Monthly Archives: April 2012

30/04/2012

LSS tackled the garden with the rotavator again whilst I got on with cutting more bits of wood with the chainsaw for the hungry kitchen wood-burner. LSS had just managed to get all the soil turned over before the rain started again. Looks like our pile of brambles will not be ready to burn for some time yet!

Wildlife diary: Unfortunately bad news. Some sort of predator found the duck’s nest, and left a neat pile of eggshells. No wonder we haven’t see the ducks recently.

Received a reply from Honda France regarding the Certificate de Conformité; they’ve sent us a pile of forms which need to be filled in by an official dealership, so we’ve booked the bike in to visit the one in Blois this Friday.

They also mentioned that once the forms had been filled in, they would need to be sent back to Honda France together with a cheque for 140 euros. LSS received a reply from Hyundai as well. They don’t need the vehicle to be inspected first, but they do want a cheque for 200 euros for the Certificate. They’ll have to wait until our chequebooks have been received!

Even though re-registering the vehicles in France is going to cost some money, we’ve calculated that this is still a cheaper option than selling them for next to nothing in the UK and buying replacements here. Second-hand vehicles in France are a great deal more expensive than they are in Britain.

Still no news from Weldom, so this afternoon LSS called them.
“I’ve emailed you a quote to be corrected.”
“Ah, je suis very sorry, the office person who deals with quotes is on holiday. Call again on Wednesday.”

You couldn’t make it up.

29/04/2012

LSS spent 2 hours looking after the aged FIL this morning. When we arrived, the aged FIL was jumping up and down (well, as much as a person in bed can jump up and down) because his electric heaters had stopped working. This was probably because he’s running three electric heaters via two different extension leads from a 10A light socket in the kitchen. We have previously expressed surprise that the house hasn’t burnt down yet.

I check the fuses and find everything in order. These are the very old style ceramic fuses which are very difficult to extract from their sockets; more so because they haven’t been touched for thirty years.

LSS’s cousin, JP, arrives with his son for a visit, and as he lives in a similar type of house, he disappears into the attic by way of an external wooden ladder. (I call it an attic, actually it’s the second floor of the house, but it’s just a vast empty space which was originally used for storing straw and other animal feeds.)

They discover a junction box which has a loose connection, and the aged FIL is once again happy as his electric heaters are now glowing nicely.

As it’s Sunday, we didn’t do very much (well we do need one day a week off!) apart from having a bath. Once again it’s too cold and grey outside, so we dragged the bath into the kitchen next to the woodstove and filled it with water heated on the aforementioned woodstove. Later on the skies cleared and we had our first glimpse of sunshine for absolutely ages.

Wildlife diary: Heard the cuckoos again in the late afternoon.

It’s very frustrating not to be able to get on with renovating the house, but we can’t do anything until we have the materials! Hopefully next week will see some progress on this front, although with all the bank holidays in France at this time of year, it is probably unlikely.

28/04/2012

LSS tackled the remaining brambles around the pond, and we’ve put them into a large pile ready for burning as soon as the weather improves. We can now clearly see the pond from the kitchen window instead of seeing waving spiky tangled foliage. Some of the bramble roots will still need to be dug out but that’s a job for another day. I cut some more bits of woodworm for the wood stove, and then we paid a visit to a local fair called “Musicalies”. If you’re keen on ancient French folk music complete with odd-shaped instruments, this is the fair for you.

Wildlife diary: Heard the cuckoo, sounds like there are two of them now, calling to each other slightly out of synch.

Unexpectedly, a carer turns up to feed and water the aged FIL, and brings a schedule of visits for the following week, so it looks like LSS will have some much-needed respite from looking after a cantankerous parent.

27/04/2012

We decide to visit the closest DIY place, called Weldom, in Aubigny. It’s about 30km away. We are determined to spend some money, and have spent a long time compiling a shopping list. This contains items like 6 x 500-litre barrels for rainwater recovery, guttering, and hydraulic lime for replastering the interior walls. Yes, I know you can use non-hydraulic lime, but hydraulic lime is better for damp conditions. And I wouldn’t say the interior walls were exactly damp, but put it this way – if you hung wallpaper, it would all be on the floor the following morning.

Anyway, I digress. We’ve discovered that trying to order DIY stuff in France is a nightmare compared to the UK. In Britain, simply pop in (or visit online!) a company like Screwfix, and say, “I’ll have that, and that, and that, and deliver it” and they say “Certainly, you’ll have it tomorrow.”

So, with hopes of a similar reception, we arrived at Weldom, and asked for assistance. We were handed over to a 20-something-year-old youth.

“We want this, this, that and that. Oh, and a box of these.”
“Ah, non.”
“What do you mean ‘Non’? We want to give you lots of money.”
“Ah, non, we don’t do things that way here. We first of all need to photocopy your shopping list, which will take twenty minutes. Then we return and give you your list back, take your address and phone number and email address.”
“So when do we get our stuff then?” (you understand I’m translating here, I took no part in the conversation, LSS was doing the talking. Well she is French)
“We’ll email you this afternoon with a quote.”
“But we want to pay for everything now!”
“Ah, non. First we send you the quote. Then you sign the quote saying everything is Bon, and fax it to this number. Then you send us a cheque. Then when the cheque has cleared, a week later we deliver. Bon?”
No, not bon at all.

They did indeed email us a quote late in the afternoon. Unfortunately some items had been omitted, and wrong items added, so LSS emailed them back asking for corrections.

Wildlife diary: On the way back from Aubigny I saw my first wild boar! Running alongside a field of rape, with its tail in the air just like a warthog. The ducks are still in residence in the pond.

26/04/2012

The brambles have been having a field day near the pond, so today was Bramble Nemesis Day. It’s been a nightmare getting rid of the roots – some of them are over 3 metres long.

I also successfully trimmed a couple of large tree branches which were overhanging the pond.

Have bought myself a new watch on Amazon.fr ( a cheap and cheerful 14.99 euro Casio) because I don’t want to risk ruining my non-14.99 euro Seiko. I also ordered some pet food tin lids from Ebay.fr successfully, so am once again live in the internet shopping mall. However, neither LSS nor I have received our French chequebooks or cards yet.

Wildlife diary: Heard a cuckoo for the first time today. It sounds just like the clock!

We had some turkey stew for dinner tonight, compliments of the kitchen wood stove. This afternoon we also visited the aged aunt once again to cadge the use of her shower.

25/04/2012

Our letter box is finally installed! We can receive post again! Hooray! Ooh, a bill. Not hooray.

Yet more rain. We went to Leroy Merlin in St. Doulchard in order to get some materials to finally start the renovations. We managed to find pretty much everything we wanted, but as it was getting close to lunchtime we didn’t actually buy anything, because LSS had to get back to the aged FIL to give him his lunch and take him to the lavatory. Instead, we thought we’d just order everything we needed over the Internet and have it delivered. It later turned out this was a big mistake; we should have made the aged FIL wait and bought the things we needed. Especially as he was being difficult as usual and didn’t want to eat.

Wildlife diary: On the way back from town, we’d slowed to walking pace in order to turn into the side road leading to our house, when we saw a very unusual sight; a Reeves’ pheasant. These are fairly rare birds; according to Wikipedia there are only 2,000 birds remaining in the wild. It obviously resented the large green-coloured object invading its territory, because it displayed aggressively towards the car, standing on tiptoes and flapping its wings madly. Just to annoy it, I drove forward slowly. It was completely undeterred. “This is my patch, and I’m not giving way to you, no matter how big you are!”

We watched its display for a few minutes and then left it in peace.

24/04/2012

Went to the HSBC in Brinon and filled in lots of forms; my French bank account is finally opened! Of course I can’t actually use it yet, as I don’t have a card or chequebook; but it’s a start.

Unfortunately the aged FIL proved to be particularly incontinent today, with the consequence that not only his pyjamas, but all the bedclothes – including blankets – needed to be – shall we just say – thoroughly washed.

In the evening the first carer turns up to give him his supper and take him to the lavatory (which unsurprisingly he doesn’t need).

Wildlife diary: I’m pleased to report the ducks have not taken my unexpected visit to heart, and are still visiting the nest.
On the way back from town, LSS suddenly said, “Look, dear.”
“Yes dear?” I replied.
“No, dear,” she said.
“What ARE you on about?” I asked.
“Deer. Chevreuil. Things with four legs in that field we just passed.”
“Ohhhhhhhhh….”

23/04/2012

We’ve been here a month! And it’s still raining. And cold. Had to check the local paper just to make sure we hadn’t suddenly been transported to Ireland. Nope, it was still France. (Apologies to any Irish reading this, I’m sure it’s not always raining there). Despite the rain, we managed to have a bath by the simple expedient of carrying the bathtub into the kitchen again and heating the water in large pots on the wood stove. The bathwater is a bit more brown than usual, thanks to JP’s efforts yesterday. Still, at least we’re now clean. We’ll never again take a tiled bathroom for granted.

Wildlife diary: We’ve discovered that there are a pair of ducks nesting in the reeds next to the pond. I only noticed the nest because I happened to walk up to the pond from a different direction, and the female duck flew noisily out of the reeds. There appear to be 7 eggs in the nest, all a pale duck-egg blue (obviously). I beat a hasty retreat as I don’t want them abandoned.

An Orange/France Telecom engineer called regarding the problem we’d reported with the internet.
“Eh? We haven’t reported any problem with the internet.” (see 19th April, Engineer number 3)
“Oh, it says here you’ve reported that you’re not getting a 2Mbps connection, only 1Mbps, so we’ll need to arrange for an engineer’s visit.”
“Ohhhhhhhh, I see. No, look, we didn’t report it. The other engineer reported it. We didn’t know it was a problem. We don’t want you touching it, we’re quite happy, please leave us alone, we don’t need any other engineers, and I want my mummy.”

The doctor visited the aged FIL today, and recommended that he get a medical bed, a “lit médicalisé” to facilitate the nurse giving him a bed-bath (when we are finally able to find a nurse that does this, that is). In order to get a bed, a prescription is needed. Unfortunately, as this doctor was a locum (the usual doctor is on holiday) he forgot to fill out the prescription form. So LSS called the surgery, where she spoke to the receptionist/secretary/administrator.

“We need a prescription to get a medical bed, a ‘lit medicalyse’”.
“This prescription, is it a renewal?”
“!”
I told her she should have said, “Yes, he’s finished eating the old one.”

22/04/2012

The cousin of LSS, a farmer chappy whom I shall call JP (because those are his initials), turned up with his wife to say hello. During the conversation about how we were getting on and what we were going to do next, we happened to mention we didn’t think much of the French way of storing cold water, which is by means of a pressurised ballon. The setup we inherited means that when you want to turn the tap on, you need to go and switch the pump on in order to fill the tank. This then works fine for about 24 hours but over that time period the pressure leaks out of the tank – so no further water comes from the tap. You then need to go into the shed to switch the pump on again.

“Ah, non!” says JP. “That’s not the way it should work. You see, it’s completely automatic. The water pressure drops, the pump switches itself on, pumps the water up from the well, and fills the container. The pressure rises, the pump switches itself off, and voila, you have constant water.”
LSS and I looked at each other blankly. This was definitely not the way it was working.

“Ah, look, I’ll show you. You’ve probably not switched it on correctly.”
So we all trot out to the shed where he gets his first view of the ballon.
“Hmm. You have a leakage of air here. You need to undo this tube and re-tighten it. Do you have a spanner?”
I pointed wordlessly at a pair of the aged FIL’s aged spanners which were lying on top of the aged ballon – presumably for just this eventuality. Personally I hadn’t liked the look of these spanners, as they didn’t appear to be any good for anything. Unless you needed a couple of paperweights. And didn’t mind rust-marks on your paper.

“Ah, bon.”
He struggled with the aforementioned bits of metal (I hesitate to call them tools) for a few minutes. Finally:
“What is this merde? Don’t you have any decent spanners?”
I fetched my Bahco shifting spanner. Which works.
“Merde. Why isn’t this switch working? Ah, I see, you need to drain it first.” We connect a hosepipe to the bottom tap and drain the entire 200 litres of water into the garden. He then switched the pump on. The ballon filled. And the pump kept running. Pressurised water started to leak from sundry connections. At this point the rest of the interested onlookers namely myself, LSS, and JP’s wife, retired hurriedly to the garden.
“Merde.” He unscrewed the pressure gauge, and was immediately soaked with a deluge of rusty water. Hurriedly, he switched the pump off, and then proceeded to dismantle the pump connections.
“Bon!” With this grunt of satisfaction, he switched on.
The electricity supply tripped.

Having rewired the switch for the third time, the pump finally groaned into life. However, no water was entering the ballon, because all the water in the pipes had by now drained back into the well. We had to pour two bottles of water into the pump in order to prime it again.
“Merde. It shouldn’t be doing that.”
No, really? You don’t say.

Finally the ballon was full again. Then drained. Then filled. Finally admitting defeat, he said he had the feeling that the pressure switch was faulty and should be replaced.

So two hours of labour later we were back where we started. With a manually-operated, non-pressure-retaining, ballon.
However, instead of being a very pale brown colour, the water is now dark brown with all the rust which has been stirred up from the frequent emptying and refilling.

“Remind me not to ask him to fix anything else for us,” I said to LSS as they drove off.

21/04/2012

Rain, rain, rain.

It’s rained every day this week! The ditches are overflowing. Still, at least the pond is filling up. In between showers we feed the carp with stale bread. There are some nice sized fish in the pond – some over 40 cm long.

LSS tackled the water tank (“ballon”) and managed to get water to appear at the kitchen tap. It’s pale brown in colour (the water, not the tap) probably due to rust in the pipes. But it’s wet, and we’ll at least be able to wash the walls and floors with it.

I should perhaps explain about this ballon thing. There is a well at the property, which has been the sole source of household water since the house was built in eighteen hundred and something. By the simple method of tying a large washer to a piece of rope, and lowering it into the well, I have determined that it is just over 4 metres deep, and the water depth is 3 metres. A pipe runs through a hole in the brickwork about half-way down the well and disappears into the water. The other end of this pipe runs underground to one of the outbuildings, where it terminates at an ancient electric pump. From this pump, a short length of leaky bandaged pipe runs above a collection of jam-jars (to collect the drips) into a galvanised steel drum (known as a “ballon” here) which is supposedly able to withstand a pressure of 10 bar. The idea is that when the pump is switched on, water fills up this ballon, and once the pressure inside reaches around 3 bar, the pump switches off.

However, up until today we have not been able to get any water to enter the ballon at all. Examining the setup, LSS discovered a small bolt on the pump inlet, and after some head-scratching we worked out that this must be the inlet used for priming the pump. Pouring two litres of water into the hole with the aid of a funnel meant the pump was finally operational.

Whilst LSS was busying herself in supplying the household with rusty water, I finished working on the fruit trees in the orchard, pruning off the dead branches. LSS then assisted me with removing the remaining brambles. I have never known plants to have such long, persistent roots!

All this time, the wood stove was burning quietly away in the kitchen, and as LSS had had the brilliant idea of sticking some foil-wrapped potatoes into the oven side of it first thing this morning, we now have some roast potatoes for dinner.

One of the first things we had to do when we arrived, was to empty the house and barn of junk. In the barn was an old horse-drawn cart which was covered with bits of wood and fruit boxes.

Horse Cart

Anybody want this thing? It’s yours for 10 euros. The only catch is that you need to collect it.

Of course the woodworm/termites had been busy; nearly all the wood pieces were infested. Mould was in evidence too. The wood scrap simply had to go. But instead of just throwing it away, we decided to extract whatever remained of the calories of energy it contained by burning it in the kitchen stove.

Of course if we had told anyone (especially the aged FIL) what we were doing, there would have been gasps of horror. “You can’t burn that in the kitchen stove! It won’t burn well! You’ll block the chimney! Go and cut down a nice tree instead!”

Well, chimneys can be cleaned, n’est pas? The way I look at it is that we have wood to burn which would otherwise just be thrown away.

I reflected for a moment on a documentary about Ethiopia we saw on British television a while back. The camera crew followed one young woman who lived in a tent made of animal skins. Her earthly riches consisted of the tent, a cooking pot, and a goat. Her husband was off somewhere patrolling the border with his AK-47. Of course the area around her tent, for as far as the eye could see, was bare. Not a tree or a blade of grass in sight. So when it came to deciding whether to burn our wood in the kitchen stove, I pictured this woman wandering along with her goat and seeing something on the ground. “Ooh, a twig! I can heat my house for a week with that! And cook a goat.” Riches are relative.

Yes, we did have to have the chimney cleaned. But then again, we don’t know when this was last done, so we can’t blame the poor quality wood for that!

The fruit boxes have been stacked in one of the outbuildings which will see later use as a chicken coop. If we can’t use the fruit boxes for anything else I’m sure they’ll come in handy for lighting fires.

Also in the house were two large cupboards which had not been moved, dusted, or otherwise touched for about 30 years. Of course the woodworm and/or termites had had a field day here too. The first cupboard simply fell apart when we tried to move it. This, too, ended up becoming a pile of wood ash at the bottom of the garden. The other cupboard was in slightly better condition, because only the doors fell off. I did consider using this cupboard in the workshop for tool storage but decided my tools would be better off without it. I suspect it will suffer the same fate as the first.