Image via WikipediaWe had to paint the window frames and shutters this year. We should have done it last year, but having done it the year before, we thought we were due a holiday. Fools. French paint is the definition of built in obsolescence.
It is not my idea of bliss to stand on a very high ladder, grabbing the curtain rail hoping it was the competent workman who attached that one and swinging half one's not inconsiderable bulk out into the void several floors up to reach the bit that the unutterable fool in the garden has just pointed out as the bit you missed that morning when you started the hellish process. You suspected that you had missed it as it was the bit you could not see. You just hoped no one would notice. I should learn to hide the field glasses.
Don't mention scaffolding.
Painting the blessed things is bad enough, but fitting them in the first place was another nightmare...bring back the window tax and brick them all up.
When buying the house, it became evident that the windows on one side of the house would need to be replaced, so I asked for quotes. Blown backwards bow legged by the results of that bright idea, it was decided to buy and fit them ourselves and we made the tour of the builders' merchants. It soon became evident that this idea was not going to run either....the house was not in the norms...it had windows of a different size to those currently in vogue. It was not possible to be flexible, either and change the size of the windows because of
a) planning permission
and, more importantly
b) the window surrounds were very solid granite.
The windows would have to be made to order and, surprise, surprise, that would cost even more than having them fitted by a professional firm. This is France.
As the winter wind whistled through the perished frames, the man in my life decided on one last throw of the dice. We would try the DIY stores which were then a new phenomenon on the French scene.
We duly visited our local outlet - all of an hour's drive away - and found nothing in our size in the racks of ready made windows, but then M. Supplice, who had begun to recognise us from our earlier visits, pointed us to an area in the back. The misshapes.
He explained all. At that time, the DIY store would make windows to measure, at prices well under those quoted by the regular builders' merchants. The client would measure and the DIY store would make. Unfortunately, there was a problem. For reasons best known to the French mind, if you have a hole 100 cms wide and high, you will order a window to fit this and get a window which measures 105 cms high and wide. The client, not being an artisan francais window measurer, did not know this, which accounted for the number of misshapes on offer. Our luck even improved on that. Because only windows which were within the modern norms were stocked by builders' merchants, people were ordering odd shapes made to measure. And were mismeasuring, thanks to the professional secret of the 5 cms, so we actually found windows which would fit most of our gaps. M. Supplice, wary from his experience with the misshapes, made us draw and label our gaps before he would sell us anything.
'I'm not having this lot coming back.'
Scaffolding was already in place to deal with the render on the walls, which was cracked and letting water by, so fitting the windows was not too much of a problem as long as no once started to quote Gerard Hoffnung's address to the Oxford Union once the pulleys were set up. Weight I can cope with, but not when in hysterics. One sepulchral voice intoning
'And then I met the barrel coming up...' was enough to finish me off.
It was all looking good, but we were two windows short of our full complement and, at some point, the scaffolding would have to come down to attack the rendering on the other walls. The quotes from the builders' merchants had gone up, as we only now needed two. M. Supplice had no more windows, but he did have a suggestion.
There was a chain of discount stockists who held all sorts of end of line stuff like paint, fittings, sanitary ware, barbed wire - but also, windows and doors. They got theirs from the builders' merchants when the experts mismeasured the hole for the window and were said to be reasonable. They only opened at the weekends, thus anticipating Sarkozy's measures to free up French trade by some fifteen years. The force of the wind decided us that there was no alternative, so we hitched on the trailer the next Sunday and wended our way through the bleak winter countryside to the nearest outlet, some two hours' drive from us.
We arrived at opening time - ten o'clock - which gave us only two hours until it closed at noon, so it was a relief to find that the window and door section seemed to be well organised, with everything in size marked racks. Inspection and a tape measure quickly showed that these markings bore no correspondence to the contents, so we had to resort to hauling out and measuring anything that looked likely - not forgetting the 5 cm. It was going to be a long job and I began to think that we would never be able to find what we wanted before closing time unless we could have some help.
The lady on the till apologised that she could not leave her post, but indicated the boss who was in the materials yard and suggested I ask him. I found him, well wrapped up in fur lined jacket and leather gloves, sporting dark glasses in the winter gloom, and asked if he could help.
'The workman does all that sort of thing.'
'Where is the workman?'
'He doesn't work on Sundays.'
'Can you help me, then?'
'No, I'm the boss.'
Well, there may have been windows in the size we wanted, but there was no way we could find them before we were thrown out on the dot of noon. The boss was still standing in the yard as his cashier closed the heavy gates behind us.
We eventually found the windows at another branch of the chain where the staff were helpful and managed to beat the deadline for moving the scaffolding, but it was a salutary introduction to French commercial practice and an interesting introduction to the the French mode of measurement.