Tuesday, 15 December 2009


Its a funny thing with keys. Generally speaking I recon there is a direct correlation between the number of keys you carry round and how complicated your life is. When I was a kid I had no keys and no complications and I was dying for my first key.

Actually I had a thing about locks in general. I think this probably came from the Colditz series in the 1970's. I can't remember the exact episode but its the one where they steal a key off the German guards and make an imprint in a plasticine mould. They then use the imprint to make a copy and make good their escape. I'm pretty sure they also got captured thus making sure there was enough of the cast left for the next thrilling episode. Anyway this I found fascinating and the next day when the opportunity arose used the same trick to copy the most important and closely guarded key in our house; The key to the drinks cabinet! This aged 7 I duly fashioned into a copy using a similar key as a blank which I then sold to my older brother for the ludicrous fortune of 50p. My first commission sale! (Bumping locks it quite good fun to).

Then as you get older you gradually start to get more keys; First motorbike, then bike locks, garage keys etc. Then later in life you get car keys, house keys and work keys. Eventually if your like me you end up with so many keys you can't even get the bunch of key in your jeans pocket (Well not and sit down). Your life has become more complicated, and that's not to mention all the electronic key fob widgets.

Today I went into work to hand back my key and say farewell. Whilst in one respect this was sad, saying good by to my work colleagues (a great team its been a pleasure working with), equally my life got a whole lot less complicated. On Saturday we will hand over the House keys and things will be vastly less complicated. Now I know that the real complication is in the mortgage and the bills and we have already got rid of these. But my point is that there is nothing really tangible there, when you pick up a bunch of keys and its a whole lot lighter, that is something you feel.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Preparing for the move (and a bit of a rant)

Well it's taken a bit of doing, but it looks like were on schedule. The house completed on Friday so now sans mortgage! Yippee. Today we've been paying off the remaining bills and going through all our correspondence. My favorite bit was going through and stopping all the direct debits; felt good ooh yeah. just the Gas, Water and electricity to go. One thing I have become very familiar with over the past few days is automated answering systems. Banks in particular all have them. Some to be fair are OK, a bit of security before being put through to a human. Some though are just atrocious! Particularly where the said bank has spent a fortune in trying to filter as many people away from ever getting to a human as possible. Unfortunately I can just imagine the project steering group for the new call handling system all sitting round discussing the "success criteria" = % calls dealt with by the first two levels of menue...la...di..lar...de..lar. Well in this case they came up with something quite special! Quite how they even got the automated system to mimic the sort of attitude you got from banks 20 years ago I don't now but they managed it. My call went something like this:

Dial number..Ladies voice automated answer.

Automated voice system: "Hello welcome to XXXXX, in order to transfer your call in the most efficient way please tell us in a short sentence what you would to talk to us about?"

Me: "I'd like to speak to an advisor?"

Automated voice system: "Well we offer a wide range of services maybe you could be more specific?

Me: "I'd like to speak to an advisor?"

Automated voice system: "Can I suggest the following options; Perhaps you would like the balance on your account or may-be to check a recent transaction?

Me: "NO I really would like to speak to an advisor, Please?"

Automated voice system: "(pause)...Humph..Alright I will transfer you to am adviser as soon a one becomes available...

This being a euphemism for a long wait in the queue to wait to speak to the one human left on the help desk having got rid of all the others because the new super automated system made them redundant!

Maybe I'm just cynical but, I like speaking to people. I don't like speaking to machines. Just because something is technically possible to me, does not automatically make it a good idea! Another prime example of too much technology was the hire car I've just returned after getting my car back. If by any chance you don't follow the correct starting procedure (usually because, since the gear box is so crap you've stalled it in the middle of a junction) the dash board would start telling you off. The car would even show its disapproval at your scant regard for the carefully worked out and strict German procedure by attaching numerous exclamation marks on the end of the said admonishments!!!

This is the point I want to get off!

I seem to remember watching the science fiction film "demolition man" where all the integrated systems start telling off a recently thawed out and very 20Th century Sylvester Stallone. It seemed a bit far fetched at the time, but VW obviously saw the future.

Bring on that Early 18Th century monastic french living!

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Spot the tool

Since I didn't really leave very long for anyone to respond to the last post I thought I would have another small quiz. This time I need the name and brand of the tool and this time there is a prize. VODKA

Tool number 1

Tool number 2

Tool number 3

Tool number 4

Tool number 5

Well that's all folks, easy. And just as a little tip, if you need some help finding the answers try hitching a ride on a magic carpet and visit the best online tool store in the world!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Packing up, Counting down

Lordy! how much stuff can you accumulate in eighteen years...That would be a lot. No really A LOT. Fortunately the very nice manager of the local Sainsburys gave me a few boxes for free. This was instead of spending a bunch of cash on proper moving boxes. It's surprising what you can get if you only ask! As you can see I've been inspired by the new series of Tommy Walsh's fix your house for free. This is where Tommy and his mate go off and try and get as many building materials for free out of skips, or going spare or sold as seconds at builders merchants. Julia is hoping that some of this thrift will wear off onto me! (and of course some of Tommy's rugged good looks!)

So Packing is going well, the ferry crossings are booked. All being well on the 2nd of Jan we will be in France for good. That's 38 days and counting down!

P.S. There is a prize for anyone who can correctly identify the hammer Tommy is holding

Sunday, 15 November 2009


I've been thinking. Actually I've been thinking a lot...about life. I guess when your about to do something truly life changing, it makes you think. This year I will be forty two and for the past 24 years I've worked a full time job. Next month I'll leave my current job after 3 years. My previous job I did for 11. The depressing thing is that for 14 years of my labours there will be exactly nothing to show other than the money earned. Zero. No product, nothing tangible to look at or point to. What a waste of 14 years. One thing I'm pretty sure of is that most people's jobs now consist of pretty much the same thing, and result in a similar outcome. I think this is one of the main reasons i want to go and live in France. Not to live in France but the opportunity for a change of life. It would be nice to finish the day and point to something achieved that day; something created. Don't get me wrong I know nothing lasts; houses fall down, jewellery gets discarded or melted down, clocks get binned. At least however there is something to show even for a short period. I also think its something deeply rooted in the human psyche; the need to create. My father worked hard all his life till the day he died at 55. The most precious things for me are the memories and the things he made. The memories I try to keep alive by telling my children stories about him, but after 20 years since his death it seems like a lifetime ago. But each time I go out into the shed after work and make something with one of the tools he made and stamped NQ, I do think he would be pleased with that.

Winding down

This week I've been winding down with my new book:

Actually its a really good book. For anyone wanting to drop out its got a bunch of useful stuff. The main thing it gives you is a sense that becoming self sufficient is going to be a long and difficult Journey. And yes the main thrust of this is one of living on no money rather than any sudden need to protect man's environment. Would the planet be any worse off without us? Anyway the book is really good with sections on going off-grid (handy since our house isn't on grid!), keeping animals, crop rotation, water harvesting systems etc.

Anyway, time for a cig....

Monday, 9 November 2009

18th Century ECO Modernism

What do you really need? Modern life seems to increasingly revolve around gadgets and stuff, but how much of this do you actually need? By most standards we're pretty good, no ipods, xbox 360's, wii's, automatic espresso machines, dish washers and the like. So much so that my colleagues at work were aghast to find out that not only was my telly not lcd or flat screen but neither was it even stereo; was I living in the dark ages and how did I cope! Well as far as I can see mostly very well. In fact most of the stuff we do have we don't use. But just exactly what do you really need? That got me thinking about how we will choose to live our lives, both in an ECO friendly and economic way. Looking back into the 18th century when our house in France was built people lived very differently, no electricity, no Tv, no washing machines; but then as a friend of mine pointed out the average mortality was about 45years old. This was not I suspect due to the lack of television and more to do the state of medical science and basic hygiene! So if you take that 18th century life and add in the bits of modern life that you really need what do you get: 18th Century ECO Modernism.

So hear is my list of what can stay and what can go:

To Stay
Internet access and laptop, washing machine, mains drinking water, Shower and WC, Electric lights, wood burning stove, Freezer, radio portable DVD player, Power tools (well were not animals you know) hair dryer(For Mrs Lemur), One Car, Generator.

And to go:
Electric kettle, TV, Fridge, Satellite TV, Mains electricity connection, Computer games, Mains gas, Dishwasher, Microwave, Toaster, Bread maker, Electric Mixer, Hoovers, Gas fire, Gas/Electric heating, Electric iron, In fact all other electrical kitchen appliances.

And will never buy:
And than there is the stuff that we don't have and never will have; Namely the afore mentioned wii's, Xbox, satnav, iphone, ipod, trouser press, coffee maker, Electric Tumble Dryer, cuddly toy (lapsed into the generation game there for a moment).

And lastly here's the list of stuff we're going to be making much more use of:
Candles, Hot water bottles, Slippers, Jumpers, Fork and spade, Food smoker, Air drying, Clothes maid, Bread oven, Veg patch, Assorted livestock, books, solar power.

The aim of all this is of course to bring our living costs down and reduce the amount of crap also. How we get on is of course a different matter and with two growing girls who are soon to be teenagers it will be interesting to say the least. My hope is the the laptop and internet will generally mean that they stay in touch with the 21st century while gaining an understanding of what's actually important and what's not? How realistic this is remains to be seen?

P.S. Taking the advice of our good friend Alison, we won't be throwing any of this stuff away. We will be packing it up with us and than we can either use it or later or if all goes to plan and we can do without it, we will find a good home for it then.

Friday, 6 November 2009

And now some good News!

I've heard today that the buyers mortgage valuation on our house in Coventry has come back OK and he now has his offer sorted. Hopefully that's the last big obstacle to selling the house so it looks like were in business. Now that's out of the way we can really start to make preparations to move. Tomorrow we can start packing our life up into boxes, order packing materials etc. I think we are going to get some flat role plastic tube. This stuff looks good to go around boxes and furniture to keep the damp out while its stored in our barn in France. In the mean time I've been filling out insurance claim forms for my car repairs..deep joy. Still they will have a month to get it fixed before it really becomes a pain, surely that can't be beyond the wit of man.

Thursday, 5 November 2009


Well this week has been a bit of a roller coaster. Flew over to Dublin Monday for an all day meeting Tuesday. Stayed over in Derby with the bro Wednesday and drove down to Reading for another meeting today. This was nicely rounded of by the fact that a Taxi driver drove straight into the back of my car at some traffic lights and totalled it. The Police attended and took statements and I spend half an hour in the back of an ambulance while the medics assessed my injuries. Nothing serious, I'm just going to have a really stiff neck. Will I miss the UK...err...NO. Ho-hum.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Moving on

Friday was "S" day. Yes that's it the day of the house survey! Actually contrary to my expectations he didn't seem like a bad bloke. Anyway nothing I can do but wait for the report. Fingers crossed it will be one step closer to France. In the mean time I've been doing a little quad bike repair. We're spending the weekend with my big sister and family and it transpires that my nephews quad has been feeling a little neglected. So me and the boy have been enjoying a bit of spannering in the garage. Valve timing...Check, Ignition timing...Check, spark...check. Fuel...Fuel...Fuel...Ah. That would be the carburettor then. So a little clean and gratuitous bending of the float valve plus adjustment of the air screw and now it runs like a sewing machine.

Cheekylemur on the other hand has been shopping. I think this beauty should look pretty swish on top of the esse! She did in fact get two, Why two? The theory is that when one has boiled the other can go on to boil. And economical too, just think of all the electricity we will save not having an electric kettle. If you think about it 3KW x No of cups of tea = a lot. And being LECREUSET French (ish) too. Like most things they are actually made in Taiwan, Oh Hum, It's the thought that counts.
Back to reality, we should get the report from the survey next week. If it goes OK we can get packing!

Friday, 23 October 2009


Honfleur, one of my favourite places to visit. The Classic French port

Honfleur has also got some really nice and crafty Artisan shops. There is a leather shop down one of the little back streets that is what I would describe as a proper old fashioned shop complete with the authentic smell that you just can't recreate with a new shop. Reminds me of a shop in leek that closed down about 30 years ago.. Brilliant.

Obsessive? Me?

OK, this week its stoves. Yes I know the house will have the two esse stoves, but what about the shed? There's no point in having a nice new shed studio if its too cold to enjoy now is there. Anyway it was a complete bargain, with the VAT free promotion at Machine Mart that's £23 quid off plus it was reduced from the previous catalogue. So Mrs Lemur will be able to create her beautiful jewellery in her studio and then discuss Life the universe and art with our neighbour Alison round a lovely warming stove and a hot chocolate, while I work on the house. My hope is that the ongoing comfort provided by this new addition to the family will over the years make my wife's despair with her husband slowly fade. Well maybe. Anyway back to the stove, styled for a canal boat with a flat bottomed wood burning grate it will burn all the off-cuts of wood from the house plus sawdust and logs; perfect! Cheap too, for a 5KW cast iron stove, and I think in its own way not unattractive.

Moving on the the shed, I have been planning the construction: Here is the side view showing the framing and openings-

And the view of the gable end:

As you can see the stove is already shown pride of place and fashionably off-set. This view of the gable shows two alternative ways of creating an internal buttress wall as seen at the grand designs show. If I'll use this construction or not I'm not sure. Once the basic framing is complete I'll skin the whole construction in ply and wrap in breathable membrane. Then its just a bit of cladding and slates on the roof. Mmmmm.....Nice

Sunday, 18 October 2009

No Going back

Oh my God, we've accepted an offer on the house so it looks like were really are off then. Now I've probably watched every episode of "no going back" together with "Grand designs abroad", "a place in France" and my personal favourite "sun sea and scaffolding" but now it's us its decidedly more real. Exciting, scary and definitely very real. The other dawning realisation is just how much stuff there is to sort out! Then of course there was breaking the news. Kids were really excited, Mrs Lemur decidedly Shell shocked (see her blog posting) and the rest of the extended family, the full range in between. And yes I know there is still a lot that could go wrong with the sale! Having said that optimism (if slightly unrealistic) has for better of worse been a long standing trait of mine and with this in mind, we've started the ball rolling. Yesterday I packed up the best china and deposited it at my mums house in storage and today we ordered our wood burning ESSE for the house in France. Followers of this blog will have heard me go on about the ESSE Ironheart range cooker / stove. This fantastic bit of kit will make the tea, run the bath and put your slippers on for you but sadly even the Ironheart needs a friend. The perfect friend I'm reliably informed by the nice man from ESSE is the 700 boiler stove.

This little beauty will complete the package by keeping the salon lovely and toasty and running the central heating and additional hot water. As you can see from the picture this stove is simple, clean and with that flat top will probably boil a kettle to boot. OK so its a decidedly "English" in design and we could have gone for something more Godin but its a funny thing about brands. Some brands stick with you, and having warmed my feet on an ESSE as a child somehow it seemed the only choice for my children. You see the idea of the stove gently warming the house and the whole family gathered around the farmhouse table eating food grown in our garden, for me is what its all about.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Grand Designs Exhibition

Saturday saw me, Mrs Lemur and the kids visit the Grand Designs live exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham. I was like a kid in a sweetshop who's mother had confiscated all of his pocket money. There was everything to do with building, houses and garden, together with cooking demonstrations and even Bee Keeping. In truth there was a small amount of bribery involved in "encouraging" the kids to go, In the end the promise of meeting a celebrity chef or two did the trick. Armed with autograph books Frankie and Libby both managed attract the attention of John Burton Race who very kindly signed them.
My favourites from the exhibitions? Well the man from esse was there so I got to impress him with my somewhat extensive knowledge of their product range! And of course play with the Ironheart again. Nice! I made some good contacts for materials supplies like underfloor heating and floor tiles. I think though my favourite stands were those showing off their ideas for micro living (big sheds). These were in the "village" section of the show and showed some really clever thinking. Both eco and sustainable the best of these was this dwelling:

Designed by a group of young architects in Manchester who also manned their creation it was a really well thought out piece of design. The construction is designed to be assembled in two or three days by two people, each section about a metre and a half wide. There is a little mezzanine with a double bed, a functional kitchen and a bathroom all in a building 6.7m x 3.5m in size. There was also a few more outrageous designs, one based on a large igloo design covered in cedar shingles. As the lady on the display noted "getting planning permission" was sometimes a problem.

Mrs Lemur favourite I know was the Bee Keeping section in the gardens area. While the bees were OK I was rather taken with the large range of chicken houses. In architectural terms there was every type of chicken coop from the compact and bijoux 2 up 2 down to the full 4 bed grand residence befitting any young up-and-coming executive chuck!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

ECO - Tradition

A friend of mine once said to me "its not how much you earn, it's how much it costs you to live". My friend lives on a small holding and runs his own business and he by most standards lives very well. Now it also helps that he is a very capable "entrepreneur" but in essence that's the gig. Living economically is a key part of what we want to achieve in France. It's also a happy coincidence that economic and ecologic are pretty well aligned, and this as we all know is the latest fashion. Now I've never been an eco warrior, hell I used to own a 4x4, but it is clear, and has been for several hundred years that we are increasingly making the planet uninhabitable for ourselves and the species we take with us. So whilst I have little faith that economies in general will be able change sufficiently to make any difference, I will at least have saved some money.

One of the key elements in this is my aim to go off-grid if possible. Today this seems like a big step, but lets not forget that less than 100 years ago, very few people had electricity. This brings me to the second point in this blog - Tradition. When my French house was built there was no 220v. People burnt wood for heating, put another jumper on if it was cold, burnt candles at night (or went to bed) and had countless mechanisms for keeping warn without the need to wack up the central heating. The ESSE Ironheart is going to be the centre piece of my plans to keep warm:


That's the problem with deciding to make a life change, you put all your efforts into getting into a position to make the move and then......nothing. The problem is I've spent the last 17 years either working on our house in Coventry or feeling guilty for not working on the house. For some reason there are always those outstanding little jobs you never get around to sorting out, then when you decide to sell up and go the France, you rush round and go and do just that..finish them all. House up for sale, bish-bash-bosh and I'm ready for booking the removal van. Instead I'm in limbo. I even have to confess as to feeling a bit at a loose end NOT working on the house. It's a bit odd not having house stuff to do but not really wanting to start anything else for fear of making a mess. Still at least we have had people round to look at the house, just no offers yet. Still I'm told that patience is a virtue...just not one I possess.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Shed Living

I Love Sheds. No really I do. My current shed in the UK is 4 meters by 3 meters stick framed with a shingle roof. I built it about 8 years ago in December. At the time it was about -6degC and of course the shortest days in the year. It took me about 2 weeks to build by myself mostly in the dark. The design was a modified Norm Abram design and over the past 8 years its worked brilliantly. Amongst the many accolades she has received over the years are "The only shed you can see from space" and short listed for the finals of "Shed of the year". Used as our jewellery workshop its a great space to work, everything to hand and no need to put your tools away after you've finished work. Alas we may need to leave the shed when we sell the house to move to France. If we do the first thing on the to do list will be a new shed! Where else to go for inspiration for the new Model but back to Norm to get the latest thinking.

By now hopefully the plans and DVD of Norms latest creation are winging their way from the states, God bless the miracle of the web. Now the plans will have to be modified to scale-up a little since you get 20 meters square to play with before you need planning permission in France.

Anyway here is a taster of what the final building will look like. I love the steeply pitched roof and painted weather board look of this building. Add to that the arts and crafts style hinges and six pane windows and this should complement the house just fine. I'll use the slate we took off the old house before we recovered the roof as a re-cycled environmentally friendly option. Fitted out inside with a new jewellery bench, space for the kiln and a sink for washing enamels it should be the perfect retreat for Cheekylemur. The finishing touch would be a small wood burning stove for those cold Norman winter days!

To help with the build I've enlisted to help of my little friend. Ok she wasn't cheap but if you've ever wondered what the difference between cheap Chinese power tools and proper professional tools is? Its immense, the quality and finish from this bad boy is just superb.

Now if we can just get the house in Coventry sold......

Friday, 18 September 2009

Making an Entrance

Literally! Here is the front door I made to help keep the wind and rain out. Sometimes when I start a small project I may on occasion under estimate the amount of effort required. Ah it'ill only take half an hour! Well this was one of those... the best part of a week and a half later et voilĂ !

The view from the inside

Made in solid oak with a leaded glass panel made by Mrs Lemur (AKA CheekyLemur). This is one substantial door, so heavy in fact it takes three people to lift. I think I may have to be slightly more realistic about the rest of the fixtures and fittings if I am ever going to finish the house.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Project

Well here it is complete with roof, windows, walls and stuff. How Hard can it be to finish off the twiddly bits!

Life, Work and Jewellery

I've been making Jewellery for around 25years now, always as a hobby. For about 19 years i've been working in IT. Many people have said to me over the years that its nice to have a hobby that's completely different from their work, that way you never get sick of doing your hobby. The question i've been asking myself lately is which is better; Not doing something you love on the grounds that you my grow not to like it, or continue to work doing something you already know you don't like?

My father had a saying "what thist had the canny tak away".

Well here's a project i've just finished. The Clock is Zebrano and silver, the halmarks are my own registered mark. The sense of pride when you look back at something youve made by hand...priceless.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Master Plan

So here it is, the master plan. Take one family living in Coventry, England and transplant them lock stock and two smoking barrels to rural France. Simple? How hard can it be?

To be fair at this point its probably worth me covering a bit of the background to this. Much as I would like to say that i just got up this morning and had a moment on the road to Damascus i didn't. Actually the moment on the road to Damascus was about 5 years ago. I woke up, had the moment and within 4 weeks we had found our dream home in France and put down the deposit. Well actually it wasn't quite our dream home, in that it wasn't actually a home, more a building project. A really really big building project. Five years on and its still a building project. Five years on with more than a little blood sweat and a few tears and its still a building project. The problem is one of time and money. Renovating a house takes either a lot of money or a lot of time. As i currently have neither this is a problem. Not that we haven't made progress, we have; new roof walls, floor, drainage, windows, doors etc etc. The problem is how we progress from here. So that's it, were off, sell the house in Coventry, move to France, finish the renovation and live and work in France.

Why blog it? Don't know since I've always been really anti blogging. Who cares, really? However since buying the house i have found some really good stuff on the web from blogs and forums etc. So each day if anything interesting happens I'll blog it. This way I can look back and my friends and family can see how its going. For anyone else who is interested, fill yer boots.

So the general theme to the blog will be: Moving to France, renovating a stone farmhouse and setting up a small business in France.