The word has got around that we’re building a swimming pool underneath the house. Some passers-by asked me about it, and wanted to know why we didn’t put our pool in the garden like everyone else. I tried to explain that the noisy excavations now coming out towards the road were for dry boats rather than wet humans, but they look skeptical. All will become clear in due course, I assure them, dodging the issue.
Digging outside the box
The facts of the matter, which I failed to get across, are quite complicated, and way beyond my limited powers of communication in French. The original idea had been to build a boathouse just below the garage, with capacity for up to 20 boats, including pairs. Cedar clad to match the new top floor of the house, it would have looked good, and was a comparatively simple and inexpensive solution.
But the planners would have none of it. No new building of any kind is permitted below the official “flood line”, which is the maximum level which the river is likely to reach in the foreseeable future. And there was insufficient space above the line. Designing the structure to be totally submersible makes no difference – It’s still Non.
At first it looked as if this restriction might kill the whole project from the start, as secure storage for a collection of boats was a Sine Qua Non, as Asterix might have called it. But then Didier, the architect, came up with an idea. Why not dig out an extension to the basement garage where the ramp comes down from the road, thus creating enough extra front-to-back depth to put the boats down there? At the same time, a lean-to shelter for the less valuable boats could be built behind the outside garage, against the boundary wall – bringing the total boat-storage capacity up to what was required, and all within the permitted zone.
The bike workshop, formerly destined for the basement, could now go instead into the outside garage, along with the bikes.
Voila! Problem solved. A more complicated and more expensive solution than we’d envisaged, but arguably a better one. (Arguable: this is how things often are in France, I’m learning.) Anyway, there was little alternative, so that’s what we decided to do.
The dust settles
We’re coming to the end of the noisy, dusty, destructive stage when the unwanted old stuff is knocked out, and from now on the work will mainly involve new materials and components coming together and the new spaces taking shape.
After a couple of weeks away, I’m pleased with the progress upstairs. The new windows and skylights are in, the insulation is mostly in place, and the cladding framework is going up. Next will come the wiring and light fittings.
There was a flurry a few weeks back when I proposed a change of spec for the heating system in the Salle de Sport. Inspired by the infra-red overhead panels I had seen at a yoga centre in California, I asked Didier to look into doing something similar. He was dubious at first, never having used anything like this: but it turned out that a French-made equivalent of, and improvement on, the US-made system I saw had recently been introduced. It’s invisible in use, as it operates from behind the regular ceiling panels – which is a great concept, if it works – so we decided to go for this instead of the original wall-radiators, and now await delivery with fingers crossed.
Bergerac in December
I don’t know if they’re typical for the time of year, but the conditions here seem perfect for rowing. Water smooth and slow-moving, level unchanged from the late summer, no river traffic at all apart from a few SNB rowers, cool air and some intermittently warm afternoon sun. Tourists mostly gone, road traffic pretty minimal, so cycling would be great too. Unfortunately I have little spare time for it on this visit, but I’m thinking I should try to get a group of house guests to come this time next year for some recreational exercise.
Next diary event is Christmas, but instead of heading home as usual I’m off to the Austrian Tyrol for a few hard weeks of pro-level Yoga on a vegan diet with no coffee allowed. The ski-slopes and coffee shops will be visible from our yoga school, and keeping away from them will take an extreme effort of will, if not Karma. Will I stay the course? I’m not a quitter, I tell myself. This is a test.
Then back to France in February, by which time, if all goes to plan, we should have a semi-habitable house to move back into.