Posts Tagged ‘renovation’

It’s been a while since Hannah & Steve quit their jobs at the local hotel/restaurant to buy their own small little bistro not too far from here. There were allsorts of hassles with everything from potential business partners, to bank loans, to finding somewhere cheaper to live to regroup. They eventually moved into Chardonneret, here with us. With CoCo the hamster, and Bill the spaniel puppy. Their potential business partners pulled out, remaining friends though, leaving the way clear for Hannah & Steve to go it alone after finding a small restaurant for sale in a local village. The place had been closed for two years, and the present owners were happy for Hannah & Steve to buy. Various meetings with various banks and accountants ensued before the right offer was put before them with Banque Populaire. We went up to see the place with Hannah & Steve, and they explained their plans to us. We were meant to have around 6-weeks in which to refurbish the place. As we’ve come to expect from certain quarters of French life (we haven’t been disappointed yet) there were hurdles to jump. In the end, due to some amazingly silly problems, we were left with just 15 days to turn the run-down, unheated, unmodernised wreck into something resembling a restaurant!

l'Oeil de boeuf

The exterior, showing the very small window, the 'oeil de boeuf'!

Steve wanted the whole of the kitchen tiling from floor to ceiling. That was to be the single biggest job. There was a wall to build to seperate the kitchen from the washing up area too. That needed tiling from floor to ceiling as well. Upon measuring, we found there was in the region of 75m squared of tiles to fit! I felt faint at this point, seeing the fortnight in front of me stretching into eternity. After having smelling salts thrust under my nose, I realised that it wasn’t a nightmare, and that Steve really did want ALL of the three rooms comprising the kitchen area to be fully tiled. Top to bottom!


The kitchen as it was. Basic.

Hannah meanwhile, was explaining the décor she fancied for the walls, ceilings and tables. Cream for the walls, white for ceilings and red for the detail. All wallpaper in both the grande salle and the petite salle to be stripped, new wall lights to be fitted, then walls & ceilings re-papered. New ciling lights to replace the nasty neon strip lights! The paper chosen was a kind of fibreglass, glued on to any surface and then painted when dry. It’s seemingly indestructible and covers a multitude of sins, as we found out.

Petite salle

La Petite salle.

So, having been shown around the place, the barn with potential for an office upstairs, storage downstairs. The grenier with a brick-built partition wall separating the office upstairs from the grenier itself – a fantastic salle de réunion for the future. There’s also two smaller rooms and a shower room upstairs. One could be a sleepover room/office, the other they plan to use as a very small salle de réunion for now.

Grande salle

La Grande Salle

So – how to do it? I mentioned to them both that we’d used helpers from HelpEx before, and why don’t they give that a try? I helped them draft a listing on the HelpEx website, and a shout went out to anyone willing to come & get mucky transforming the place with us. Us being the two sets of parents, and various other friends and relatives with a few hours spare to devote to the cause. Help came in the form of two lovely Australian girls, bored with working in a London bar. They wanted to see a little bit of the ‘real’ France, and jumped at the chance to lend a hand! Clara & Kate arrived, and settled into the daily routine of sanding, painting, cleaning, papering, cleaning, cleaning and more cleaning! They were thrilled to have snow while we were working, the large flakes spreading like a white blanket over the village, deadening sound and forcing life behind closed shutters to await the thaw. It grew cold. Minus 12 on a good morning, though with radiators fitted inside the bulk of the restaurant, they were toasty enough. It was a different matter though at our house! We suffer a bit from the north winds at this time of year, pipes freezing, then thawing and often bursting, meaning lots of repairwork for me. Luckily though, we seem to have escaped without any bursts so far this winter.

Clara & Kate

Skipper Clara & Kaptain kate!

Just a day into the refurb, disaster struck. Hannah accidently hurt her foot, but bravely carried on for a few days. Deciding that she couldn’t take the pain much longer (after three days of hobbling around) a hospital visit confirmed that she had indeed broken her foot and would be in plaster for 4-5 weeks! Oh no! Who’s going to run front of house? She couldn’t with a pot on her leg! So then the search was on for a temporary replacement. Just until her foot was mended and the pot removed! A replacement was found, while work continued, and a contract was drawn up by the notaire for the temporary help. Phew! Relief! Quite apart from the obvious physical work in turning the shell into something completely different, there were other things to consider. A name for one! What to call it? It is a diamond-shaped building – quite unique, and the former name reflected that – ‘Le Diamant’! Obviously Hannah & Steve wanted to change that, but what to? We were compiling lists of potential names for ages, nothing seemed to fit. Then one day, whilst chatting with friends at their house, I mentioned that the building had a very small window in the grenier. An ‘oeil de boeuf’ as they’re called. It’s only small, but a feature non-the-less. Our friends said “there then, that’s your name!” We thought about it, and it grew on us, and we passed the idea on to Hannah & Steve. It wasn’t decided until it’d been placed in a hat with around ten others ‘shortlisted’, and drawn out, that ‘Oeil de Boeuf’ it would be! Luck? Or fate? Then there were signs to be designed, ordered and erected, beer pumps to be changed, accounts with suppliers to be found for everything from fresh food to napkins. I offered to build a very simple website for them, they chose the domain name and we were off and running! As well as a website Steve took a hint from us here at Le Chant and created a Facebook Page for the restaurant and quickly gathered fans! So much to be done, so very little time to do it in! As Christmas drew closer, it became evident that we’d really have to push hard to have the downstairs completed, leaving the upstairs until such time that there was a steady income from the resto, and more time to work on it. With Christmas almost upon us, it was time to say goodbye to the dynamic duo of Clara & Kate! They were off exploring, leaving us to our quiet, short family Christmas celebrations. So, with a final flourish of paintbrushes, they were dropped off at the train station in Saumur to catch a train to Paris and from there….who knows? Clara & Kate contributed an amazing amount in such a short space of time. Thanks to you both if you’re reading this. It was much appreciated, please do come back and see the fruits of your labour for real soon? Anyway, we planned to have a quiet Christmas at home. Just two days off, then a final push to get finished in time for New Year’s Eve – and the grand opening. Eeeek! Two days off for the festivities went by too quickly, and we saw little of our French guests, spending their own quiet Christmas in Héron. No sooner had we finished, that we were back at the restaurant, and working harder than ever to get things done! You reach a point in these projects where you think you’re getting nowhere and it becomes dispiriting. Then, out of nowhere, a light appears at the end of the tunnel and suddenly things take shape. The place was looking less like a building site and more like a restaurant with each passing hour now. Kitchen equipment was delivered, including the heaviest fridge in France! A certain wall needed to have been completely tiled so’s the fridge could be placed, and the pressure was mounting. It took four of us to lift in the fridge, and turn it around in a pretty confined space, but it was managed with good humour and no feet were broken! The oven was delivered, along with another two fridges. Steve and his brother made numerous trips back to his parent’s place to bring all the necessary cooking implements from out of storage at their garage under the house! Food and drink was delivered, or collected. The beer pumps were working, the under-counter chillers too, and it looked like the deadline would be met! There were one or two things that, with the constraints of time, just couldn’t be realised – one wall remains untiled, and the barn floor too. Other much smaller things, possibly unnoticed by punters, but glaringly obvious to us, will need sorting as time allows. The wall lights unfortunately weren’t able to be completed – missing an electrical switch, and all the Brico stores were closed! Then, just as things were progressing smoothly – yet another catastrophe! The girl meant to be serving in Hannah’s stead called to say that she’d decided not to, that she’d found something else! Just a day or so before opening night! So then the race was on to find a replacement! One was found, but couldn’t start until New Year’s day. Steve’s brother, Kevin and his girlfriend Gwendoline graciously offered to forego their own meal in order to serve! Offer gratefully accepted. So. Paint dried, curtains were hung, tables and chairs cleaned of dust and paint, and tables were decorated! Pictures were hung on the bare cream walls, and a stereo appeared, perched on a table. We borrowed tapes of classical music from Sheila et voila – an ambiance slowly but surely rose from the ashes of ‘le Diamante’, and l’Oeil de Boeuf was born. We were literally still ‘dressing’ the place as guests arrived for the opening night – New Year’s Eve, or Réveillon as they call it here in France. We were among the first to arrive, so thankfully no-one really noticed us surreptitiously placing lamps, or decorations here and there! Steve had been preparing, and cooking for a while and the smells coming from the kitchen were just lovely. Everyone who’d booked were true to their word and turned up, even though no deposits had been taken. Even the couple that own the local chateau turned up, took their places on the table next to us and appeared to have a great time! Hannah worked the bar, creating the house cocktails to go with the amuse bouches served first of all. She ‘meeted’ & greeted, accepted compliments about the place, and passed the time taking coats, and explaining how she’d broken her foot! Kevin & Gwendoline did a fantastic job serving drinks and cocktails, and the evening came alive. Food started to appear from the kitchen, bottles of wine were ordered and the general hubbub rose over the volume of the stereo, and Beethoven’s piano concerto faded into the background, replaced by the voices, laughter and shared experience of a lovely evening. I know I may be biased, my daughter being the co-owner and all that, but I think this place will do really, really well. Steve’s a good cook. He knows what he’s doing, and Hannah’s a great waitress and perfect for FOH! Hopefully, many of you reading this will get the chance to sample their fare when you visit us, or even the area. Please do put it on your list – give it a try and help support a rare venture. Two youngsters with a dream, and the guts to realise it! You won’t be disappointed!

All dressed up.

All dressed up, with somewhere to go! l'Oeil de boeuf!

Until the next time, au revoir!


All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2010


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Well, yet another year’s passed here at Le Chant d’Oiseau marked by a birthday. Today’s Hannah’s 19th and as of 7am this morning, she’s been at work. No promises of being home for lunch as usual as she’s setting up a wedding. Well, two weddings actually. Well, I say weddings, but she’s not actually arranging the nuptials, she’s helping to create the reception. This is indeed a very busy time of year for the restaurant she works for, Le Pélican, as it seems that everyone wants to be married outside the peak periods of July & August. So, May & June are very, very popular here. Almost as popular as weddings are births. Our local creperie owners, Arnaud & Valerie are expecting the birth of their first child at any moment now (pretty much like I’m expecting a call from the UK to tell me I’m an uncle for the first time!). Valerie was evidently ‘ready to pop’ yesterday when Syb & I visited after doing the recycling to make a reservation for 6 for yesterday evening. Seeing as how we couldn’t celebrate on the day itself, we did so a night earlier. When you’re as old as 19, a day or so doesn’t really matter too much!

I was wandering around a local market at Noyant this morning in the sunshine, just taking in the sights & sounds as you do when you’re a man of leisure! Well, I was for almost 15 minutes, then back to the grind here. I was amazed at how many expectant mums there were. It was like there’d been a coach load delivered from Mothercare or something! It’s lovely to see such procreation among the locals really, as we’re so rural it sort of guarantees the continuation of the schools etc. It’s also nice to see younger families around too, as many of the local inhabitants are middle aged. Like us really, I guess although I don’t feel particularly so. The demographics must be changing quite substantially though, as we’ve noticed even in the short three years that we’ve been here, more younger couples and families are buying locally and living la vie francaise en campagne, rather than migrating to the bright lights of the cities. Take our own lane for example. Where we are, the houses are stretched along the lane at roughly 1 kilometre intervals. Now, there’s Nicole & Lionel (mid to late 50’s) then us (mid 40’s), Gerard & Sylviane (60’s). But, in very recent times a young couple have renovated and moved into what was a hunting lodge next door to Gerard, they have a couple of small kids and they’re very pleasant. Now, we’ve learned that Gerard (upon his imminent retirement) is moving out of the big farmhouse into a smaller house being built on his asparagus field next door. The farmhouse will then be taken over (as will the farming) by Gerard’s son, Loic. Thus continuing the family farming traditions that stretch to 4 generations of Douaires! Further round the lane there’s a single-storey dwelling that’s been empty as long as we’ve been here. No more, it’s now got a small family living there, and the place has come alive again! There’s also a young family living on the corner at Gue d’Allouette. They wave lots, and I’ve chatted with them a few times. It’s not like the UK, given the distance these folks live from us, in the UK, they’d almost be in the next village! One of these days though, I intend to invite ALL of our friends and neighbours ’round here for a big party. Possibly on our 5th anniversary of our lives in France. That’ll be interesting, seeing how they mix with our predominantly English guests.

So, I’m fascinated by our (very) local demographics, and I’m interested to know why these younger families are choosing a pretty isolated life over one in the villages or towns close by? Maybe, as we hear so often from our British guests, it’s because they want to give their kids the chance to grow up in relative safety, with the assurance of a healthy lifestyle, away from the lures of drugs, boy-racers, fast-food etc. Maybe they’ve just fallen (as we have) for the sheer beauty of the rural landscape? I’ll ask, and report back!

I started off writing this in order to mark another family milestone, and to wish our daughter not only a lovely birthday, but also a wonderful rest of her life. As is my wont, I strayed a bit into other dimensions. Hope you don’t mind?

Until the next time, au revoir.


All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2008

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Firstly, my sincerest apologies. It’s been far too long since I posted any updates. I know family & friends have been waiting with bated breath so I expect most of them are either dead by now or gotten bored and sauntered off to the bar.

Where to begin? It’s been so long, so much has happened and we’ve become so accustomed to life here now that it seems like I’m actually starting afresh with the Blog. From an entirely new perspective as it were. The last time we spoke, it was coming up to our second Christmas away from the UK, with all the heartaches that follow. Well, it didn’t go too badly as a matter of fact. Mainly due to the fantastic support of good mates who teamed up to come over for New Year and the brave souls who ventured south to the Loire as paying guests. Christmas & New Year came & went without too much ado and the New Year started off very promising, with guests calling in on their way south at a regular pace. Caravaner’s are a curious breed. Not strange, as there’s a part of the Nomad in most of us, just curious. They up sticks and leave loved ones behind at times like Christmas & New Year in search of fun, sea (sometimes), adventure (usually) and better weather….

Anyway, moving swiftly on….oh, ok. You want to know about the weather? Well this winter was one of the wettest here in France for a very long time. Rivers burst, lakes were overflowing and the fosses (roadside ditches) that hadn’t seen water in 15 years were actually flowing. With a current! In fact, if I still had my Action Man, he’d have been strapped into a canoe and force fed down said fosses being beaten with a stick to make him go faster.

Anyway, winter came & went and now the sun’s generally shining. March & April are cracking months here. The past few years we’ve either been here visiting Le Chant d’Oiseau or living here have given us brilliant weather in February, March & April, while May has brought wind and showers. Still, it’s twenty-to June now and the weather’s on the up. The pool’s been used already. We had some sturdy kids from the UK over camping at Easter and they begged me to get it ready for them. It was 20 degrees in there though which isn’t bad!

We’ve made some good friends over the period of time that we’ve been apart dear reader. We’re really fortunate to have John & Mary North as neighbours and we’ve become really good pals. They’re from Bratferd you see. That’s why they have the audacity to drive a blue van instead of French Standard Issue White…John & Mary also introduced us to Bernard and Mauricette Percevault who we’d like to think are good friends of ours. I’ll tell you all about Bernard, the duck and the bike in the fosse the next time we speak. Until then…

Au Revoir.


All content © Le Chant d’Oiseau, 2006-2007.

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So sorry that we haven’t posted an update in such a long time, we’ve been busy you see? Syb & I finally moved into our new bedroom on the 14th May. It was a Sunday. The kids, (well Hannah & Niall) had been in theirs for a few weeks previous. We’d been determined to have just one last ‘push’, a combined effort on two fronts prior to the defence of the campsite and gites from the massed hordes of holidaymakers waiting just across the channel….sorry, that’s ‘The Longest Day’…wrong movie! Anyway, we got the kids’ rooms decorated and bedroom furniture erected and they were in there, revelling in their new surroundings, while Syb & I were feeling the pressure to move out of Goldfinch (our ‘baby gite, remember?), and into our new room before our next lot of guests arrived. After several long days spent plastering, sanding, painting, re-plastering, varnishing etc. at 11:30pm after just having finished making the bed, Syb & I sat with legs dangling from our dormer window drinking large G&T’s. Actually, when I said ‘making the bed’, I really did mean ‘making the bed’. One of those flat-pack things from Sesame. Great bed, comfy as hell! We’d passed the component parts and the mattress through the open dormer windows and built it up, made it with our fresh, new bedding and in we were. A triumph of mind over matter!

So, there we were with some semblance of normality as a family. For the first time in almost a year, we were all of us under the same roof. Er, except for Liam! Liam was largely out of the equation as he’d accepted a job with a well-known camping holiday provider on the west coast of France, and was living over at Les Sables d’Olonne. That gave us a bit of ‘grace’ as we knew that he wasn’t due back at Le Chant until the first week in September! We had loads of time to get his room finished!

Anyway, we were by this time fairly busy with guests, both in the gites and on the campsite. Things were indeed looking up.

Actually, we’d been reasonably busy for quite some time. We’d had a steady stream of guests stay with us all through winter, some who returned a few weeks or months later on their way back from the south just to see how we’d got on. All were surprised by the amount we’d managed to get done in the short time we’d been custodians of Le Chant. I say ‘custodians’ because with a house this old, that’s all you ever can be. No-one will ever own Le Chant truly, it’s something to be looked after, cherished and added to without detracting from its natural beauty in the lifetime that you share with it. It’s a home, sure. It’s a fantastic place to live, and we’re very proud of it, but I feel that we’re only ‘looking after it’. Anyway, I digress. Some of the guests we’ve had have been the most marvellous characters, full of stories of where they’d been, what they’d seen. It does actually make us quite envious sometimes of the way some folk can just ‘up & go’. Then again, we chat to them long enough and they in turn tell us of their envy that we live in such a beautiful place. So, it’s all swings & roundabouts really. Remind me to tell you next time of some of the delightful people we’ve had through the gates at Le Chant d’Oiseau, it has been a priviledge to meet them all.

Until then, au revoir.


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Just being in a foreign country has enough trials & tribulations of its own anyway. Actually living in a foreign country is doubly so. Triply, even quadruply! (I know it’s not a word….). The simplest things require a level of thought previously unknown. If you want something, you have to ask for it. There’s no getting away with pointing, and mumbling at a Frenchman (or woman). They expect you to discuss, to converse. They love to stand & chat, and it’s a great way to live from day to day. You take the car down to the village, you park up, and meander down to the shops, nodding at people along the way. They nod back, and that’s fine. You actually lull yourself into a false sense of security like this. The more times you repeat the park-meander-nod exercise, the more people get to know you, well by sight anyway. When they know you by sight, it sort of qualifies as being their long lost brother/son/father (insert relative of choice here). Then they don’t just nod, they call out to you. Yes YOU! They cross the street, they shake your hand, and ask how you are and stuff. It’s actually quite scary. You see, back in the UK, if someone shouted at you from across the street, it wasn’t too bad, because the amount of traffic exceeding the speed limit gave you a certain amount of time to run like hell. Here there’s no traffic, and you can’t run anyway, mainly because you’re laden down with the European croissant mountain, but it’s also just plain rude. And anyway, they only want to pass the time of day, not turn you upside down and shake you till your teeth fall out.

So anyway, I have to learn the language better than I am doing at the ‘mo, because my current exposure to the language is mainly within the confines of the builder’s yards. It doesn’t make for interesting conversations, and invites to ‘Apero’, when you’re limited to telling them you’d like 15 metres of slate lathes and 4 bags of cement!

On a more pleasant note, my youngest, Niall’s had his first game of football for Mouliherne now! They played on Saturday, and drew 3-3. The coach seemed very pleased with the way Niall & his mate Romain played together. Not that I witnessed any of this, I was too busy trying to plasterboard our bathroom upstairs.

Oh, and Hannah had a visit to the Lycée in Saumur on Friday. She returned from the trip absolutely bursting with enthusiasm. So it seems like there’s a slim chance I’ll still have my daughter in the same country as me come September. Hopefully in a French Lycée! She’s also getting along well with a couple of the French girls who’ve taken her under their wings. They write letters to each other all the time. They’re really sweet to read actually, there’s no embarrassment with the language skills, or lack of them, and they actually do seem to genuinely like Hannah. That’s doing her confidence a world of good. And when your kids are happy, you’re happy!

Thought I’d try & insert a picture here. This is the grenier with the new joists laid, and the studwork partition walls being assembled. Liam’s turned into quite a dab hand with the studwork, so we’ve christened him ‘Stud Muffin’….If this works, I’ll try & post some more pics the next time. Until then, au revoir!


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