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WE'RE IN the middle of building a new house at the moment, just up the lane from our present house, close enough for us to lean out of the window and see how the builders, who are all called Alain, are getting on.

I'm trying to think of a s

WE'RE IN the middle of building a new house at the moment, just up the lane from our present house, close enough for us to lean out of the window and see how the builders, who are all called Alain, are getting on.

I'm trying to think of a suitable adverb, which is like searching in your purse for the right money, to describe how things are coming along. The best I can come up with is swimmingly. I use this advisedly, because among the many unforeseen factors causing loss of sleep, midnight agonies, loss of hair, premature ageing and terminal edginess is that the underground basins and channels which make up the natural water table have shifted. It used to know its place, but now it has ideas above its station. No need to go about with probes and divining rods: the water bubbles and chatters out of several new springs, in front of the garage, underneath the west guest room window and in big enough quantities to make a spring-fed car-wash in the parking area a distinct possibility.

Jean-Michel, the hands-on boss of the local building firm which employs the massed Alains, tells us there's no problem. He's an interesting man, an artist in building stone, which he designates as matériau noble, a noble material, unlike the concrete and brick going into the construction of our house. Because of his expertise in stone he spends most of his time restoring ancient stone buildings, roofless abandoned chapels and tumbledown châteaux, mostly on behalf of a government historic buildings agency called Bâtiments de France. (One of them, a beautiful woodland chapel called Ste Madeleine, my 10-strong chamber choir 'Les Jeudistes' was asked to inaugurate last autumn. A great honour.)

Non, mais je vous explique , but just let me explain, is his catch-phrase. So he explains that he can solve our water problems by digging a herring-bone pattern of trenches and laying wide-gauge yellow plastic perforated pipes in a gravel infill. The main drain will discharge into a ravine, such a handy thing to have about you, beside the cherry orchard.

Or that's the theory. I suspect as the water doesn't immediately travel across the land but bubbles up from below, we may have to think of a moat as the only solution. Jean-Michel will then say Non, mais je vous explique again and tell us that what we really need is un pont-levis, a drawbridge. In no time at all he'll have portcullises, barbicans, arrow-slits and other antique architectural features sprouting as freely as our springs. You can spend too long restoring medieval castles.

MAYBE IT'S because of the imprecise, arbitrary nature of stone, where most things are done by eye, that Jean-Michel is happy to delegate the actual building of our house to the senior Alain, a meticulous craftsman for whom even a millimetre is too inexact and fraught with margins of error. Although blessed with lightning mental arithmetic, Jean-Michel isn't a man for plans - he is always leaving his reading glasses at home, we think deliberately - or for lengthy planning meetings.

We assembled our architect, Jean-Michel, and our joiner for a planning meeting under the fig tree on the terrace one sunny March afternoon. Asked to contribute an opinion to some technical matter under discussion, he remarked that he'd never seen them come so close. There was silence, unusual in a French meeting, while the company tried to work out just what relevance this had to kitchen door hinges.

In fact he'd been watching the birds, blue and great tits, at the feeders (see last month's Campbell's Diary for the bird feeder epic) in the fig tree. There's a poem by W.H.Davies which begins What is this life, if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare?

JEAN-MICHEL, maybe understandably, wasn't the contractor in charge of building the spanking new refuse disposal unit along the road to St Rémy. Nor were Les Jeudistes invited to sing it in at its official opening.

Nothing - well, this is an exaggeration - pleases Josephine more than throwing things out. It's always a red-letter day when she finds some junk to get rid of - but there's the rub: in our village we're supposed to sort all our rubbish out, paper in one container, glass in another, plastics and metal in a third, and general household rubbish in another. A glance inside any of the village bins shows that the local French commitment to selective rubbish disposal is no more than lukewarm, but we do our best to conform, uninvited guests as we are in somebody else's country. But what do you do with those old poolside loungers, the packing the new computer came in, the trimmings from the mimosa clump, too green to burn?

Well, now here's the answer: into the car boot and along to what they call the déchetterie. It's spacious, clean and well-run; there's a helpful attendant, showing you exactly where to pitch your rubbish. You drive to the edge of each barge-sized container and heave your stuff in. There's a lot of satisfaction to be had from throwing unwanted goods out, especially from a height. I'm reminded - although I probably shouldn't mention this at regional election time in France - of the citizens of Prague who once threw the local council out of the town hall windows and into the river below. Deep satisfaction.

Of course, local councillors planned our new déchetterie. There's an irony there somewhere . . .

A RECORD entry for last month's competition, not quite to the extent of clogging up the French Connections e-mailbox, but all the same allowing me the pleasure of recording a significant group of Plantagenet buffs breasting the tape at almost the same instant, all identifying Eleanor of Aquitaine as the queen who lies buried at Fontevraud along with her husband, Henry II of England, their son Richard Coeur de Lion and their daughter-in-law Isabella of Angoulême, wife of King John, who, as I suspect very few schoolchildren know nowadays, lost all his clothes in the Wash.

So félicitations to Rob Quinn (Ottawa), Janice Linhares (New York), Eileen Hobson (Dorset, UK), Me Lok Tin (Singapore - surely a pseudonym for someone doing time in Changi gaol?), Cynthia St Clair (Washington, USA - who would have liked to invite Eleanor of Aquitaine to dinner), Graham Matthews (Hampshire, UK), and especially to Tony Brace (London) who pipped all the rest at the post.

Special mention to Sandra Cook (also Dorset, UK) who correctly answered a competition set 23 months ago, and who received a bunch of rosemary as a prize for record lateness of entry.

This month: Two literary brothers, active in the mid-19th century, gave their name to a famous French prize for literature. Which was the elder, Jules or Edmond, and what was their surname? First correct e-mail to the address below wins.

A la prochaine!