Monthly Archives: April 2014

29/04/2014

With yet another heavy rainstorm, I discovered the rainwater recovery system barrels were overflowing. Investigation revealed that the two end barrels had become clogged with debris from the gutters. I had originally installed leaf traps in the gutter downpipes, but found that these became blocked very rapidly, so I removed them. This was probably not a good idea.

Anyway, I have an old Vax wet-and-dry vacuum cleaner which I normally use for dust extraction for the radial arm saw in my workshop, so used this to clear out the debris from the bottom of the rainwater barrels, and the overflow system is once again working. I’m really impressed with this machine, it’s about 20 years old and still working fine.

28/04/2014

Some parcels arrived in the post. These included some parts which I’d ordered online for the weed-trimmer repair, so it’s now operational once again. In between some showers of rain, I tested it by clearing the jungle of weeds around the chicken coop, and also tidied up around the borehole. I think I may have to put down some sheets of plastic covered with gravel in order to keep the weeds at bay in this area.

As I was in a repairing mood I also fixed my orbital sander by replacing the bottom bearing which had seized.

And LSS popped in to the Equestrian Federation in Lamotte Beuvron to tell them our Horse Field was available for hire.

26/04/2014

As the electricity is once again working, today was spent installing the electric fence in Horse Field. We purchased the plastic fence posts and electric fence tape from the UK (as it was cheaper than buying it here, even with the postage). The aged FIL has three electric fence energizers, so at least we didn’t have to buy any of these. Afterwards I strolled along the fence line with my new electric fence tester, and found that I had indeed connected everything up correctly; the voltage is at least 5,500V throughout. I then connected up the hosepipe which will feed the old cast-iron bath in the field, and am pleased to report everything is now ready to receive paying guests!

25/04/2014

At 01:10 a.m. the telephone by our bed woke us. No, it was not a telephone call. It was emitting desperate chirrups because there had been a power cut. We ignored it and went back to sleep. Now, a bit of background is required; not only for the telephone, but for what happened next.

When we moved in, there was obviously no telephone installed. We contacted France Telecom (now Orange) and to cut a long story short, we finally had a telephone. However, it was not an ordinary telephone, but an Internet phone. In other words, if there’s no electricity, there’s no telephone either. Which could prove interesting if we need to contact the Emergency Services during a power cut. (Mobile phone reception here is exceedingly poor as well!)

The second part of the background information concerns the aged FIL. First of all, his house has no central heating; instead electric heaters are used, much to the delight of the electricity supply company shareholders. And as he has such a fear of falling down and not being able to get up again, we implemented something known as “Présence Verte“. This is a machine which is connected to his telephone, and is triggered by a push-button device he wears on his wrist. When he presses the button, he can talk to the control centre. The control centre then telephones four numbers in sequence: LSS’s mobile, the telephone here, M&O, and then Mrs D (one of the carers). If no response is received from the first number, they try the second, and so on. If no response is received from any of the four numbers, they contact the fire brigade.

So, on with the tale.

We were awoken soon after 6:00 a.m. by the lights of a vehicle driving into our courtyard. It was M&O. Apparently the aged FIL had pushed his button, and Présence Verte had swung into action. There was no response from LSS’s mobile (poor phone reception here as I mentioned); no response from the telephone here (obviously it was not working due to the power cut); and M&O had sleepily responded to the call. However, they had been unable to gain access to the aged FIL’s house because the door was locked (as is usually the case at night). Hence they drove here. LSS explained about the telephone, and assured them she would investigate the problem. Slightly disgruntled, M&O drove home again. (Fortunately this is only the second time in two years they’ve had to respond).

LSS jumped into the car and drove off to the aged FIL.

It transpired that he had pushed his emergency button because his electric heaters had stopped working.

LSS explained that there had been a power cut, and we were without power as well. The silly thing is, on one occasion during the previous week, the carer had not turned up to get him out of bed and feed him breakfast, and he had simply laid there waiting until lunchtime, not remembering he had an emergency button to press. Whilst at his house, LSS telephoned Neighbour J; she was without power as well. ERDF (the French electricity supply company) was contacted, and they explained they were aware of the problem (a probable lightning strike to a substation), and were investigating.

Whilst LSS was away, I noticed an ERDF van drive past our house. Later in the morning the van returned and the driver asked if there were any overhead pylons on the property. I replied in the affirmative and gave them permission to use the access road between us and the aged FIL.

Later that morning we discovered that one of the ERDF lorries had buried itself in the ditch not far from our entrance.
ERDF lorry in ditch
Note the brand new, cellophane-wrapped, unused winch on the front.

I’m pretty sure I could have extracted the lorry from the ditch under its own power by using a combination of the winch and diff-lock. Perhaps ERDF drivers should participate in a Land Rover off-road event as part of their training.

During the afternoon the recovery vehicles arrived.
Recovery vehicles

The power finally came back on here at around 3:00 p.m. LSS went to the aged FIL to check, and discovered that his power was still off. Yet another call to ERDF revealed that the case had been marked as resolved, and the technicians were on their way back to Blois. The control centre promised that they would be recalled, and his power was finally restored by 5:00 p.m. I think we need to purchase a generator; we’re pretty self-sufficient in everything except electricity, which is needed to power the borehole pump and our two freezers – not to mention the telephone!

23/04/2014

As a remnant from my days of Land Rover ownership, I have a Hi-Lift jack. In case you don’t know what this is, it’s one of these: Hi-Lift Jack.

Well, supposedly you can use it as a tyre bead breaker. Some research revealed that the method for doing this is to put the tyre underneath the front bumper of your Land Rover, place the base of the jack on the tyre, and jack up the Land Rover. Well, I no longer have a Land Rover, and the tractor is at the other farmhouse, so obviously another method needed to be used.

Further online research gave me an idea. I placed the tyre on the ground, put some blocks of wood on the surface of the tyre, and a stout oak beam across these. A strong chain was attached to the underside of the rim, and by linking the chain to my Hi-Lift jack, I was soon rewarded by a loud “pop” as the tyre bead let go of the rim. Having repeated this procedure on the other side of the tyre, I removed the inner tube and inflated it. I was unable to find any punctures, and the valve was not leaking either, so I put the inflated inner tube to one side to see if it goes flat after a couple of days. I need to repeat the bead-breaking procedure on the other spare wheel.

In the evening we went to dinner with Lady A. (I suspect this will be a one-off occurrence, so I don’t think she qualifies to be included in the abbreviations list on the right). This is one of LSS’s students; although she retired five years ago she decided she wanted to learn English because everyone else in her family is fairly fluent! Her husband is in the very top echelon of one of the largest companies in France, so they live in a residence which is known locally as a château. It’s a very large converted hunting lodge. I refer to her as Lady A not because she has a title but simply to indicate the type of person she is. Cook had prepared a dinner of asparagus, followed by roast beef, and a simple dessert of strawberries and ice cream. I have been to more formal dinners; but this one was fairly formal. It was what is known as “butler service” in English (or “service à la francaise” in French!)

Lady A was very pleasant, although it was subtly evident that a large portion of her income had gone straight into the pockets of Parisian plastic surgeons. She mentioned that she was looking to buy another house in the south of France. Two of her grandchildren were staying with her for the school holidays, as the skiing season in Switzerland was over for the year. They attend school in Poland, so were fluent in Polish, French (obviously), and English. They are currently also studying German and Mandarin. Very well-mannered they were too. Lady A is keen to visit London towards the end of the year and wishes to employ LSS as an official translator for the trip.

Wildlife diary: There are no eggs left in the duck’s nest; Mrs Duck has disappeared as well. We think it’s unlikely to have been a fox; but a marten could have been the culprit as we have seen one around here.

22/04/2014

An early start was made this morning, and after a mere thirty minutes, both ditches were complete. After returning the tractor to its shed, I laid the rainwater pipes between the workshop and the ditch and filled in the trench. This was the important trench, because it cuts straight across the access track leading to Soggy Bottom (the name we’ve given the lowest field), and this track is used fairly frequently by M&O as they put out food to attract the wild boar (for hunting purposes). Even though the current hunting season is over, they want to ensure the boar remain in the area.

I then laid the pipes in the Horse Field trench and filled this one in as well (after feeding the electricity cable and hosepipe through first, of course.)

Mood (the bunny) is gathering straw from all over the cage and building a tunnel in one corner, so it looks like she’s getting ready to have kittens. Why do they call baby rabbits kittens? No idea. LSS has managed to break the petrol-engined weed trimmer, so that’s another item for the list of things to be repaired.

This evening we tried our second bottle of home-made perry. A month ago we tried some; it was very flat and a bit sharp. I’m pleased to report that Bottle Number 2 was much improved; it would appear that malo-lactic fermentation has started, so it was moderately bubbly and tasted much better, so we can chalk up another success on the home-brewing front! Speaking of home-brewing, the aged FIL still has the legal right to make moonshine (home-distilled alcohol). Apparently this right was issued in the past to French persons who served in the armed Forces. Unfortunately it’s not hereditary, and I believe it’s no longer being issued. So whilst the aged FIL is still around, we’ve decided that this year we will gather a crop of pears and/or apples (depending on which is most abundant) and use his licence to have these distilled into a form of brandy. Purely for medicinal use, of course.

Wildlife diary: Mrs Duck is still on her nest, so we’re not too sure what’s going on there.

21/04/2014

Today I’d planned to use the trench-digging implement on the tractor to excavate the two required trenches I mentioned last week. So, bright and early, we went over to the aged FIL to get the tractor ready. But of course, nothing ever goes smoothly. The first problem was that, once again, one of the tractor’s front wheels was flat. The tractor is obviously out of commission until I fix it.

There are actually two spare wheels, but we found that these were both flat as well! We brought the two spares back to La Darnoire where at least I have my tools handy, but I was unable to get one of the tyres off its rim; I need a tractor-sized bead breaker tool. The other spare wheel has what is known as a split rim (basically the rim is in two parts so it’s easier to remove the tyre). I removed the tube, but found that the problem was not a puncture, but a leaky valve. The valve interior thread is basically toast, so inserting a new Schrader valve has no effect. The valve housing itself needs to be replaced. Unfortunately because of the split-rim design, the brass valve housing (which is replaceable) is about 10cm long, with two 45° bends in it. And of course that’s just the type of valve we don’t have!

Fortunately later in the afternoon LSS managed to find (in the dark recesses of the aged FIL’s workshop) another punctured tube with a similar elongated valve, so I was able to use that valve to fix the split-rim tyre. Once the repaired wheel was back on the tractor, we attempted to hitch the ditch-digging attachment to the tractor. After several minutes of effort, this was finally attached; but we then couldn’t find the drive-shaft (and of course the aged FIL couldn’t remember where he’d put it.) After much searching, we eventually found it in his workshop, but as it had not been used for years it needed the application of a stout metal pole as a lever in order to expand it sufficiently to reach from the tractor’s power take-off to the ditch-digger. All of this malarkey meant that by the time everything was ready for actually digging ditches it was starting to get dark. I parked the tractor at La Darnoire ready for an early start tomorrow. I’ve also asked LSS to pick up a new 7.50×20 inner tube the next time she passes by the village’s agricultural supply company, as all the current inner tubes are very heavily patched.

Wildlife diary: LSS reported that out of the ten eggs which were in the duck’s nest, only three are left.

18/04/2014

As it has become known locally that we have four free-range hens which are not fed on anything genetically modified, chemically altered, or full of pesticides, several persons have now applied to be put on the waiting list for purchasing eggs. We therefore need more hens. It had been planned to purchase an additional two hens annually, but we’ve now reconsidered this schedule, and today we fetched two new youngsters. They will need to be kept separate from the original four birds for a week and then they can be put together so that the pecking order can be established.

I have been using a manual post-hole digger to install some stout fence-posts in Horse Field. These will be supplemented by an electric fence, of course. The next job will be to dig a trench for the pipes which will carry the water and electricity from the farm buildings to the field. I also need to dig a trench between the workshop and the closest ditch so that excess rainwater from the garage roof can be channelled away. I have decided against digging these trenches by hand; as the aged FIL has a ditch-digging implement which fits on the tractor we’re going to see if we can get this ancient machine operational again!

Wildlife diary:
I went to water my bonsai the other day and although the watering can was full of water, nothing was coming out of the spout. So I peered in, and was surprised to see a little face peering back at me:
Tree frog
It’s a good job we have several watering cans, because this one is now out of commission! I’ve since ascertained the occupant is a tree frog, Hyla arborea.

15/04/2014

There’s an annual equestrian event in Lamotte Beuvron, which entails 10,000 horses visiting the area. (No, that’s not a misplaced comma). This means that people have a requirement for stabling, and as we have a vacant field available, we’ve decided to prepare it to receive horses.

In preparation, LSS has cut the grass in the field with the tractor. To provide water for the animals, we brought a heavy cast-iron bathtub from the other farm. It used to be a cattle trough. We had to use the transport box on the tractor to bring it here!

The weather has now warmed up somewhat, so LSS has once again been busy in the garden. Using some PVC sheeting which she found, she has created a raised bed for the strawberry plants. I believe it’s called “plasticulture”.

 

strawberries

She has also used a remnant of the polytunnel PVC sheeting to construct a long cloche for the first potato plants. In the polytunnel itself, radishes are already growing. The tomatoes are being a bit slow though.

The problem with the Renault 5’s braking system has now been resolved. The calliper piston on the right front wheel had completely seized. However, despite extensive research I was unable to find replacement seals or pistons anywhere, so ended up buying a complete re-manufactured calliper for around €40 (including postage). All the vehicles are now once again operational.

I finally completed the garden shed. I built it against the workshop rear wall using the customary pallets and covered these with recycled corrugated iron sheets. At least now all our garden machinery can be stored out of the rain and no longer takes up space in my workshop!

garden-shed

Work on the solar panel is progressing; the next job is to attach 30 metres of copper tubing to the panel. Then I need to glaze it (using some sheets of window glass which came off an old combine harvester). Even though the copper tubing I’m using is of the annealed variety (in other words it’s easier to bend) I have had no end of trouble forming smooth 180° bends without kinking the tube. Lacking a professional pipe bender, another method of bending copper tube smoothly is to fill it with sand prior to bending it. Unfortunately when each tube is ten metres long, this is not really a viable option. So there is no alternative but to solder two 90° elbows at the end of each run. A total of 56 elbows are required…

Wildlife diary: There are now 10 eggs in the duck nest, and Mrs Duck is in residence.

10/04/2014

Dentists.

Today I had my first experience with a French dentist. A bit of background is necessary first though. When I was growing up, fluoride was an added component to the water supply in Namibia. So I don’t know if it was due to this, proper brushing, or simply genetics, but the sum total of my dental treatment thus far in life has been two fillings. Unlike Neighbour J, I do have a toothbrush.

I have thus been fortunate in that I don’t need to visit a dentist very often. The last one I attended in the UK turned out to be a South African, and very good he was too.

However, for the past couple of months one of my back teeth has been a bit painful, so LSS duly made an appointment for me with her dentist. It transpired that one of my two fillings had become cracked.

The woman dentist swiftly appraised my dentition, complimented me on the state of my teeth, and decided it should be a simple job to drill out the remains of the old filling and insert a new one. “I’m not going to bother with anaesthetic,” she said, much to my surprise. “If it hurts too much we’ll reconsider.”

A loud whining noise then commenced, but I stopped when it was obvious she was not paying attention.

Thirty seconds later a new filling had been inserted. Total time spent in chair: five minutes.

Another appointment has been made for the customary tooth polishing, after which I will be presented with the bill.

But all in all, it was not a bad experience.