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August 2011 | Happy holidays, snap decisions and excess puddings


Neil, like the rest of France, is on holiday this month and there will be no diary in this issue. We apologise for the interruption and can assure readers that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible. In the meantime, here is some music. 



A day off in Arcachon today. This refined seaside town sits on its own enclosed bay near Bordeaux, and is a favourite for the Bordelais on summer weekends. During the week you can still find a parking space within 17 miles of the promenade, so I spend an hour strolling along the beach looking at the delightful 19th-century seafront villas and their slightly less delightful 20th-century neighbours.

Later I climb the dune de Pilat, Europe’s highest sand dune, and am astonished at this 100m-high wave of sand sweeping over the forest at the rate of 2m per year. In the evening I even manage to find a small restaurant overlooking the beach where the nougat glacé is so delightful I have seconds.


Back to work. The second pudding may have been a mistake. And don’t emails pile up when you’re away? I spend most of the day replying and/or deleting them, but eventually do something useful and finish a pencil sketch of the new fireplace at our big manor house refurbishment, to go with the new stone staircase.

We are in the street party or bodega season here so I can’t work this evening, and shall head off to Bergerac to join the crowds on the quay listening to marching bands and eating and drinking under the stars. 


At a bornage amiable representing a client who is buying a strip of land between two farms.

Bornage amiable. Definition: A legally binding procedure for establishing property boundaries by consent between landowners, conducted by a Géomètre, a chartered land surveyor.

I arrive late. Everyone's here except the Géomètre who called us here, and one of the landowners. We all shake hands. The Géomètre arrives. We all shake hands. The missing landowner arrives. We all shake hands. A passing neighbour stops to ask what's going on. We don't shake hands but jokes fly around in gales of laughter. He drives off. Two minutes later he's back. More jokes, less laughter. He drives off. The mayor leaves, we shake hands. The Géomètre sets out the first corner in two different ways, and her two stakes are six metres apart. We all shake heads.

The neighbour drives by for a third time. One joke, no laughter. The Géomètre tries again and this time the split is reduced to two metres. One of the two landowners makes a long impassioned speech to prove it's impossible that the two metres don't belong to him. The other one then does likewise. Now I know what 'impasse' means. Glum faces, breath drawn in through teeth, we all shake our heads sadly. Finally the neighbour to whom the land doesn't belong generously offers to split the difference, thereby gaining a metre-wide strip of land. The neighbour to whom it actually belongs has lost the will to live and agrees. The first corner has taken an hour and a half to decide. Only three more to go.

We trudge across the field to the next corner. The mayor comes back. He's furious. The guy who's been driving back and forth has stopped him overtaking by driving at 5kph in the middle of the road all the way back to the village. Everyone who was laughing and joking with the driver now calls him names which I cannot repeat in a family magazine, and says he should be locked up for his own good, and everybody else's.

All of a sudden I have to make a decision! The Géomètre asks if it will trouble my client if the land extends a little beyond what was originally expected. My entire input into the afternoon is one word: "Non."

Another neighbour with a tractor but no socks shows up. We all shake hands. He regales the Géomètre with hilarious anecdotes about mistakes Géomètres have made. Distracted, she makes a mistake.

Four hours and twenty minutes later it's all done. Smiles, parting speeches of eternal fidelity and the brotherhood of man, we all shake hands. I shake a leg. 



Now I'm over my pudding hangover and don't have to stand in a field doing nothing all day long, I decide to end the week positively by doing some designing. I check the list and find I have a choice between laying out a small barn conversion and converting an old hotel into flats for rent. I’d like to do the barn, but decide the flats conversion is more pressing.

The detailed design of individual homes here in France is much less restricted than in the UK, allowing clients many more opportunities to express their individuality. When it comes to a block of flats however, the restrictions are just as great as across the channel. Access has to be provided for the disabled, sound has to be deadened and fire precautions respected.

This is the job of a BET, a Bureau d'Etudes Techniques, and I ring Jean-Jacques at the firm I usually use to get an overview of the impact of the regulations on this three-storey building. It's all pretty much common sense but the single staircase will need some adjustment so I'm glad I rang. Once I have an agreed design I shall send it to him, and his report will form part of the Permis de Construire application.

I pass the rest of the afternoon working up the drawings on the laptop, then I format them for the client and email them off for comment. I come out of my office to an eery calm. Everyone's gone except Claude the office cat, who is pretending to read my picture postcard of a sand dune.

I head off for dinner. No pudding tonight.


 Neil Vesma’s Architect’s practice is at Villeréal near Bergerac. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or tel 0033 675 847 176, or visit his website www.neilvesma.com