Country Pile of…


We normally stay in France for around five days at Christmas, heading home around now. Thinking about the Boxing Day shopping crowds and the hours we might have been stuck on the M25 today, it’s probably for the best that we stayed longer this time in order to do some decorating in the house at Auxelles.

I’ve been visiting this place for nearly 20 years, my wife’s great aunt lived there, and I think every time I sort of tried not to breathe too much in the place, which smelled musty and damp, and of cats and chickens and small rodents. But now the place is empty, we have the opportunity to use it as a base for our visits, which beats staying anywhere near my father-in-law.

But it’s a dump, sure enough, and it needs a lot of work to make it work. In the summer, before the old lady had even died, we threw out a lot of stuff: old straw bedding and ancient blankets among other things. My wife painted a couple of the bedrooms in October, and this time we’re tackling the kitchen, bathroom, and other downstairs rooms.

The kitchen cupboards were full of food, purchased in bizarre quantities for one old person living alone. Most of it was out of date. In addition, we kept finding cupboards full of booze, a lot of it home-made. She wasn’t even a big drinker, but they sure did make a lot of hooch from plums, blackberries, and other fruits of the hedgerow harvest. Eight buckets of filthy water later, the cupboards are ready for a coat of paint. The problem appears to be layers of soot from the wood burning range cooker. Don’t get excited: everything in the house seems to have been replaced or updated in the worst possible era for design fashion. The kitchen range looks like a hideous 60s/70s appliance and has no charm at all (see photo above). Its tiny flue leads into a massive (unlined) chimney that hasn’t been swept in years. There’s also an ugly gas bottle cooker. The best thing in the kitchen is a red Formica table, which you can also see above.

Today, I painted the tiles in the toilet and bathroom. In an ideal world, we’d rip the whole lot out and replace, but inheriting* a house like this is a poisoned chalice when you have enough trouble paying for the place you already (don’t) own. I’d like a new Lacanche cooker, but you can’t have everything. There were a lot of ugly, brown-patterned tiles in the two rooms. I’m perpetually bewildered that at some point in history, someone chose to have a brown bathroom suite. Anyway, I completed the undercoating. Tomorrow, or the next day, I’ll paint the top coat, and pray that the brown pattern won’t show through.

I also looked in the cellar, and wished I hadn’t. You can’t unsee the rotten beams being held up by stays, nor the broken concrete covering of one of the many wells on the property. As my daughter helpfully pointed out, the well in the cellar is straight out of Ringu. The place was full of fruit, vegetables, and booze (of course). Most of the wine was the type you’re supposed to drink as soon as you get it home from the supermarket. There looked to be a couple of bottles of champagne, but they were on the other side of *the well*.

The barn next door is full of firewood, and there are more wood piles outside. It would be good to get some kind of wood burning appliance working, if only to avoid invoking the noisy (but quite new) gas central heating boiler in the bathroom. You can see below the charming olde worlde wood burning stove in the front room. But this hasn’t been used in decades. I’d replace it with something newer in a heartbeat. It’s probably worth something, but looks really complicated to use.

*Inherit is the wrong word, it belongs to my mother-in-law. But you get the point.


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