14.8.2014

Brief history of Le Toulan

Many of our regulars know how the “Connection” to France came about, but for those who do not you may find a brief introduction to the saga of our French Cottage enlightening.

We bought the cottage as a habitable wreck some 20 years ago and, after putting on a new roof over several years of annual holidays, we had saved enough money to employ a French professional artisan builder to carry out major repairs and rebuilding, including two walls complete with new doors, windows, shutters, foundations and an extension to provide a small kitchen and breakfast terrace.

The work took place over the winter of 1999/2000 and in April we moved into a refurbished cottage which looked absolutely great. We were delighted as we now did not have to be concerned with the stability of the building and could now start planning for the garden and terrace.

By June a crack had appeared in the front wall you could put your fist in!!, Then plaster started to fall off the walls inside with other cracks appearing in the outside walls, the builder assured us this was “normal” and he would come in a week or two when the natural drying out had ceased and fill in the cracks.

Needless to say he never appeared, never did the work and effectively vanished. Fortunately he had a “siret number” which meant he had compulsory insurance. To cut a long story mercifully short, the Grande Tribunal at Auch agreed with us that the work was not of satisfactory quality and awarded us the return of most of our money, which was paid out by the insurance company. Unfortunately the system is very slow and we did not get our money until six years after the work was originally done.

Over the last eight years I have underpinned the entire building, built buttress walls and mixed and laid about 100 tons of concrete around and under the cottage as our builder had believed that 30 centimetres was a sufficient foundation on clay soil rather than the 100 centimetres that was required and he had contracted to do.

The lesson to be learned here is that no matter how highly recommended a tradesman may be, you do need to be on site regularly to see that each stage of the build is done according to contract. The French do not have building inspectors as we know them!!

However, all’s well that ends well and I am in imminent danger of retiring my “bettoniere” and “minipel” as the cottage is now pretty much structurally sound. I am indebted to Bill Patrick, one of my French Connection regulars for the professional advice, drawings and general encouragement that enabled me to undertake the work myself.

The positive side of all this drama is that I can order building materials in fluent French, I know how to drive a minidigger (minipel), I have made friends with most of my French neighbours who often drop by to see how I am getting on, and I have enormous respect for the French legal system which is, at least in this type of dispute, far superior to our own.

I have been asked if, despite the drama, court case and subsequent work, did I regret buying in France? A learning experience yes, but when I stand on my terrace in the morning, with the sun shining on the tops of the Pyrenees that look almost close enough to touch, and what you hear are the sounds of nature that are much louder that the sounds of man, and I breathe air that is free of pollution and in my hand is a mug of coffee with a shot of Armagnac in it, would I change anything?  NO, not b####y likely!