What’s going on

HI, EVERYONE. Sorry for the extended … seven months of silence?

Here’s the thing about being an amateur house renovator: I had no idea how much energy it takes to do manual labour all day. Everything about that last sentence is one great big display of my previously-desk-bound middle-class privilege, but it’s really true. Working with your hands all day – building walls, hauling large rocks from point A to point B, mixing cement and lime plaster by hand (because those mixing drum things you can rent are stupid expensive, apparently), digging holes, sawing wood, screwing wood back together in different shapes? That shit is EXHAUSTING.

Essentially, I went into this blogging project thinking I would be able to get to the end of a long day’s work, sit down after dinner with my laptop and a glass of wine, and bash out a post about the day’s activities, then go to bed at a reasonable time and do it all again the next day. That has been proven to be utterly impossible. Neither Nancy nor I have had anything approaching any energy for so much as reading an improving book of an evening since we started gutting this house in earnest. It’s been a bit of a hellride, to be totally honest.

But now that the holidays are over, winter is fully here, and we are almost (almost!) at a point where we can actually sleep inside this little house (rather than in the caravan we’ve had parked in the garden since July), we are starting to work a little less intensely full-time on the renovations. Creating work-life balance on a project that is literally all around you, surrounding you day in, day out, at all times, is a really weird thing to try to achieve, but we are determined to make it work, and give our brains some time and spare energy to do some more purely intellectual work.

Which leads me to this: I am going to now, finally, be able to start posting about all the ridiculous stories I’ve collected from the past six months of trying to build a house and not knowing what the hell we’re doing! So please, watch this space.

In the meantime, here is a round-up I started writing in August of all of the various adventures I had with Nancy over the summer.  Continue reading


The Silence of the Sheep

It’s been a very difficult several days at Chez Bee. The stress and strain of functioning at a high level in a second language every day is already significant, and on top of that there’s the actual physical stresses and strains of working on the house. We are making some real, solid progress, and I’m finding that the vast majority of the work is properly fun, but the general level of fatigue can’t be underestimated.

On top of all of that, the UK “Brexit” referendum happened and the result was horribly upsetting on every level. I feel like my adopted home country has unceremoniously cut me adrift. Even though I am still an EU citizen (thanks for being Irish, Dad!) and I’m in the middle of building a life in another country entirely, it’s a shitty, shitty feeling. And on top of the emotional aspect of the results, we now have to be worried about the fact that basically all of our money is still in pounds, and the pound is down through the floorboards in value. Adulting has rarely been this hard.

All that being said, I have so much to talk about that it simply will not do to sit and dwell on the anxiety, the uncertainty of the future, and my physical and emotional exhaustion, SO.   Regular blogging service will recommence herewith, with a story and a recipe.

Continue reading

What a difference a chainsaw makes

(Disclaimer: I did not actually wield the chainsaw.)

Here I was, thinking I’d be able to get this post up the very next day after the last one. What I did not manage to take into account with that thought process is just how TIRING this whole house renovation malarkey really is. I’ve been exhausted! Luckily, Nancy and I have quite a bit of progress to show for our efforts.

This is what our garden looked like on day 1.


Welcome to the jungle

We have had about 12,000 years of rain down here (mild hyperbole; at least nothing here is flooding like Paris has been), so it’s no wonder that things were looking so lush, so vibrant, and quite so overgrown. Still, we looked at that dense wall of vegetation, looked at Madame Suzy’s modest collection of traditional gardening tools, and wondered how the hell we were going to do this.

After a day’s work in the garden, this is what it looked like.


Who knew we had chairs??

How’d we get so much done, you ask? We got very lucky, and borrowed someone who owns his own chainsaw.

Since we knew the little house wasn’t going to be habitable for a solid few months at least, we’ve been renting a holiday property (or ‘gite’ en français) about 7 minutes drive away from the village, from a lovely lady named Hélène. For the past week, Hélène’s brother has been visiting, and since she doesn’t do a lot of DIY or gardening herself, he brought a whole host of power tools to help her out. Her brother – who, hilariously, we’ve been told to call ‘Lulu’, though neither N nor I have actually tried that out yet – very kindly offered to come round our place with his magic toolbox of plant destruction.

The number of Evil Dead quotes I managed to stop myself saying while this was going on: at least 7.

He also has a little trailer thing behind his car, and offered to take our garden waste away and save it for a bonfire once everything’s dried out. Of course, getting quite so much vegetation to fit into a small trailer was not the world’s easiest task. My solution was… unorthodox, I guess?

When in doubt, step on things until they fit, right?

After Lulu the chainsaw/strimmer-wielder headed off for the day, Nancy and I kept going with plain old hand tools. Madame Suzy clearly had a cultivated little patch of ivy growing somewhere, and in the couple of years since her death that once-tame ivy has totally assimilated the whole surface area of the garden, growing up and over existing trees, up walls, into sheds, EVERYWHERE. Ivy: the Borg of plant life.


*whispers* Resistance is futile.


Digging ivy up out of a gravel yard feels a bit like that scene in The Hurt Locker where Jeremy Renner thinks he’s got one bomb, but then he pulls five more out of the ground all around him, only with plant-based annoyance instead of the fear of imminent death by explosion.


Where is all this ivy COMING FROM? – Jeremy Renner, probably

However, we persevered in raking and pulling up most of our twiney nemesis, and managed to get a lot of free-floating aggression and negativity out of our systems in the process. Nothing like taking out your grump on some unsuspecting-yet-evil plantlife.

Our garden is actually twice as big as those pictures up above imply, though, and almost half of its surface area had been totally blocked off by two previously-separate hedges which had grown together to create one enormous super-hedge wall of greenery. We had only managed to get in there to see it once before, by scaling an embankment and climbing over a fence, a series of dead trees, and through a bramble patch at the bottom edge of our property.

I really, really wanted to end the day with a clear access path from the house to the as-yet inaccessible part of the garden. I have no idea why this was so important to me – I’ve never been a keen gardener, as my parents (similarly disinterested in plants) and my grandmother (a green-thumbed genius with all things growing) can attest. Maybe somewhere in my subconsciousness, my childhood self was whispering in my ear about having my very own Secret Garden, years and years after that book first took root in my imagination.

Whatever my reasons, with Lulu and his chainsaw gone, I was going to have to do this the old-fashioned way.  I grabbed our lone pair of gardening shears and headed for the hedge wall.  After the better part of an hour of sweat, scratches, internalised disgust at how gross the wet undersides of hedge branches are when they touch your hands, more sweat, and quite a lot of talking to the plantlife (“that’s right, you fucker, you get OFF OF THERE, oh shit you’re attached to twelve other things, DAMMIT” snip snip SNIP), I accomplished my goal.

And took a triumphant selfie, of course.



Of course, as a perfect metaphor for this whole house-doing-up experience, this is what awaited me on the other side of the hedge, at the back of the garden.


For scale, those brambles are taller than I am. So… hobbit height, at least.

We’re getting things done, we’re working hard pretty much every day, we’re getting quite a bit of crap out of our path as we forge ahead, but my goodness, we still have a ways to go. And behind the hedge, exponentially more work awaits us.

Luckily, we know a guy with a chainsaw.



Three days ago, I walked through this gate with the keys to the front door in my pocket.

It doesn’t exactly impress at first glance, my house. The fence is in a terrible state of repair, with – as you can see – the wood of the gate itself falling to bits. The garden is ludicrously overgrown, two and a half years of ivy and weeds climbing over each other to carpet everything in their path. The cedars reaching into the top left corner of the photo above are a riot of birdsong; the roses on the right snatch at clothes and careless fingers as you walk past. Everything is damp from weeks of rain, smelling of wet earth and growing things.

Then you get inside, and everything smells exponentially more damp.  Continue reading