Week 13

Our news will be fairly short this week, as we’ve at long last started work on the house – and you won’t really want a blow by blow account of that!. Our final excuse for not starting work had vanished, with the departure of various visitors. (Whilst one set of visitors are safely back in Manchester, we’re wondering about the others, Jessica and Mark who set out over a week ago from here to walk and camp en route to the south-west of France. We’re just hoping they’ve been successful at dodging the rain and storms forecast at different times for the Massif Central then the Pyrenees!)

After their departure, we procrastinated for another day by “doing” the Sunday flea markets. Together with friend Nicola we strolled through nearby Fraize flea market and then the Orbey one over the Col de Bonhomme in Alsace. Nicola and Helen found Orbey quite interesting, but John found it very frustrating, as it was all dealers who set high prices (rather than villagers selling assorted junk from their barns and attics). Nicola didn’t find any cheap books with animal illustrations to adorn the bed she was making for her grandson, so gave up and went home to finish the bed from her imagination (she’d already drawn out some lovely elephants). And what did we do? We went on to an open air vintage tractor show!

Some of you will know that one of the treasures in our barns was a 1954 Deutz single cylinder 748cc diesel tractor which John has got back into basic working order by rewiring the electrics and putting in a new glow plug (Leila drove it round the field several years ago and my mother famously sketched Toby sitting on it, and something went wrong with the scale, so it ended up with a large Toby on a small tractor!). John eventually obtained a basic operating and parts manuals for both the engine and tractor (Deutz UK sent their only copies for free as they didn’t see any use for them any more!), but spare parts are a bit of a problem, so we were hoping to find out more. The show was in Hattstat, a village just south of our favourite wine village, Eguisheim. The event has been going for several years and is the largest in France. There were over 100 different tractors dating from the 1930s to 1960s, most of them working at some time or other during the time we were there. We saw a few Deutz tractors, including one of the same model as ours but a couple of years younger as it was built in 1956 (and was also not as good a condition or as authentic as ours!). We talked to a German who’d travelled 700 km to be there and who owned or had collected some 40 different Deutz tractors! He was very helpful (and like many Germans, fluent in English and French) about suppliers of parts, suggesting somewhere in Fribourg. Some of the tractors were taking part in a ploughing competition (the event took place in some recently cut wheat fields of a local farmer who was originally responsible for setting up the fair) and some were driving round in amongst the wandering visitors (hopefully the owners had insurance?). By late afternoon, as it got colder, the owners started to pack up and we saw some were starting to leave, including about a dozen from a Fribourg tractor club all setting out in procession along the road, rather than on trailers – they must be regular exhibitors at such fairs as some were even towing small one/two-bed trailers/caravans. So we left too, stopping off in Eguisheim to get some wine jam that we like from one of the small shops there.

On Monday morning, we delayed work on the house still further by going into St Dié as the first stage in obtaining our residents permits (cartes de sejour) had arrived (it’s called a “receipt”, but has a three-month validity with a photo, so looks very official). After we’d sorted that out, we decided to celebrate that (and our wedding anniversary) with a bar meal over the hills in Lapoutroie. It was unfortunate that the main course of the menu du jour was a moussaka made with lamb mince and marrow, as John had made something very similar a couple of days earlier – but his was tastier! I say unfortunate, because in our vegetable garden (or should I say “potager “? – it sounds much posher), the courgette/marrow mountain has arrived and John has been experimenting in preparation for writing 101 different ways of cooking meals including marrows (and soon he’ll have to deal with the beetroot mountain)!

However, after that our DIY excuses had run dry, and we set to and cleared up the new bit of the house and John has started work on plastering the remaining joins in the main bedroom and in the sitting room, and on making and installing window sills and window recess walls. Helen re-varnished the window frames in the old part of the house, which were in places flaking away to bare wood – it must have been longer than we thought since they were last varnished. Helen even missed the St Dié  ramble on Friday as she wanted to get the windows varnished, rather than leaving them in a rubbed down state, before the forecast weekend rain and storms; in the end she managed some second coats on Saturday, despite the rain, by using the shutters as protection! However it felt quite cold Saturday night after a day’s rain and all the windows open!

Unfortunately, having made a start on work, we shall have to give up in another 4 days time as we inadvertently (this is becoming a habit!) let the farmhouse for 2 weeks, so we will have to clear out all our clothes and valuables and camp out in the new bit (still, we’ll be able to admire the new window sills and plastering close up!). However, it will also provide a good opportunity (and funding!) to go back to Nottingham and see family and friends. We’ll be able to see John’s mother and sister in Essex on the way there and back, and may also break the journey in Broadstairs (I haven’t been back for years, since Toby was quite young when my mother moved up to Nottingham). We shall probably be in Nottingham by Wednesday 22 August (or Thursday at the latest), and spend about a week there. We’ll be staying at John’s mother’s bungalow (tel: 0115 9605186), which John and his sister need to finish clearing before it is sold. A sobering thought that we’ll have spent a quarter of a year in Entre deux Eaux! We’ll be back here a day or two before our happy (we hope) holidaymakers depart on 31 August, so keep the news coming in – we enjoy hearing from you.

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