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Baby it’s cold outside

Brrgh the temperature has dropped, we have gone from 19C and sitting on the terrace to single figures and even a fluttering of snow! Not that I am bothered as I am cosy and snug in my new favourite room, with underfloor heating and beautiful, solid walls.

We are having a ‘grasse matinée’ today as we worked our socks off this weekend, accomplished loads but were pooped at the end of it. As Dominique said, a friend that owes you a favour is a true friend indeed, and we had two such friends with us this weekend!! Garth had offered/said/promised/been bullied into (delete as appropriate) that he would come and do some plastering as we had helped lay his kitchen floor in December with our workaways. Junior (our Belgian neighbour) owed us a days work as Chris had done some carpentry work for him and his mother.

So Saturday morning Junior arrived ready to plaster, unfortunately Garth couldn’t make it over until lunchtime so we put Junior to good use elsewhere. We took the morning to change the plasterboard behind the woodburner, to conform with fire regs you need to have fireproof plasterboard. This wasn’t difficult but was made that much easier with the assistance of a 6ft strong Belge! We also started work on putting in the framework for the doors to close off the living room from the hallway.

Garth and Meliana arrived, just in time for lunch!! So we took a break and then had a hugely productive and physical afternoon plastering. The 3 fellas were on the scaffolding plastering the ceiling, in what will be our bedroom, whilst I loaded them up with plaster. It was a messy job, and you need to work fast. It is also hugely physical doing the ceiling, and I confess I am glad that I was charging and not plastering as I am not sure that I have the upper body strength for plastering over my head! Both Garth and Junior are over 6ft which was very handy for reaching the bits that scaffolding couldn’t get to and Chris is like a monkey so he gets into all the awkward spots!

We also did one of the walls. So in 5 hours we managed to plaster a ceiling and a wall. Now that may not sound much but you need to bear in mind the size of our rooms are much larger than most UK homes and our ceilings go from 3m to 5m in height! It is a lot of plaster and a lot of effort. Anyhow the boys did a great job and it looks fab. Junior was delighted as although he was doing us a favour, he learnt a skill (Garth is an artist but he is also a very good plasterer) and I think he really enjoyed working on a team as usually he works alone.

That evening we were tired and very hungry, but luckily Garth always travels with his personal chef, Meliana!! Meliana is Chinese Indonesian and as the Chinese New Year had just passed I thought it would be fun if we celebrated it. I had just meant that we would have some simple Chinese food, but Meliana took over and prepared us a banquet! We had what is a called a Hot Pot, which is a pan of steaming stock in the middle of the table that you add things to throughout the evening and fish out and enjoy, a bit like a fondue but healthier and tastier. There was seafood, pork, vegetables, noodles, rice, dipping sauces. Our table that seats 8 comfortably was brimming with food, and we were only 4!! I have to say we ate most of it though, plastering works up an appetite. Delicious stuff and a lovely treat to have someone else prepare it all.

The following day Garth, Chris and I finished off the last wall in our bedroom. We plastered quite thickly, à la Vincent, so as to give the impression of a solid wall. I think it will be hard to tell now that they are plasterboard walls, which is good. The bedroom is now waiting on the outside walls to be done. These are exposed stone walls and we need to clean them up then render them with a mix of lime and hemp. The lime will be in keeping with the house and keep the beautiful, natural form of the original walls, and the hemp will insulate. Vincent has started teaching at Batipole, school for tradesmen in Limoux, and he mentioned that he might be able to get together a team of stagiares (trainees) for us. That would be blooming marvelous if that does happen, as the bigger I get the harder it will be for me to do such physical work. We can’t count on this so we will just get all the walls prepared so that if we get a phone call one day from Vincent we can say ‘oui’ and be ready to rock’n’roll.

Garth and Meliana left us Sunday afternoon. Garth has said that he will come back to help plaster some of the big areas, the living room ceiling and the hallway ceiling, in return for a mix of wood (he makes quirky furniture) and cash. It would be good to get these done. We cannot do the hallway and living room walls until we fill with insulation as at present they are just hollow plasterboard. This involves buying more ouate de cellulose and hiring a blowing machine. Something to save up for.

Although we both felt like collapsing we carried on working late last night to finish installing the doors and plaster boarding in between the beams above the doors. I am so glad we did as it looks great and you can feel the difference in the living room as the heat no longer escapes down the hallway. The doors were a gift from Dom, who in turn got them from Anthony (owner of Gayda) who was throwing them out! They look perfect, rather grand and funnily they make the living room seem bigger when you walk through them. I feel a bit like Alice when she drinks the potion to make her small, but I love ’em.

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Well it is not easy taking decent photos of plastered surfaces as they just don’t come out well. So you will have to take my word for it that the walls and ceiling look great, very solid and smooth. Also before any smart-alec points out that the doors don’t fit there is a good reason for that! The floor in the rear part of the house is lower than that at the front so when we relay the floors we will bring up the height so that there is an even level throughout. In the meantime Chris is going to tack on some panelling on the bottom of the doors so that all that lovely warm air doesn’t waft though and downstairs!

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