Fifteen years ago, Jan and Frieda de Heer, renovated an old mill building, Le Moulin Bas, the lower mill, Loubejac, that had been abandoned for 63 years. They moved in and lived off-grid with photovoltaic, solar heated water and wood burner, systems until a few years ago when they paid for a new transformer to go onto a nearby pylon and now they feed electricity back to EDRF.
But in the 90s when Jan installed their photovoltaic system with power stored in submarine batteries, even the manufacturers of controllers had to design a new pcb to keep up with him.
Summer 2013, Frieda caught sight of two Spanish pottery bowls on my vide grenier/car boot stall. I inherited them from my mother, one was a large 'couscous' plate for feeding twenty, which at the moment I cannot use, and the other was a smaller version. Both matched one she already had. By the end of the day, I had promised to give them to Freida, she promised a meal in exchange. A year on she used them for her 60th celebration, and then we were invited for a meal, June 2014, under the shade of their parasol.
But I had a single focus, our house. More specifically, how to do our house electrics and bathroom.
Life here includes learning new trades whenever we need to, and so Craig had soon agreed to help Jan with pinning up building beams, in exchange for Jan's help with our bathroom.
Back in our eco house, a week later on 12th June, Craig and I heard a car, Jan in the driveway. We gave him coffee, biscuits, yellow courgettes and fresh peas from the potager, sitting surrounded by conduits or gaines carrying cables across the walls.
Jan crouched on the bare concrete floor, describing how to install an Inox/stainless steel shower bonde for a wet room. Then he pointed to the eaves, suggesting how to join waterproof plasterboard and beton cellulaire along the flat.
Otherwise it had been a week of wires, preparing the electrics, although we also finished painting the outside panelling with UV protection on Saturday, at 8 am before the sun so temperature rose.
As our evacuation pipes were put in with the fosse septique in March there had to be some guessing the right position.
“Who decided to put the out pipe from the shower here?” Jan said. “Is this bathroom going to be big enough? Can we move this out pipe?”
But if it did not go there we would have to rework the out pipe making more holes in the floor. “It will make a big hole,” Craig said “Yes, so? ” said Jan.
But Jan made an instant hit when he said he preferred hand sawing to creating dust with an electric saw.
“Why not leave the wall open at the top to let air pass by?” Jan said. “No,” said Craig. “Yes that's a good idea” I said. “No,” said Craig “OK, No.”
“You have to buy a square bonde for the drainage,” Jan said.
“The plumber should have put that in with the out pipe,” (Great)
“Who did it like that? “
“When you have bought the bonde then you can decide the floor height.”
“OK,” we said.
“Ring me when you have bought it.”
I had begun the electrics. In reality it was more difficult trying to imagine the house finished with sockets and lights than to read the book about how to do it. Well until I began drawing out diagrams which was very difficult as there was nobody to discuss it with. That changed when our neighbours had a couple of British visitors, including David an electrician who wanted to have a look. He said they have a 40A breaker for the instantaneous hot water heater.
Bertrand the electrician said we would not be allowed an instantaneous water heater in a house supposed to limit use of energy. However, Monsieur le Norme électrique has demanded a 32Amp special circuit, with 6 mm sq cables in spite of the fact we use a gas cooker, and that has a 32Amp disjoncteur or circuit breaker.
Monsieur le Norme having a monopoly over the minimum number of sockets and lights in a new house finally earned the title of dictator on a Napoleonic scale.
We bought the Inox bonde in a vist to the metropolis of Perigueux and took it to Jan the next Tuesday 1st July, just in time for an aperitif. In France everything you eat at 6pm is to encourage you to drink more, so lots of salty snacks, peanuts, olives.
Unlike Jan's visit to our house, dusty concrete floor and dusting down vegetables pulled from the vegetable patch, we sat around an immaculately presented table on bright yellow and white cushions, drinks served with a flourish.
The next day Craig bought more essentials, a W.C., sealant tape and cement for concrete blocks, beton cellulaire.
We had no idea when Jan would return. In fact it was not until 21 st July.