It hasn’t always been about the bike.
When we moved to France, it is fair to say my knowledge of building work, electrics and plumbing was ‘limited’. Previous forays into this murky world had been restricted to picture hanging, a spot of painting and an ill-fated summer job at a local concrete factory. Added to which, my father-in-law will take great pleasure in telling you a story that involves me, a drill and a set of Ikea shelves.
This lack of knowledge soon became a worry – lots and lots and lots of people were telling me how important it is to ‘know your way around a house’ when you take on an old french property like ours. I barely knew my way around the back and I was too interested in my new sit-down mower to care.
All was about to change. The render on the ageing farmhouse was in dire need of repair and one of the outbuildings was ripe for a change of use. We chose our builder and he suggested I ‘help’ with the renovation. ‘Help’ or ‘hinder’, I’m not sure but the ability to build and create is in my blood – my grandfather on my mother’s side was a talented blacksmith (and two of my uncles remain so) and on my dad’s side, my grandad was an engineer and master ‘tinkerer’. I just had to dig deep (literally and metaphorically) and find my inner ‘Tommy’.
‘Kev the Builder’ is extremely patient and this proved a helpful virtue. Finding my inner ‘Tommy’ proved difficult at first; I insisted on arriving ‘on-site’ every morning in footwear that was better suited to the gym or the deck of a ship, my hands quickly blistered and I struggled to keep on top of the workload. It was bloody hard work but I soon realised I was loving it. After years of sitting behind a desk, I felt like I had been reborn.
‘Kev the Builder’ taught me a great deal; how to mix lime render and apply it, put up and take down scaffolding (Health and Safety rules strictly ignored), hang from scaffolding (see previous sentence but I overcame my fear of heights whilst mastering this particular skill), how to use ‘Big Bertha’ and ‘Lumpy’, knock down walls and ceilings, put up walls and ceilings, cut and install oak beams and shelving, fix electrics, plumb bathrooms and most exciting of all, master ‘Dave the Digger’. All of Kev’s tools have names – I think it makes his solo jobs more bearable.
It wasn’t just me who was hard at work, Joss too was heavily involved. Along the way, she has learnt the dark arts of tiling and mitre sawing and it is her amazing interior design talent on show all over The Lodge.
Apprenticeship earned (I’ve got work boots and a work belt to prove it), Joss and I are now happy to tackle most things the house throws at us and the fruits of our labour are there for all to see and enjoy. I’ve even started naming my tools.
Along the way, we’ve had help from others and I must mention local builder, Simon Cook. In a previous life he was a master carpenter and his talent is displayed everytime you walk upstairs in The Lodge. As I stumbled and scratched my way through the build, it was a pleasure to watch a skilled craftsman. ‘Top Tips’ a plenty, Simon was always willing to help solve nagging problems.
We owe a great deal to our friends Jamie and Anita Combes, without whom we wouldn’t be living in this part of France. They are both very keen cyclists and suggested the region would be a great place for an active family to live; they were right! I am pleased to say they will feature heavily in the ongoing development of the business.
The support we have had from our family and friends has been overwhelming. Many of you have been directly involved, others remotely but without your help we’d not be here. There are too many of you to thank individually but you know who you are!
We look forward to welcoming you to Zero Neuf and you can see for yourselves why we love riding our bikes in this magnificent part of the world.