The Day the Beam Arrived

Last Thursday was grey and dull which would have normally been a cause for disappointment after the gorgeous weather we have been having but, in fact, it was one of the happiest days we have had since we started the enormous restauration project that was Le Clos des Guyons.  For that day was the day that we were going to complete the final piece of ‘major’ structural work in the old part of the building, the installation of the seven metre, 35 cms. sq. oak beam which would finally enable us to put the extra floor in so that we can, at long last, have a proper bedroom instead of wandering around, from room to room, like a pair of housebound gypsies. 

So often do we change our sleeping accommodation that I often have to wander through the house and apartments for 15 minutes before I can find Sheila, normally curled up and fast asleep, before I know what bedroom we are supposed to be in!! 

Of course our list of accidents and war wounds has delayed this work for over a year and Sheila’s latest catastrophe means that I have had to devote more time to hoovering kitchens and making beds, than actually doing the building work but, hey-ho, a housemaid’s work is never done!                                                                                                            

Anyway, I had decided to do the beam work myself with the help of as many friends as possible but then, at the last moment, I decided to ask Monsieur Ségret, our village roofer/electrician/ household appliance repairer/plumber/person to ask when all else has failed, and now apparently, beam installer ‘extraordinaire’.  This about turn was decided in no small part when our friend Marcel’s face went deathly white when I was explaining my plan! 

“Pas un bon ideé” he said quietly. 

“Well how would you do it?”, I asked indignantly.

“Pay someone, ring Erik Sègret” was the short answer.

And, I am glad I did.  First of all the beam that I was planning to buy turned out to be too small, and having spent nearly two years trying to find one I was pretty disappointed, (most old beams have long since been turned into firewood).  But when I told Erik that there may be a delay he simply said that it was no problem he’d find one.  “Yes but when?” I asked?  despondantly, “Another two years!”. 

“I’ll ring you”, he replied.

The next day his wife rang, “Towards the end of next week”, she said.

“What’s towards the end of next week?”  I responded, somewhat bemused. 

“To put the beam in” she replied, “What else”!

“So you have found a beam?”, I almost screamed in delight.

“Yes, no  problem, we would have been there earlier but for the Manitou being serviced and Erik having to decide which was the best beam to use”.

So I put the phone down, elated, and wondering why I had wasted two years trying to find an old beam of the correct size when Erik was apparently falling over them.  It just shows how important it is to get to know who does what in the community. 

So, on the said day and, exactly on time, Monsieur Sègret arrived with Le Jeune and Le Plus Jeune, together with beam and Manitou.

The idea was to make a hole in the back wall for the beam to sit in and a hole right through the front of the house for it to pass through until it slotted into the facing hole.  So Jeune and Plus Jeune started to attack the back wall with real gusto whilst Erik and I retreated to the courtyard out of the dust which seems to be the main component of the local, “Tuffeau” limestone.

Suddenly, we heard a couple of very loud exclamations of  ‘Merde” and everything went quiet, suspiciously quiet, and a shamefaced Jeune appeared at the upstairs window and asked us to have a look at a, “petite probleme”.  It turned out it was not exactly a “petite” – they had bashed through into next door!  There was a gaping hole of about a metre square and through it I could clearly see the beams and roof tiles of our neighbour’s grenier!  (Living in a quirky French village, dating from medieval times, means that you get used to the fact the other houses sometimes touch yours at unforeseen points no matter how large and grand they are.  I suppose that this is down to the fact that, instead of having wall to wall Planning Officers and Building Inspectors, they were all off bashing sundry enemies over the head and, anyway, building permission would have been a waste of time if you could not read.  Come to think about it, it is almost impossible to understand now, even if you have a degree in Language!!).  

“It could have been worse”, I murmured, with a forlorn attempt at humour “at least he hasn’t converted his loft space into a bedroom or something.”

Erik wasn’t the least bit put out and said he would ring the owner who, as luck would have it, he knew very well .  He only spent August and the bank holidays in Le Puy Notre Dame and so wasn’t there right now. Relief!

“In the meantime” he said,  “we’ll get the key off the caretaker and repair the damage, and, at least” he said, with a broad smile, “It solves one problem, we will be able to put the beam in through the window, push it through into next door and then swing it into position without having to knock a hole right through the front of your house”.   In fact he said this with such assurance that I was half-tempted to believe that it had been the plan all along!

The rest of the installation went pretty straightforwardly and he soon had it swinging on a chain and pulley, hanging from the roof beams, so that it could literally be guided with one hand.  About two hours later it was cemented in place, everything had been cleaned up and the beam looked like it had been there for centuries.

As I  have mentioned, that is the last of the major structual work, leaving just the rendering to be knocked off the walls to expose the stone which has then got to be cleaned and sanded, piece by piece and then repointed. Then there is the roof insulation and covering, the huge fireplace to be finished,  the lifting and replacing most of the old, “tomette” floor tiles, the mezzanine floor to be installed, bedroom walls to be insulated and plaster-boarded, the whole thing to be wired and all the various pipes and cables to be somehow boxed in and hidden. So, no problem there then – should have it finished by tea-time!! 

As a poscript, I was in the bar the following morning having my now traditional café/calva when Sheila rang to say that our neighbour, Monsieur Rolleau, had arrived and would like to see us at their house at 11am. 

We arrived with great trepidation and knocked on his door , fully expecting world war three to break out but, to our great surprise (and relief), we found ourselves greeted by a very distinquished elderly couple, with smiling and friendly faces who promptly invited us inside to pass a pleasant two hours over aperitifs.  The problem with the beam was dismissed with a  passing sentence and a few gallic shrugs and was then followed then by a tour of their lovely house and cellars (very securely locked I might add).  The reason for  the latter being that the cellar contained literally hundreds and hundreds of bottles of wine, some dating back to the turn of the last century but the majority from the late sixties onwards , “I shall never have to buy another bottle again,” said the delighted Monsieur Rolleau, proudly, grabbing three or four very dusty bottles which he insisted we just had to try!  The house had previously been a wine domaine owned by Madame Rolleau’s parents!  Her late mother had insisted that none of the bottles of wine they produced were to be sold and were to be stored for their children and children’s children, etc.,  as a gift for them always to be remembered by with pleasure!  So we raised our glasses together and toasted the memory of Monsieur and Madame’s parents, feeling very privileged to do so!  

The house was no less amazing, (apparently it had been the village school classroom during the war, when the Germans used the original schools as barracks), and featured huge murals with a wine theme, hand painted directly onto the walls by an employee, who had been a Polish war refugee.  

As we left I suddenly went cold as the thought suddenly hit me that the beam could have gone right through the middle of one of these beautiful murals.  I don’t think Monsieur Rolleau would have been proudly showing us his bottles in that case.  I suspect they would have been hurtling past our heads!!

à plus Brian                   accommodation in loire valley