Friday, 22 October 2010

On progress, and the revolting French

This is a bit of a sad week for me: yesterday was my last day (for this year at least) working at the yoga centre, which is about to close for holidays until next May. I've done some lovely stuff with some lovely people from all over the world, met some other folk living locally who came, through word of mouth, for regular sessions, and reclaimed a bit of me that's been filed under 'pending' in a cupboard for the last eight years. Much as I'd love to have carried on working with my local clients over the winter, reality (as in a seriously unfinished réno and a long suffering partner who'd probably kill me) has set in and so it's back on with the blue overalls seven days a week, head down, and full on with all the outstanding bits of work.

Have you ever noticed how things that you set up in your mind as terminally difficult actually turn out to be relatively straightforward (and vice versa)?. Just a week ago, we started to put up the bookshelves in the new dining room, which on its mezzanine level has an alter ego as a library. We swiftly discovered that the wall consisted of plasterboard dotted and dabbed onto hollow brick ... some 10 centimetres away from it. Now why oh why oh why would you do that?? The dots (or is it the dabs?) were dabbed (or dotted) at random, so no chance of screwing the shelves through them. And a brief attempt to fix through the placo and into the brick was not exactly successful - it chewed up the placo then fell out of the brick, in spite of the biggest wall plug in the world. Clearly there was nothing for it but to build a made-to-measure shelving system from scratch - a solution we'd hoped to avoid because of the bizarre dimensions of the space. Sigh. So with heavy hearts, a design was swiftly put together - to accommodate sloping walls, sloping ceiling and sloping floor - wood was duly bought, and over the week the carcasses were duly made (by John), lasured (by me), and hoisted up to the mezzanine (by both of us),

And it worked.

(Yes, I know there are no shelves. Be patient. There will be.)

I'm beginning to think that creating this dining room is just about the most dramatic, and rewarding, thing that we're doing: not only does it give us a whole new room and link up the two previously separated bits of the house, it really opens up a sense of space and light as you walk into the hallway from the front door: whereas once you saw this

now you see this:

Which is just a great step forward, and gives us both the courage and the wherewithal to go on. So the next month (maybe more) will see us putting up a spiral staircase to the library area, building new oak steps down from the hall, fitting oak windowsills and skirting boards, repairing and sanding and finally painting the balustrade and window frames and doors, deep cleaning and oiling the terracotta tiles and building cupboards across the back wall using some reclaimed shutters we found in a local depôt vente.

Meanwhile, unless you've had your head in a paper bag this last week or so you'll know that the French are revolting: ostensibly at the proposed pension reforms but also I think, underneath, out of sheer despair at Sarkozy, his style of leadership and the general unfairness that his policies engender in so many levels of society. Schools are closed, transport is affected, fuel is desperately short with a quarter of petrol stations empty and millions of people, including large numbers of students, have taken to the streets. Life as we know it has been inconvenienced but do you know what? I'm proud to live in a country where people care, and are willing to show outwardly that they care rather than living in depressed apathy and/or finding a scapegoat to kick. The French, I believe, feel no differently from those living in other European countries where policies increasingly ask 'the people' (for want of a better phrase) to pay while capital continues to accumulate in the hands of the few: they're just more accustomed to showing it. And so the protests have my support, as well as that of over 70 per cent of the population, who clearly feel the way one protester on Saturday did:

The placard reads: "Carla, on est comme toi, on se fait niquer par le chef d'état" ...

 Look it up!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Culture shock

I just got back yesterday from a fast and furious weekend (out Friday afternoon, back Monday morning) in London, working with a group of bodyworkers and therapists. It's a while since I was in London, though I spent a lot of years living and working there and know it pretty well. But oh boy, did I struggle with it this time ...

It all began pretty well, with an on time flight and a quick and easy train ride on the Stansted Express. With a bit of time in hand, I decided to make a pilgrimage to one of my favourite bookshops, Watkins Books. Great bookshop, crap location: in a small alley just off Charing Cross Road, and right by Leicester Square tube. Mistake. Sardines and strap-hanging in the tube I can cope with; I even managed not to disgrace myself with my ignorance of how to use my new Oyster Card. The West End crowds, however, were another story. From the moment I emerged from the underground, I was swept up into a gigantic and frantic crowd of people, all trying to get somewhere I didn't want to go. It was impossible to counter the current. I felt claustrophobic, disorientated. Everybody seemed to have an impossible number of carrier bags (crise? What crise???) or, worse, a pull-along suitcase - yes, my legs have the bruises to prove it - and the vast majority seemed interested only in pursuing their chosen course, utterly oblivious to the presence of other persons, who were simply pushed out of the way. I'm really not trying to offend anyone here and I'm sorry if you're a Londoner, but it was horrendous, shocking: as the French would say, hallucinant.

After an hour of this I wanted to cry and after two I wanted to come home. It was that bad. It continued to be That Bad, too, as I made my way up towards north London to join my group; I felt increasingly invisible, irrelevant, dispensable. I wasn't a person but a thing, an object. I was a grockle, a fish out of water. I wondered how people who live there cope without becoming depressed or homicidal: the noise, the lack of space, the all-encompassing concrete-ness, the traffic, the sheer number of people, the lack of politesse or just basic respect for others' needs and personhood. I guess you just have to close down, to put a wall around you, to grow a thick skin, to put yourself first. And there, of course, is the rub.

I did have a great weekend, working with some great people - one of whom was (and I almost wrote 'also' here!) French, another was also an emigrant, having moved to live and work in Ibiza. But clearly, with four more such weekends coming up over the next 15 months, I need a creative strategy, and one that isn't of the thick-skin-growing 'if you can't beat 'em join 'em' variety because that's just not me. So, any city dwellers out there got advice for a Pyrenean neo-paysanne?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

House of ladders

Blog silence has reigned for a couple of weeks while we've been ... up ladders. Not 'a' ladder, you'll notice; no, the plural is deliberate.

We've been (finally, and only two years later than originally scheduled ...) lime washing the walls of the goat-shed-turned-office-now-turned-dining-room. It's - er - five metres high. Hmm. Plans to use the scaffold that The Perfectionist had brought in were quickly scuppered when it had, rather suddenly, to move on to another project. We were left high and dry - or rather, dry but not high. We considered our options. Short of attaching a rope to the central beam and swinging backwards and forwards, or turning the highest wall into a climbing wall, there was only one: another scaffold. The grapevine swung into gear, and within a couple of days we'd borrowed a tower from some friends. Another couple of days (and much swearing, ranting, cursing, foot stomping and crockery smashing) later, it was up.

The problem is that the dining room is a room of lots of different heights. We've built a mezzanine gallery, which is going to house a library; there's a central beam; and the ceiling slopes down towards the windows at the front of the house, where the height of the wall is only four metres or so. And so we needed not one, but many ladders, which is why for the last fortnight the room has looked like this:

Six days, seventeen thousand colour tests, and four coats of lime wash later, the room looks like this (don't panic, the orange pine will disappear very soon, as will the white painted walls at the far end ...)

and we've got quite fond of the scaffold (yes, the same one that we spent six hours trying to fit eight bolts into to hold the two platforms ...) and will be sorry to see it go. It's made a long job hugely easier, so a big thanks to the mob at Camping Le Montagnou at Ustou for lending it to us - we owe you one!

All we have to do now is to take it apart. So don't expect to see either of us any time soon ....

PS ... look who dropped in to visit today:

It's a praying mantis. Isn't he lovely?