her in her prime on a boat-fanatic's website.

She was christened Gossamer Girl.  (The boatyard still exists and they are still calling the boats in their fleet "G-something Girl".) And then her name was changed by previous owners to Lucy Mary, which has now been frenchified to Lucie Marie.  She's certainly no fairy-like thing - being pretty broad of beam - so that rules out GG. And she's not really an elegant French lady, so she'll probably revert to plain Lucy Mary.

She's looking her age and we're investigating what we need in the way of marine paints and wood restorers to give her a face-lift - all much cheaper in the UK, of course.

Friends down over the summer may just find they get presented with a paintbrush as they arrive.  But after a hard day's work on the boat an early evening cruise down The Lot to a local night market sounds like a pleasant experience.  I will just have to wear my sea-bands, breathe deeply and remember Nancy and Peggy in the Lake District.

In the meantime, we badly need advice on how to make her more weather tight.  With all the rain of the last few days, the mattresses in the cabins are soaked through.  This seems like a "cottage moment" - better to know now that we've got rain problems than in the middle of a cruise.

 Gossamer Girl in her heyday 


Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Overnight, it seems ...

... we've gone from thermals, hot-water bottles and log fires to sun-hats while mowing the lawn, supper on the terrace and a swimming pool that's already warmed up to twenty-two degrees (that's over seventy fahrenheit!).

Let's hope summer's here to stay.

It was disconcerting during the cold patch to learn that the Orkneys were warmer than here. The owner of our local garden centre said the weather in May was "une catastrophe". Hopefully he will now see his customers emerging from their hibernation and planting up their immaculate potagers and buying their gaudy geraniums.

The cuckoo has found his (her?) voice again and I swear I heard my first mosquito as I was gardening yesterday evening

The tiny maize plants in Monsieur F's fields around us have all doubled in size since this morning and the daisies in the long grass on the bank beneath the wild rose that hasn't flowered yet have grown another foot.