Subterranean Boathouse Blues

22 Feb 2017. Things had been going well. Too well. Something is about to go wrong, I thought as I set off on yet another 450-mile drive from London to Bergerac.

However, the road to Portsmouth was clear, and there was no sign of German bombs or mines in the harbour (so on that score at least, my mother could now relax). The crossing was punctual and calm, and an excellent dinner was followed by a good night’s sleep. The road south from Caen was, as usual, serenely uncrowded; visibility good, Saab running smoothly. So my premonition (which might or might not be a manifestation of my yogic powers or siddhi, but that’s another story), must relate to events on site.

Or rather non-events. Work had, it became clear when I arrived around lunchtime, largely ground to a halt. According to the work schedule, the house should have been just about habitable by now, with water, power and gas connected, and the heating system working.

Who to blame?

A series of supply-chain failures was to blame – and some of them, I soon discovered, were my fault. The new boiler, despite being specified months ago, was not expected for another 3 weeks (hard to work out whose fault this was, but it wasn’t mine). One of the 4 new WCs had not arrived: this was my doing, apparently, having specified a hard-to-obtain Japanese-designed unit which had to be sent via Germany, and was still not expected for several weeks.

In the absence of the boiler and the full set of sanitary ware, there had seemed little point (or so it had been reasoned) in connecting any of the relevant services: so the house remained without the basic benefits of modern civilisation, and I spent that first night in caveman mode – cold, dusty and dark, and pathetically grateful for the torch on my iPhone.

A glitch on the Roof Terrace

Another setback that was definitely my fault, and consequently the most irritating, involved the proposed fence around the roof terrace (the paved area to the left of the front door steps as you approach the house from the road, so called because it is the roof of the underground basement extension).

The architect had pulled out the stops for this little bit of roof, with a tour-de-force of paving technique, including a galvanised steel edge-frame, and each paving stone supported on a plinth to create a level surface with a sloping drainage cavity beneath, and an insulation layer below that to prevent condensation inside. My contribution had been to specify an ingenious Dutch fencing system for the perimeter, designed to provide secure and space-efficient bike-parking.

Fiets_AThe manufacturers had given me a price-per-metre for the fence modules, and confirmed that they could deliver to France. But when my contractor tried to place the order for the 8 metres we needed, he was informed that their minimum order was 25 metres – i.e. 3 times what we needed.

What, one might ask indignantly, is the point of a modular system if you can’t buy or replace a module? And why was this restriction not mentioned before? My immediate instinct was to make a scene.

Don’t argue with a Dutchman

But this was a Dutch company. And one thing I’ve learned from my Dutch rowing friends is that you can sometimes beat them on the water, but never in an argument. So I didn’t argue. Nor did I place the order. Obviously, I had failed to ask the right question. And now I have a non-compliance-with-building-regulations situation on the terrace, and must decide what to do instead. I think it will be necessary to get the fencing custom made if it’s going to work in the same way: and perhaps the people who are making the staircase will be able to do it.

Or perhaps I should sign up for a welding course at Derby College and make it myself? Too many things to do, too little time to do them. There are lessons to be learned here.

Upstairs, downstairs


Up the ladder to the Salle de Sport for a last look down the abyss of the empty stairwell before the new metal staircase arrives next week.

Things are still coming on well up here: great views downriver (an impressively-together SNB quad just powered past going upstream) and the evening sun casting geometric shadows over the bare concrete floor. We have decided, for practical reasons rather than just to be different, to cover this floor in cork rather than the conventional beech strip.

This is something I really can do myself, with a little help from my friends. I think it will look good and work well.


IMG_0030 (Custom)

It will be interesting to hear how it affects the acoustics.  I’m looking forward to having an inaugural concert here.

The Broken Mimosa

IMG_0038 (Custom)IMG_0045_CR (Custom2)Downhill in the garden, a sad sight. A storm blew in last week, and provided a useful stress-test for the new roof, but was too much for our beautiful mimosa, which broke off about 2/3 up its main stem, and is now entangled helplessly with itself and its neighbour.

This I am afraid is a job for a tree surgeon – which means either that I must learn a whole new vocabulary in order to engage a local expert: or try to persuade someone suitably qualified to come over from Kew to advise and perhaps even to operate (it’s surprising how many esoteric professions one finds represented in the average London rowing club…)

A real death-and-beauty scene. As I contemplated the fading blossoms, I realized that it was this, not the petty setbacks of the building project, which my premonition in London must have been about.

And although my Japanese is rusty after all these years in the West,  I decided that the situation was worthy of a Haiku. This is what I came up with:


Which roughly translates as

The Spring tempest came
My mimosa is broken
It is really sad

I would like to invite Japanese-speaking readers to suggest improvements or alternatives to this amateurish effort!


21/Sep/2017. We are honoured. Two beautiful new Haikus have just arrive by email, to add to the three we already have in the Comments (below). And they are from a distinguished source: Naoko Abe is the author of ‘Cherry’ Ingram: The English Saviour of Japan’s Cherry Blossoms (only in Japanese currently) in which she describes how an English botanist campaigned for cleaner air in Japan during the great industrialisation of the 1920s. In 2016 it won the Nihon Essayist Club Award, a major non-fiction prize in Japan.  As it happens, we have a fine cherry tree right next to the mimosa – see pictures below.

Here are the new haikus, with rough translations:


Spring Storm
Defeated the Mimosa
And blew through
Spring Storm
Mimosa collapsed
I wonder if it is sad

5 thoughts on “Subterranean Boathouse Blues

  1. We met at Jardiland – hope all is going well. We know of a very good “tree-man” if you still need someone to check out your lovely tree.


  2. Pingback: The Circus Comes to Town | Chez Boileau

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