It is hard to believe that we have been here so long. When we arrived there were 2 bakeries, a horse-meat butcher, and a delicatessen that also sold raw meat. Now only one bakery remains.
Our established evening walk is to join the dots between the new buildings under construction in the roads surrounding our habitation.
The first stop is the large house only 2 metres back from a busy main road and bus route. It has been built on what was the front garden of the widow’s home. She used to say ‘I have a – large parcel – ‘grand terrain’ . This turned out to be very true as her house still exists close behind this new build. The first to be altered was her old bungalow . The roof was removed, walls were built higher and dormer windows added to make a two-story building. The garden behind became a newly built creche and the bottom of the garden has a new two-storey large home. Fortunately, her rear garden abutted the end of our road, so these properties are accessible . But it is the closeness of each property to the other that intrigues us. The upstairs windows overlook the gardens of the neighbours. French planning permission allows for garden walls being 2 metres high – but does not give anyone the right to light or a view. Our house overlooks the cemetery. This does not please everybody, but we are increasingly grateful for our dead neighbours as no one can build on the land at the bottom of our garden.
Our next stop is to check on the progress of……. well, we don’t know what it is yet. It started as an enormous hole in the ground, as do most new buildings. It’s on a long piece of garden that was beside the road for several tens of metres. Is it going to be one house? If so it will be big. Is it two houses or more? Several gaps in the brickwork indicate possible entrances. We will have to wait and see how it develops. Again, the proximity to existing houses is chilling. The homes behind this property are exactly like ours. The new house walls rise from the line that was the fence at the bottom of the garden. From having a view, these houses will be only able to see the back walls of these new builds – again – ‘thank- you God for our cemetery!’
Next stop, a block of flats three storeys high, the frontage of which bends in order to follow a slight curve in the road. Not a centimetre of ground has been left off the architects plans. The house beside it has lost its out-buildings where their children’s toys were stored. The block now has inhabitants that look down on the now tiny yard of the house that is dwarfed by it. A neat fence marks the new-build’s limits, but on the old house’s side of it are piles of rubble and roughly cut off out buildings. We assume the owners were promised that their buildings and yard would be put back to being a semblance of neatness. However, we noted with horror that there is now no access to this ugly pile of builder’s rubble except though their house. I can imagine the regular phone calls to the developers asking them to come and sort out this mess which was no doubt agreed when contracts were signed. ‘Thank-you God for our cemetery’.
Around the corner another 3 storey block of flats fills the exact ground plan of a old recently demolished house and garden. This one has strange balconies. They are not in alignment with the front of the building. They are smaller at one end and larger at the other, so the room inside is not rectangular. What a nightmare for trying to fit in furniture! ‘Thank you God for our rectangular rooms.’
This brings us to the subject of balconies. Having watched these buildings being constructed from the digging of the huge hole for the garage, to seeing people moving in, I am deeply concerned about balconies. The problem, in my eyes, is that they are not supported by any substantial brickwork and anyone standing on one is over a void of fresh air. Balconies have become of great concern to me. I note that almost every new flat must have one. Yet, architects delight in suspending them over the heads of other balcony owners and only fixing them to the buildings on one of the 4 sides. My worries are not unsubstantiated. I read about a building firm that had been passed from father to son. The father was a qualified architect, but the son had studied art. The balconies had been made from cast concrete instead of being pre-formed. A group of friends was enjoying a party and several were on the balcony which snapped off killing some of these young people. ‘Thank God for our tiny balcony that is not even one storey from the ground.’
This brings us to the last new build on our circular walk of our neighbourhood. The ground floor has been made into a little tiny shop. The name ‘Proxi Market’ hides the fact that it is a very small outlet for the giant Carrefour chain. Who would have thought 15 years ago that the independent boulangerie and the horse-meat butcher would be replaced by a supermarket selling industrial bread and pre-packed meat.