All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Window shopping

French window shuttersImage via Wikipedia

We 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 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.

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  1. Hmmm...thanks for the inspiration. My shutters and window frames are now merely varnish shells containing a few scraps of dry and brittle wood. Replacing them is on my list of things to do before the winter (if there's any money left over after car purchase and meddling). I very much doubt that things are any better in Spain than in France, and I am not encouraged!

  2. Pueblo girl, if they'd just meddle with things like installing windows I wouldn't mind! The prices for new windows took the wind right out of my sails,and we repaired everything we possibly could to avoid more replacements than necessary, but some were just pale fantasias of windows and we had to bite the bullet.

    Good luck!

  3. How frustrating. I have to say that it is quite the opposite here in Turkey. Businesses are so desperate for your custom that they bend over backwards to find exactly what you're looking for and delivery times are good...usually same day. And very cheap. People aren't really into DIY here because it often works out cheaper to get someone to do it for you.

  4. We had to replace all the windows in the house over eleven years ago.

    Our first storm surprised us mightily when the wind blew the WINDOW in- into one of our guests arms! complete!

    we were baffled then horrified to realize that the wood keeping all the windows in place was dry-rotted through, and the previous owner had disguised it carefully using masking tape around the window frames, and then painting it to match the walls... who knew??

    (To anticipate... in Greece? No. No recourse. You buy it as it stands, here.)

    We ended up finding a nice if simple guy to build and replace all 9 windows-and two sets of french doors,for at the time -in drachma- a reasonable, if expensive, amount.

    Apparently we "made" him, and his business picked up substantially after his job with us.

    Fast forward to three years ago when we decided to replace two small 2ft by 2ft (appx) windows left (they were in pretty good condition but they were warped and wouldn't open and close properly)

    His estimate for "old time sake"? practically the same amount as the whole job of doors and windows from before!!!

    As they were odd shaped windows (the whole house was built "by eye") we went with him but how I wish your sort of DIY stores existed in Corfu, Greece!!

  5. Ayak, you'd think they would be glad to have custom in France too, but old habits die're just the customer!

    truestarr, yes, weve had 'for old time's sake' quotes as well...make your eyes water!

  6. At least you have proper windows with shutters and all. I miss these in Canada...

  7. Oh the woes I have wailed on this topic in the last months. The renovations on our grange for the guest quarters'living space (to be very small) had me requiring windows that opened out (à l'anglaise) in order to maximize the interior space. You would have thought I was asking for pigs to completely baffles me that the French don't appreciate the amount of floor space lost in small spaces when windows open sneaking suspicion is that it is their historical aversion to logic & things practiced in the UK that perhaps keep this logical window practice from becoming popular here...have an appt this week with a custom installer--I might become religious if this works out! ;)

  8. I really must commend you for the way in which you capture French 'attitude'. If you have spent any time in France you empathise immediately.

  9. I've given you the "Your Blog is Fabulous Award" don't have to follow the rules, but I don't want to leave you off my list!

    (See my blog for details)

  10. Zhu, I love shutters, but I do not like having to paint the wretched things with paint that seems designed to peel and fade a few months after you put it on.

    L.R. M-J, this may seem mad, but reverse the things, block up the hole on the handle side and make another to put the handle on what is now the inside side, if you know what I mean. I didn't do it myself, but a friend with a similar problem to yours did just that. It might depend on the type of window...I don't know enough to know, and there might be problems if you have a window with a sill....he didn't.

    Mr. Writeon, that's very kind of you. I try to report accurately what happens to me and even after all this time, the 'attitude' astounds me.

    Ayak, thank you very much!