When we bought Fontalbe we were aware that it would take more than a “lick of paint” to bring her back to life. Despite what our ever-optimistic agent alleged. There were no bathrooms, no bedrooms, no plumbing, no electrics and no floors. When we speak of a lick of paint we are talking well over a kilometre squared of the stuff that it has taken to paint walls, shutters and floors so far. That’s a lot of paint. Every time we visited it seemed to grow, it was like she was growing extra square footage just to spite us. To be fair, we hadn’t actually walked on many of the rotten floors before we had bought Fontalbe, merely poked our head through a dusty hatch and thought it looked ok, so we didn’t really know how big it really was. When our designer – a man not known for his show of emotions – first saw it he opened his eyes very wide and gave a little excited squeak.
It was (and still is) frankly terrifying.
After an incredible amount of hard work from our builders, we ostensibly now have a livable house and a very glamorous Gite. Fontalbe, though, is fighting back. She is determined to push us to the limits. Not content with draining our bank accounts and giving us sleepless nights she now, like an irascible toddler or a grumpy old lady, wants to see just how far she can push us. And she is doing a pretty good job.
No job, however seemingly easy or straightforward works goes to plan. Even the smallest job which we think will take ten minutes turns into an epic battle with concrete, mud and machinery and results in swearing, sighing and cut fingers. And wine.
Compare the Meerkat
Putting up loo roll holders? Simples? No. Not simples. Not at Fontalbe. Out of seven holders; five hit concrete, two went straight through plasterboard.
Curtain poles? How hard can that be? Very, very hard in a seventeenth-century mill where EVERY SINGLE window is a different height, where the floor slopes and where you have to drill through ancient stone. It’s almost as if the walls move with the seasons. A particularly special moment came when Greg shot backwards after drilling through cables that were cunningly hidden behind render. The resultant power failure was swiftly followed by a Dordogne-wide power cut that we (genuinely) thought that we were responsible for until we looked out of the window and saw felled trees after a sudden storm.
We had to have two new septic tanks (fosses septiques sounds so much more romantic) installed for the Gite and left our builder with the seemingly easy task of digging holes and dropping the tanks in. You know you have a bit of an issue when the normally unflappable builder tells you that there is “une grande problem”. La grande probleme turned out to be enormous, concrete trout tanks cunningly buried underneath our lawn – of course we have trout tanks, what Mill is complete without them? Looking into the history of Fontalbe it appears that for some years she was home to a trout farm that involved large concrete tanks and tunnels being installed in what is now our garden. These subterranean monstrosities meant that rather than dig two large, neat holes the builder had to dig about forty-five holes, smashing through concrete and generally acting like a very big, petrol powered mole. We are now the proud owners of two new septic tanks, neatly buried and working beautifully. We are also the proud owners of a lawn that resembles the Somme. Thanks, Fontalbe.
As I write this we carry the hard-fought title of “the slowest internet speed that the special internet man has ever seen”. Fontalbe clearly does not wish to be dragged into the 21st Century as our internet is currently slower than dial-up on a bad day. Oh, and you can only get any WIFI at all if you sit on the corner of the sofa pointing your phone at the Livebox. We had a minor celebration when our friend found some 4G on the property. The corner by the lake (empty lake…yes, I know) has now been christened “4G Corner” in its honour and we are going to put a bench there so that people can very, very, very slowly search their Facebook feed. At least they will be able to sit down. And it is a very pretty corner.
We had been assured that the thick walls of Fontalbe would mean that it would be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. This proved to be a lie. Yes, in the summer it is deliciously cool in the house, wonderful to step from stifling 40-degree heat into a fridge. In the winter though it is cold. Very, very cold. I had to watch TV under a blanket wearing thermals, a poncho and a woolly hat. I purchased a deeply unattractive, fluffy dressing gown which has turned out to be one of my best ever buys and has prevented me from catching hypothermia in the dash between shower or loo and the bedroom.
Dreams, dust and dirt
What Fontalbe doesn’t know, but is hopefully beginning to grasp, is that we are determined too. Perhaps she is just testing us to make sure that we are the right people for her? Sometimes it is disheartening and sometimes it is downright depressing but we haven’t lost sight of our dreams in all of the rubble, dust and dirt. We have our first paying guests arriving in August and we can’t wait to share Fontalbe with them. I hope she’s in a good mood.