Monthly Archives: March 2014

23/03/2014

Today heralds the start of Year Three!

The scarcity of posts so far this year is simply because, in addition to various works around the house, I have been spending a lot of time on A Secret Project. This is now nearing completion. More details will follow soon; and hopefully by the end of next month I will be in a position to Reveal All.

So here’s a brief recap of recent events.

The coypu skin has now been tanned and is lovely and soft. I now need to make a template so the fur can be cut and sewn into the shape of a hat.

The solar thermal panel construction is progressing slowly; the framework is now complete and is ready for the installation of the metal backing plate and pipework. The aged FIL’s neighbour has offered the use of his hay bale lifting machine to enable us to put the completed panel on our roof.

The few remaining parsnips in the garden have been processed; I now have fifteen litres of parsnip wine fermenting quietly in one corner of the kitchen.

Work on the barn floor has finally started. LSS freed up a quarter of the floor space by tidying up all the scattered cardboard boxes left over from our house move. (They’re all still full; there’s a lot of stuff for which we don’t yet have room, including an entire library of books). Digging into the floor has commenced. The hard-packed earth needs to be removed to a depth of about 20cm. A thin layer of lime will then be laid (to absorb any moisture), followed by a layer of compacted coarse gravel. (We’ve had another ten tons delivered). Some sort of membrane will then go on top of this layer, followed by hand-mixed lime concrete. We are (I am) going to have to mix this by hand; we can’t get an entire truckload of ready-mixed concrete delivered, because we want to use lime, not cement. There is a cement mixer attachment for the tractor, so we’ll need to see if this is any good. If not, we may need to buy a second-hand electric cement mixer. Once the floor has been laid (well, in one section anyway), we can start constructing a proper bathroom. With real walls, not army groundsheets!

Wednesday turned out to be another fine sunny day. We’ve now had sunshine for two weeks, and it’s such a lovely change from all the grey skies and rain. There were two large piles of branches which were stacked before we obtained a wood chipper, and due to the growth of grass and brambles, these have proved impossible to separate and feed into the chipper, so we had two lovely bonfires instead. Obviously any future branches which are too small to be used for firewood or kindling will now be reduced into wood chips for either mulching, absorbing mud in the chicken coop, or for the compost heap.

I have been constructing yet another shed from recycled pallets; this time it is intended to house bits and pieces like garden tools, wheelbarrow, lawnmower, the motor tiller, and our new wood chipper. Work has stalled because I need some decent-sized sleeve anchors (fixings for anchoring a wooden beam to brickwork to support the corrugated iron roof). So on Thursday I decided I would see if I could find these items in the closest town. I started up the Renault 5.

Well, I didn’t get very far. A few kilometres down the road the engine started struggling, as though I was driving with my foot on the brake, and something smelled hot. I pulled over, and checked each wheel in turn. The front right was very hot indeed; the disc brake calliper piston had obviously become stuck, so the brake pads were unable to release their pressure from the disc. I limped home again. So I’ve now ordered some parts, and yet another entry has been made on my “To Do” list.

That’s one vehicle out of action.

LSS’s Hyundai is not used for driving around the farm, as we want to keep it in good condition! Therefore the other vehicle in the family stable had to be used; the aged FIL’s Citroen AX. Unfortunately this car has problems as well. If it’s left standing for any amount of time, the fuel pump appears to be incapable of drawing fuel through to the engine. The aged FIL’s solution to this was to disconnect the fuel line from the carburettor, and suspend a small two-litre petrol tank from the inside of the bonnet, connecting this to the carburettor with a length of rubber pipe. When the engine started, this tank was disconnected and the fuel lines rapidly reconnected. The resultant vacuum was then able to draw fuel through from the tank. It could be a perforated membrane in the mechanical fuel pump. I don’t have the time to thoroughly investigate this vehicle’s problems, but by installing an electric in-line fuel pump I have been able to eliminate the need for messing about with fuel lines and two-litre tanks.

The other problem this vehicle had was that the aged FIL had allowed the brake fluid reservoir to run dry, so the brakes didn’t work. I filled it with fresh fluid and bled all the brake lines, which resolved this issue.

Friday saw the discovery of another of the late MIL’s hidden caches. We visited the barn at the other farmhouse in order to dismantle a block of six heavy pre-cast concrete rabbit cages and bring them back to La Darnoire with the transporter box on the tractor. (Neighbour J has promised us a pregnant female rabbit in Spring, and as Spring is now here, we’d better start getting ready to receive it, together with its impending litter). I had already poured a lime concrete footing for these cages, and it’s been drying out over the past few weeks.

Well, tucked behind one of these cages in a dark recess was a wooden box, containing nine bottles of wine. Two of these were half empty because the corks had dried out; but the other six had foil caps, so still had all of their contents. The remaining bottle
was some sort of champagne. We have no idea what the contents are, because the labels disintegrated a long time ago.

Saturday was haircut day again; so we’re not looking quite as hirsute.

And today was voting day, when the village selects the Mayor and Village Council for the next four years. As I’m a resident, I’m allowed to vote in this election, so LSS and I trotted down to the local village hall. We fetched neighbour J on the way, as nobody else had offered to take her. The aged FIL has signed a paper allowing LSS to vote on his behalf, as he is reluctant to leave his bed for any non-essential reason.

Unlike in the UK where you receive a piece of paper and mark your selected candidate/party with a cross, in France you receive sheets of paper in the post. Each sheet contains a list of names. Two sets of different councillors = two lists. (In a village like ours which has less than a thousand inhabitants, you can mix and match by crossing lines through names which don’t take your fancy and adding others.)

Upon entering the village hall, you encounter a table containing these identical pieces of paper. You take a sheet from each stack, and an official envelope boldly engraved “République française“, and go into one of the three temporary polling booths where you fold your chosen list of names and insert this into the envelope. The non-used list is then customarily dropped on the floor, left in the polling booth, or, in our case, taken home for fire-lighting purposes.

You then make your way to the middle of the hall, where a long trestle table accommodates three officials. The first takes your voting card; or, in our case, a piece of paper signed by the Mayor stating that we’re allowed to vote (our official voting cards seem to have been lost in the post) and passes it to the second official. This second official only has one available hand, as the other appears to be permanently attached to the lever which opens a little flap on top of the transparent plastic ballot box.

The second official then reads the document, and states your name to the third official, who is in charge of The Book. This volume is the village electoral roll. The third official looks up your name in the book, and then covers the relevant page with a carefully-positioned transparent piece of plastic with a hole in it. He passes you a pen, and you sign the book through this little aperture. I suppose this is to prevent people writing things like “Kilroy was ‘ere” in inappropriate places.

Once you’ve signed, the second official leaps into action by opening the little flap through which you drop your envelope. The instant your envelope passes through the aperture, he states in a loud voice “YOU HAVE VOTED!” just in case you were in any doubt.

You can then go and chat with the other villagers if you so wish.

Having dropped neighbour J back at her farm (and having the obligatory coffee) we visited T&M as I wanted to borrow some pipe sealant. After having the obligatory coffee we returned home.

I opened the little outbuilding which houses some of our gardening equipment, as I needed some fertilizer for my bonsai. I had a surprise when I opened the fertilizer packet though. Derek had gone to sleep in it:

Derek

We wrapped him in an old hand towel, and left him to finish his hibernation on top of the pile of wood in the woodshed, hopefully out of reach of the cat.

 

 

17/03/2014

It’s been a while since the aged FIL had a problem with electricity. In fact LSS was commenting on this just the other day. Which was a mistake.

This morning she received a phone call from one of the carers, saying that the electricity supply wasn’t working. To cut a long story short, I had to visit the aged FIL’s house with my circuit tester. It wasn’t a fuse problem. Well it was at first; one of the fuses had blown. But when a new piece of fuse wire was inserted and the power turned on, the electricity tripped again. This time the fuse wire remained un-melted. It’s possible the three-phase single-phase loads are unbalanced, but diagnosing which circuit is the problem one is proving to be a nightmare. The whole house really needs re-wiring. But this is not going to happen during the aged FIL’s ownership.

Yesterday we went to visit Friend L. The building where she lives is being renovated, so there was a lot of oak timber which was being discarded. We took the trailer with us, and filled it up with this scrap wood. Perhaps some of the beams can be re-used for something else, although unfortunately each one is covered with hundreds of nails. If not, I’m sure they can be used in the wood stove.

Friend L had requested that I bring my chainsaw along, in case the beams were too long for the trailer. This was not the case; but she did have an ulterior motive. On one of her bicycle trips along the Loire river she had spotted a dead tree which had a particularly attractive branch, and she asked me to cut the branch for her as it would make a fine didgeridoo. Yes, she’s learning how to play this instrument. I tried to look as Official as possible, as though it was an everyday occurrence to take a chainsaw when strolling along the banks of a major river. The sunbathing/fishing family groups seemed quite surprised, but nobody said anything. Perhaps my orange helmet had something to do with it.

06/03/2014

I’ll start with today’s wildlife diary: A stoat, or weasel, bounding up and down in the long grass at the back of the pond. We only caught a glimpse; by the time I had focussed the binoculars it had disappeared.

By the way, here’s an old one. What’s the difference between a stoat and a weasel?
Well, a weasel is weasily wecognisable, but a stoat is stoatally different.

Today was characterised by a strange, warm, orange orb appearing in the sky, where it stayed all day long without a cloud in sight. Yes, the sun finally made an appearance!

I took advantage of the warmth to finish the fabrication of the polytunnel door, which, surprisingly, actually fitted in the frame. I had to scrape away some of the earth in front of it though; otherwise it would not have been able to open. A final remaining task is to fix some mouldings to the inside of the door-frame to keep the end wall plastic taut, and then the keys can be handed over to LSS. She has already turned over some of the earth inside, ready to receive this year’s first batch of lettuces and radishes.

Some brackets have been affixed to the lounge wall, ready for the installation of a wooden shelf (as soon as LSS has varnished it, that is). We’ll then be able to move some of our books and work-related files out of the bedroom.

Another little project which was completed today was the installation of the garden gate. Yesterday I removed the aged FIL’s contraption of leaning fence posts and chicken wire, and instead re-purposed an old pallet. By sinking two stout timbers into the ground as gateposts, and mounting the pallet on a couple of hinges, we now have a very cottagey-looking garden gate. LSS painted it in the late afternoon sunshine, and very nice it looks too. She has also scraped away most of the mud in the courtyard and driveway, replacing it with the remainder of the gravel left over from the reedbed construction. The entire place is achieving a very landscaped look!

04/03/2014

We’ve finally met a real-life Obelix. He was introduced to me by T&M a while ago, but today I took LSS around to meet him and we realised of whom he reminded us. Of course he’s not as fat as Obelix, has a ponytail instead of two pigtails, and wears a scruffy old hat (even indoors) instead of a helmet, but that’s about the sum total of the differences. He loves wild boar, and could easily eat an entire boar, although perhaps not quite in a single sitting. Without the aid of any magic potion, he can quite easily pick up the front of a small car. Henceforth he shall be called (respectfully) Mr C.

My acquaintance with Mr C goes back several months. I had been attempting to press apples to make cider, and my home-made press was not up to the job. As luck would have it, T&M paid us a visit at that moment, and I was advised that Mr C would be able to help. He was only too delighted to assist, constructing a new apple press within a couple of hours by modifying a cylindrical object which previously held a flammable gaseous material, and which one is absolutely not allowed to modify.

My second visit was to enquire whether he would be able to find me a length of metal rod, of a specific diameter. I needed to make a new axle for my scratter (a device for cutting apples into little bits which can then be pressed to make cider). The place where he lives resembles a scrapyard, and needless to say within the space of ten minutes I had the piece of metal I required.

He is able to work for twenty-three hours out of every twenty-four, only needing an hour for sleep. And he has been known to work for five days straight, before going to sleep on the Friday evening and waking on Monday morning. There is very little respect for authority; he has spent some time behind bars over the trifling matter of some unpaid rent. And although his current abode is not officially connected to the national grid, it somehow has electricity. He rescued ten battery hens, and these are rewarding him with eggs every day.

He also loves cooking, and is constantly being given unwanted game. At last count he had three freezers full, one of which held (amongst other things) twenty plucked ducks. He makes his own saucisson, pâté, sausages, pasta, bread… the list goes on. On the two occasions I had visited him, each time I was presented with one or more of the above home-made items. I had taken him a bottle of our home-made cider in return, but it was now time to return the empty preserve jars, so LSS came with me. Unfortunately this meant we came away with yet another three preserve jars; containing wild boar pâté and pheasant pâté. And a wild boar saucisson.

03/03/2014

Not much was achieved today; I’ve been laid low with a cold. I think I need to take more doses of LSS’s elderberry cordial. And elderberry cordial, in case you didn’t know, contains more Vitamin C than an orange.

02/03/2014

This week LSS bought some packets of lamb chops in the supermarket, because they were on a special offer. I remember that when we were in Britain, we found it very difficult to find British lamb; instead it was always from New Zealand. Unless one goes to a proper butcher, of course, but those were becoming rare. Well, we’ve discovered where all the British lamb goes. It’s in France! I wouldn’t be surprised if the only lamb available for sale in New Zealand turned out to be French.

I have been busy constructing a framework for a poly-tunnel, using some thick-walled polyethylene water pipe to form four large hoops. It’s four metres wide and five metres long. We were waiting for a non-windy day so that we could cover the frame with the plastic sheeting. As yesterday was, for once, not windy, we took advantage of these conditions. The sides have been tacked into place with battens, but the ends still need to be fixed. It’s not an easy task, folding a semi-circular end neatly.

Yesterday evening we opened a bottle of our home-brewed pea-pod wine. Did you know you could make wine out of pea-pods? Well, you can. And as we had lots of garden peas this summer, I just had to make some. Once it has finished fermenting, it is bottled, and then needs to be kept for six months before it is ready to drink. Well, the waiting period was finally over.

It had a lovely white-wine colour.

It had a slight taste of wine.

But, perhaps unsurprisingly, it had a very strong flavour of pea-pods. Actually, it wasn’t that nice at all. We tried diluting it with some pink grapefruit cordial, and whilst this made it slightly more palatable, it then tasted like pea-pod flavoured pink grapefruit cordial wine. We won’t be making it again! Thank goodness I only made four bottles.