Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Monday, December 11, 2006

I've been reading "A French Restoration"

As I wrote in September, a new Clive Kristen French Rennovation book was published with the rather long title "A French Restoration: The Pleasures and Perils of Renovating a Property in France". I've been enjoying reading the book myself for the last couple of weeks so I thought I'd pass on some thoughts in case anyone's thinking of getting a copy for Christmas.

So first off I should point out that the book is actually co-authored by David Johnson and Clive Kristen and tells the three year long tale of how David (and his wife Doris) decided to move to France, found their dream property in the Charente region, then lovingly renovated and turned it from an inhabitable shell into their family home.

The book has quite an easy style to read, each chapter (and there are lots) tells one aspect of their journey both with the house and with integrating into a rural French community - whether it's arriving to look at a property but the agent doesn't appear, knocking down walls in their house (and then needing to have an RSJ installed as the floor above started sagging), being given giant pumpkins by the neighbours or emptying their fosse for the first time, there's a good mixture of entertainment and facts mixed together.

There are many little anecdotes that I enjoyed throughout the book, quoting a couple of them ...

Firstly on buying a new washing machine
The salesman demonstrated a masterpiece of Teutonic engineering that could not only adjust to various water types but had programmes to perform all the laundry programmes you could imagine and some you may prefer not to. This was the cleansing equivalent of a NASA probe: smart, cutting edge, and ludicrously expensive. We went for it.

But I baulked at the delivery charge: an extra €20 to shift the machine a few kilometres.

'If it is so clever,' I argued, 'why not just give it a couple of euro and tell it to come on the bus?'

Either my French wasn't up to it, or washing machine salesmen are born with the humour switch jammed in the off position. We paid up.

Or on dealing with the problems of moles in the garden:
Fortunately the French have invented a cunning device to deal with moles. It comprises a small cylinder which contains batteries and two wires, which connect to a little red packet. This is the explosive charge.

All you have to do is open the mole run, drop in the cylinder, and change the setting button from securité to arme, and throw a little earth over the top. Then you take a comfy seat, open a can of 1664, and wait.

The theory is that the mole finds the obstacle in the run and tries to dig it out of the way. The vibration triggers the charge and the mole emerges from the hole like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

The only snag is this. It doesn't work. It is actually less successful pro rata than trying to seduce the creature to the surface by singing in moleish.

Over a fortnight of waiting I downed the best part of two cases of beer. It seemed to me by then that the options were either traditional mole traps, or alcoholism. On the last evening of my vigil, in desperation I think, I cursed the mole in both slurred French and drunken English.

That did the trick. I have not seen a mole in the garden since.

About three-quarters of the book tells David and Doris's renovation journey, the remainder contains practical facts and advice about buying and living in France (water and electricity prices, how to insure a car, income tax rules, etc), with a final section being a useful vocabulary of English to French building terms (and vice versa).

As you've probably guessed by now I quite like the book and am happy to recommend it to others who are thinking about buying in France, or just would like a bit of bedtime entertainment about someone else's trials and tribulations abroad. If I had one niggly little point it's that most of the chapters are (in my view) a teeny bit short. I'd have liked a bit more about in each section such as how David got the fosse emptied and tested, how much it cost, etc (sad person that I am). I guess though that putting too much details in would have risked loosing the story flow and the book may have suffered as a result.

I've still got about ¼ of the book to go so I'll write about my final thoughts when I've got to the end.

So there you are, "A French Restoration: The Pleasures and Perils of Renovating a Property in France" RRP's for £9.99 but is available from places such as Amazon for less (Amazon have it on for £6.59).

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