The first and most important job was the hole in the wall between the house itself and the "lean-to" at the side which I'm planning to use as the kitchen. This hole had been knocked through without any regard to the weight of the wall above it, so it was already starting to sag. When a brick fell out and landed at my feet, I thought "enough is enough"!
"Good job it didn't land on your head, Eric. It might have damaged the brick!"
I bought an oak beam, about 1m50 long, 30cm deep and 80cm wide, just wide enough for the gap. I had to support this on my back whilst I piled up bricks one on top of another (ouch!) to get it high enough to get some accroes underneath, then I jacked it into position to support the wall. That was the easy bit! Then I had to cut into the brickwork and stone walls either side with nothing but a hammer and bolster chisel to make some steps to key in a brick pillar either side to support the beam. That took two weeks to do half of it. Things did get easier when Paul produced a small petrol generator to power an electric drill to make some guide holes.
The pillars aren't too vertical but at least they're holding up the beam which is holding up the wall
The floor in the attic was somewhat on the weak side, and closer inspection revealed that it (and one of the beams) was grub-infested. Someone in the past had done a magnificent repar job, in nailing a piece of hardboard over a hole in the floorboards. I smashed all the floorboards out, soaked everything remaining in preservative, bought a syringe and injected the product down the tunnels the beasts had left in the beams, and there is at the moment a temporary pallet floor which seems to be working fine, and doesn't appear to be infested.
However these grubs are nasty swines - I had a piece of timber in my truck for a couple of weeks to show people, and I've now noticed that my timber floor panelling has a couple of grub holes.
Another important development was the fruit trees. Just by chance, passing a French hypermarket, I went in (this was February 1999) and saw they were selling off small fruit trees at 19.95 FF (£2.00 - $3.00) each. Apples, pears, plums, cherries, etc. There were 19 left and, needless to say, when I left the shop they had none remaining!
The field below the house is so steep that I was wondering what to do with it as ordinary farming techniques are not suitable, so now it's an orchard. Two winters have seen only 11 trees remaining, but they seem to be strong and healthy. And Autumn 2000 saw me with 3 apples and a plum! At least I'm a French farmer now! I wonder what Autumn 2001 will bring? (in actual fact - nothing at all. The late winter snow we had in May killed everything!).
You can see to the left of the fruit trees to where I intend to take advantage of the steep slope to put the lagoons for purifying the water.
Electricity is somewhat - er - "limited" - but just at the moment (see below for the year 2002 tee hee). I bought a second-hand 40 watt wind turbine from a local newspaper (or rather, Paul bought it and I paid for it) in England for £150 (about $230) in April 1999.
In October 1999 we put it up on the end of the barn to charge up a couple of cheap 45 amp - hour automotive batteries so there was at least 12 volts in the barn. I also bought a basic 12 - volt electrical system consisting of 2 x 12 - watt solar panels, 2 x 12 - volt flourescent lights with cables and regulator, which I bought for $150 from the Renewable Energy fair in Amsterdam.
November 1999 saw me wire up the lights in the house, and I stood the panels up outside the house whilst I was there and connected then to an old truck battery to get some lighting in the house.
All the doors on the East side of the barn were replaced with doors that we constructed ourselves on site. Now everything closes and locks properly.
See more photos from 1999 in the photo gallery.