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.
Nancy went to Pamplona for the Fiesta de San Fermín for the first time two years ago on a research trip for a novel she’s writing, and came home totally in love. I had promised to go with her this year, despite being really very dubious about how I would be able to enjoy a festival centred around bullfights and running away from bulls pre-fight in abject, macho stupidity. I’m very much a vegetarian, so animal torture and death doesn’t put me in much of a partying mood, despite the cultural context.
All that being said, San Fermínes was AMAZING.
It’s remarkably easy to go the whole fiesta (or at least the four days we were there) without seeing a single doomed bull. The streets are full of music and happy people and sangría and children dancing in their fancy white clothes and red scarves. We saw a Basque language improv songwriting contest, a wood-sawing competition, seven different marching bands, enormous wood and paper mache giants marching through the streets, and some Basque folk dancing. And the fireworks, you guys. No music, nothing to hide behind, just some of the most incredible pyrotechnic displays I have ever seen.
We also drank a lot of sangría and kalimoxo (red wine mixed with cola – sounds gross, tastes DIVINE) and camped in the back of our car. It was not our classiest holiday ever, but damn it was a good time.
Shame someone broke into our car right at the end, but we had all our valuables in the left luggage or with us, so all the prospective thieves took was one of our windows, and left a bunch of broken auto glass in its place. Reporting the incident at the police station afterward was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life, but that’s because I’ve apparently traded in all my Spanish language skills for French at the moment. Damn Romance languages.
London / Liverpool
Otherwise known as THE CROWNING OF DOCTOR BEE! Nancy’s graduation ceremony in Liverpool was a family affair – her parents, sister, and sister’s brand new fiancé came with us to see her dress up as a Hogwarts professor in a silly hat and walk across a stage in 30 degree C weather, and ascend into doctor of philosophyhood.
I could not be more proud of my wife if I had a whole additional body just to store my pride in. She is the smartest, hardest working, most dedicated person I know; she went through hell to get this degree done, and it is not only an amazing achievement but also a compelling, fascinating piece of research that she still loves, despite how hard it was to get through the writing of it. (Ps – If anyone has any questions about her PhD, I probably know the second-most about it of anyone in the world, so please ask away! Or, ask her, tbh, she’s the world expert in her field.)
Being back in England post-Brexit was awful in some ways, thinking about how uncertain the future is and seeing just how lost and horrified people feel firsthand, and fantastic in others, because misery loves company. Sharing my feelings of bemused horror with my fiends and relatives and having them reflect it back at me was cathartic, at least, even if we haven’t put the world totally to rights yet.
Plus, we saw Ghostbusters (which was fucking brilliant) and Star Trek: Beyond (SO GOOD, RETURN TO FORM, MY TREKKIE HEART IS SO FULL) in English, so that was a sweet bonus.
Everything Happens So Much
Upon arrival back from England, a lot of things all had to happen at the very same time. We had a five-day period in which we had to get our gite (the holiday home we’d been living in) ready for N’s parents and sister to come and stay, move ourselves into the caravan in the garden of our under-construction, uninhabitable house, get a temporary electricity solution sorted out at said house (our electrician wasn’t due to come start doing our rewiring in the house until September), and pick up our brand new kitten in Sarlat, an hour and a half drive away. So of course, what happens is this: we go pick up Pomme the kitten the day we get back, having done a load of grocery shopping first. New kitten was unbearably adorable, and was also covered in fleas. As she had just turned old enough to have flea treatment, we went straight to the vet to pick some up. So far, so good, right?
Well. We pull up to the vet’s office just as the ‘oh shit your car is WAY TOO HOT’ light comes on. We pop the hood to take a look, and our coolant fluid? Is BOILING. Literally, actually bubbling away like a cauldron. So there we are, stuck in a dead car with a scared new kitten, a bunch of rapidly spoiling groceries, in the blazing sun on a 30 degree scorcher of a day.
BUT THEN IT GETS WORSE, because our beloved little beater of a car, named Blanchette after a friend’s goat, had a blown head gasket. We very quickly learned the French phrase for ‘blown head gasket’, and learn that this means the car will not be drivable in the near future. We ended up being rescued by our friend Marianne, who heroically saved the day with food and panaché and excellent company, and then leant us a car for a few days to boot.
However, we were still abruptly carless, and driving this very kindly loaned English car on French roads taught me quickly that I do NOT have the brain capacity to handle right-hand drive while driving on the right hand side of the road. I managed it without incident, but damn was I a WRECK. Nancy very kindly took over driving duties after my fourth freak-out.
Luckily, Nancy’s dad – arriving with her mum and sister to visit our patch of La France Profonde and see our small house in situ – used to teach auto shop at high school, and knows an awful lot about cars. With his expert help, we found, test-drove, and bought another excellent beater of a car, which he proceeded to then fix various bits and pieces of for us, even though he was on holiday.
We also found some time to see some sights.
Eventually N’s parents went home, and we’ve spent most of the intervening days between then and now working tirelessly – and then, increasingly very tiredly – on the house. Scenes from a Renovation Life will follow shortly, but for now, I leave you with a couple of very sleepy kitties.