Samantha David is a freelance journalist and writes for various publications including BBC Online, the Sunday Times, the FT, Living France, everything France, and France Magazine

Samantha David, writer

The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David

 

Why bother? 

      I just can't understand why people make such a hoo-ha out of doing up old houses.  What is the point in buying some romantic old wreck just in order to break yourself pebble-dashing the walls, re-plastering the interior, and replacing windows and doors so that the whole place looks like it was built yesterday?

      Why anyone would want brand new floors or chimneys in a 400 year-old Mas?  Why bother to rip the wonky stairs out and re-build them?  Why mess about desperately importing paint in order to have the whole place looking as if it belongs in Beckenham?

      I'm obviously a bit thick, but what's wrong with a bit of decay?  I tell you, in Disneyland they've got special fall-apart bits built into the plastic.  Yes.  I promise you this is true.  They have deliberately built their Olde Worlde Village with crumbling plaster walls all neatly moulded out of fibreglass.  Why?  Because it looks romantic and aesthetic, that's why.  Their designers know what they're doing.

      So I'm following their lead.  There's no way I'm getting my crèpi re-done.  It's not an eyesore, it's poetic, all falling off like that.  I'll just bodge up the biggest of the holes with mastic and that will be good enough for me and Walt.  It doesn't rain much anyway.  That sun-dusty, crumbling plaster is romantic.  It's beautiful. 

      Ditto with the roof.  I'll get the weeds removed from the gutters every now and again, but I've no intention of putting a nice neat geometrically correct new roof on the house.  Those old tiles are probably antiques.  Worth a fortune if I only knew it.  Who cares if they leak a bit from time to time?  They look marvellous, the way they ripple unevenly over the ancient beams - almost as if they might fall off in a strong wind. 

      As for the internal walls, no they aren't even, they aren't flat, they aren't straight - but they've been that way for hundreds of years, so I don't reckon they'll be falling down any time soon.  A slap of emulsion and they look fine to me.  I like the pits and scars left by bygone inhabitants.  I like the rough texture against the slanting sunlight. 

      Dulux?  Are you kidding?  How do you think the French get that fashionable, chalky, patchy finish?  They use tubes of dye roughly mixed into the cheapest emulsion from Brico-Troc-Depot-Truc.  Does a wonderful job.  And fades quickly so you get that romantic patina on your walls.  Cheap gloss does the same on shutters, doors and windows.

      As for wallpaper, what's the point in spending a fortune and taking three weeks over the project?  A few rolls of paper glued fairly randomly onto the top half of the wall is perfect.  Totally Olde Style and very authentic.  All you need is a few aspidistras and you're there.

      The other trick is Klir.  You splosh this on ancient old tile and lino floors to make them shine and it works brilliantly.  But it also works on wood.  Really works.  A rough sanding, a little dye mixed with white spirit to get the colour you want and then slop the whole thing over with Klir.  It's all dry in 20 minutes and lasts for years.  And why stop on the floors?  It works on all surfaces. 

      I'm not totally insane, however.  The wiring and the plumbing is up to modern standards.  But no, nothing has been imported from the UK.  Why would I install stuff made for imperial fittings in a house where only metric fittings are available locally?  Why on earth would I invalidate my house insurance by using UK electrical fittings?

      After all, with the roof in the state it's in, I have to be sure that my house insurance will work! 

 

 

 

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