Monthly Archives: May 2014

31/05/2014

The remaining wall of the aged FIL’s garage fell down last night. Well, at least that saves us having to get someone to demolish it. The insurance expert paid us a visit at the beginning of the week, and said we can start getting quotes for rebuilding.

The wall finally collapses

The wall finally collapses

Wildlife diary: The coypu has not been seen for a few days now. The trap had been baited with some potatoes, but LSS bought an apple today at the supermarket, so we’ve replaced the potatoes with pieces of apple. Hopefully it’s moved on to other premises.

28/05/2014

LSS had the bright idea of searching the aged FIL’s cupboards for a suitable coypu dispatcher. Success! We have now borrowed something which I must admit I have never seen before. It’s called a “garden gun”.

It’s a single-shot shotgun (in other words the barrel has no rifling) but it’s bolt-action, and takes a selection of 9mm rimfire cartridges. Those of particular interest in this case are solid slugs. Now at least we have a humane method of disposing of the coypu. Should we catch it, of course. The live trap has been placed at the back of the pond.

There has still been no news from HSBC regarding the bank account closure. The remaining funds have still not been transferred to our joint account. LSS called them to enquire what the delay was. They replied that everything was in order, but it could take up to a month to close an account. Why am I not surprised?

27/05/2014

We would appear to have a coypu in our pond. This is both good and bad news. Good, because we can make some more pâté and tanning-of-skin; and bad, because these animals are very habitat-destructive. We can do without ring-barked trees and increased erosion of the pond banks due to tunneling, thank you very much. I’ll need to set up the aged FIL’s live trap tomorrow. This is a wire cage with a baseplate linked to sliding doors at both ends. When an animal steps on the baseplate, the doors shut. Unfortunately disposing of the animal humanely is going to be a problem.

A long, long, time ago I owned a .22LR pistol, which I enjoyed using for occasional target shooting. Unfortunately the UK government decided this was A Bad Thing, and banned pistol ownership. Of course this meant the end of gun crime in the UK.

Oh, wait, wrong universe. Of course it didn’t.

Anyway, I switched to owning a .22LR rifle instead. Unfortunately the UK government then decided this was also A Bad Thing, and changed the rules. One had to be a member of a shooting club, and attend regular meetings (regular as in weekly). Due to time constraints at the time, I was unable to comply with the weekly requirement, so that was the end of my target shooting days. .22 ownership is Frowned Upon in France; I could apply for a hunting licence, and get a shotgun or larger calibre rifle – but I don’t have the time or finances at the moment.

The point is, I am left without a humane way of dispatching the possibly-caught coypu. As it is an environmental destroyer, releasing it elsewhere is not an option. And even if I had a shotgun, this would damage both the meat and the pelt. Whacking it on the head with an iron bar could be dangerous; these animals can inflict a nasty bite when cornered. I’ll say no more, but I’m afraid there will be no quick method employed, if the animal is unfortunate enough to get caught in the trap.

25/05/2014

(This post was supposed to go live on the 25th. However, LSS wanted to check some details first. Details have now been checked and verified, so here it is.)

We went to the village polling station again to vote in the EU elections. The turnout did not seem to be as impressive as it was when the local Mayoral elections were being held! Once again the French system appears to be particularly unkind to trees; each party (of which there were many!) has its own piece of paper. These are displayed in stacks on two trestle tables. One collects a piece of paper from each stack, and in the secrecy of the polling booth puts ones chosen piece of paper in the envelope. The unused pieces of paper are then simply thrown away. Of course in our case they were thrown away in the direction of the box containing fire-lighting materials.

The little bunnies are now eating solid food in addition to their accustomed diet; so we now need to pick grass, dandelions, clover etc. etc. several times a day. They’re also tucking in to kitchen vegetable scraps (the radish leaves, for example). Speaking of bunnies, here’s a rather chilling bunny-related tale:

Once upon a time, LSS had a First Cousin Twice Removed. (To save you looking it up in a genealogical textbook, this was her grandfather’s cousin). During the Second World War, France was of course occupied by the Germans. And one of the rules that the occupying forces imposed was that the possession of firearms was prohibited (for obvious reasons).

Now this First Cousin Twice Removed (we’ll call him Charles, because not only was that his name, but to keep referring to him as First Cousin Twice Removed would be silly) was a farmer. He would have been in his late thirties when the following events occurred. He was also particularly fond of wild rabbits. I don’t mean he went into the woods to admire the cute bunnies; he found them to be extremely tasty, especially when his wife Albertine made a casserole on the wood-burning kitchen range. As his skills at setting snares were not really up to scratch, he decided to ignore this apparently stupid law, and retained his shotgun.

All would have been well, had Charles not also had a fondness for a few glasses of lunchtime wine at the pavement tables of the village café. On this particular day he had arranged to meet his friend René, to catch up on some gossip.

The sunlight sparkled on the wine-glasses of the two men. An open packet of Gauloises cigarettes lay next to a half-empty bottle of red wine, which cast a ruby shadow on the surface of the stained circular table. The state of the ashtray indicated that the men had been there for some time; two empty wine-bottles had already been removed by the waiter. Deep in conversation, the two men paid scant attention to the other customers.

The sunlight also glittered on the silver-grey braid around the collar of Scharführer Günzel, seated at a table near the doorway. Although the local radar installation fell under the jurisdiction of the Luftwaffe, Scharführer Günzel had been seconded to this unit. He was ostensibly in charge of the security for the radar; but the real reason for his posting was to try and gather any intelligence available regarding the local French Resistance. (The nearby Maquis de Souesmes were giving the occupying forces a lot of trouble. The munitions factory in nearby Salbris was now under German control, and the four main sections of this factory were linked by a rail network; an easy target for sabotage.) The diamond-shaped patch on his sleeve bore the letters “SD” (Sicherheitsdienst); Scharführer Günzel was a non-commissioned officer in the SS. He had been selected for this particular task because he spoke fluent French, although as part of his cover he pretended not to understand more than a few basic words.

Meanwhile, the conversation between Charles and his friend was becoming interesting. René was complaining about the scarcity of the local game, and the recent difficulty in snaring rabbits. “I don’t have that problem!” boasted Charles. “I just use my shotgun. I’m not obeying any stupid Boche rules. My farm is miles away from the village, so nobody is any the wiser.” His friend kicked him under the table, indicating the German soldier drinking coffee at the table near the doorway. “Oh, don’t worry about him. He’s always here. He doesn’t speak French anyway. More wine?”

A few days later, Charles was not at home when a squad of German soldiers arrived to search for the illegal shotgun. But his wife was.

The children were somewhat puzzled to find their mother missing when they returned home from school. She was never seen again; she died in one of the camps. There is a simple plaque on her parents’ grave:

Albertine

Albertine (surname redacted by author)

Postscript: When Charles died in 1985, his children refused to have him buried in the family plot; instead he is interred at the other end of the village cemetery.

24/05/2014

I went to the other branch of BricoDepot in Bourges, on my own this time, as LSS had Things To Do. She had called them first to make sure they had this model of generator in stock (they did) and to ask if they would reserve one for me (“Yes,” they said). So we now have a means of pushing electrons through some copper wires if there’s another power cut!

23/05/2014

In the afternoon we paid a visit to BricoDepot in Orleans to obtain sundry building supplies which will enable me to start work on constructing the corridor between the lounge and the barn. Once the solar panel installation has been completed, that is. The corridor construction entails building a partition wall and door in the bedroom, before I use a hammer and chisel to open up a doorway leading into the barn.

Other items on the shopping list included an air compressor (the aged FIL’s is now a melted pile of scrap due to the fire) and a small generator (to power our essentials should there be another long-lasting electricity outage – which, with the current state of the weather, is highly likely).

Shopping at BricoDepot is both a good and bad experience.

Good; because they usually have items in stock. Except for today, of course. The generator I wanted had sold out, so I’ll need to pay a visit to the branch in Bourges tomorrow to get that. But it’s at a good price, so it’s worth the trip.
Bad; because although BricoDepot is owned by the Kingfisher Group (which also owns B&Q and Screwfix in the UK), the customer service (ah, those foreign words again) is typically French. Their stock is placed on heavy-duty racking, reaching to the ceiling in some places. I asked for some assistance in retrieving ten timber beams from a high stack, just out of reach. Assistance was promised.

Having waited for nearly ten minutes, LSS then joined me, having been wandering around on her own looking for other bits and pieces. Successfully, I may add. She went off to ask for assistance. Assistance was promised.

After yet another ten minutes, she went to ask again. Finally a fork-lift truck operator appeared. Unfortunately his forklift was already heavily-laden with another customers’ purchases. He joined the queue waiting to pay, which by this time had grown enormously. I’d had enough. I climbed onto the lowest stack of timbers, and at the full extent of my arms, pulled the beams I required from the upper stack one at a time. It’s a good job I’m tall. The fork-lift truck operator watched this operation expressionlessly, then said something like “Do you need assistance?”
“Désolé, je ne parle pas français!” (Sorry, I don’t speak French), I retorted, then added in English, “When we asked for help, you lot couldn’t be bothered. Now you can bu**er off; I’ll do it myself.” Uncomprehending Gallic shrugs resulted. (When we had finally paid for all our purchases and left the shop with two fully-laden heavy-duty trolleys, we noticed a group of five employees in the car-park all chatting away and smoking cigarettes. Now as an ex-smoker myself, I have no issue with people taking smoke-breaks. But when a shop is busy and there are insufficient staff, as a manager I would not countenance having five employees taking a break at the same time.)

Having loaded the timber beams onto the trolley, we moved on to the aisle containing doors. At this point LSS received a telephone call from Présence Verte on her mobile. The aged FIL had pushed his emergency button. Again. Obviously, as we were in Orleans, LSS requested that the next person on the list (M&O) respond to the call. It transpired that there had been a thunderstorm, and the aged FIL’s electricity supply had tripped. Again. M&O managed to reset it successfully. We’ve received a quote from the company for which LSS’s cousin’s husband works (well, it’s the countryside; everybody either knows everybody else or is related) for the re-wiring of the aged FIL’s house. It’s around €4500, which is roughly what I estimated it would cost. The aged FIL will be able to afford that, so as soon as the second quote is received (from the emergency electrician who attended last Saturday) we’ll be able to authorise the work. This emergency-button-pushing due to failing electrics has to stop!

The good news today was that we received a refund from the French National Health Service for my dental work (tooth filling), which brought the cost down to a meagre €17. When discussing this with T&M, they did point out that in contrast to dental work, there is a six-month wait if you would like to have a checkup at an optometrist – and unless you have a “Mutuel” (a top-up healthcare payment), spectacles are horribly expensive. The annual cost of the “Mutuel” itself is also rather high, so we’ve opted to do without. As we’re planning a visit to the UK towards the end of the year to stock up on some essentials, we’ll try and book an appointment at Vision Express for an eye test. Not that either of us need spectacles yet, but it would be nice to have an official verdict!

22/05/2014

The carer telephoned us in the late afternoon. The aged FIL has no electricity again. We drove over to investigate.

Using my multimeter to trace the fault, it appeared that during his attempts to restore power to the aged FIL’s premises after the recent fire-and-power-failure, the electrician had dislodged a piece of trunking leading to a plug in the kitchen (the one which powers two electric heaters – don’t even comment), and the cloth-wrapped wiring had shorted out. I replaced the fuse wire in the ceramic fuse, using the very last piece of fuse wire, and put a piece of duct tape over the plug socket to prevent it being used. The heaters were transferred to the washing machine plug socket, which is the only other electrical outlet in the kitchen. (I’m not counting the other two plug sockets bodged into the 10-Amp lighting circuit).

Today’s post included a receipt, indicating that HSBC had received the recorded letter requesting the closure of my bank account.

21/05/2014

The bunnies finally appeared. This time they were much easier to count; we have ten. Seven black ones, and three like their mother.

Their names? Mustard, Prunes, Left Slipper, Right Slipper, Waistcoat One, Waistcoat Two… Only kidding. No, they haven’t been given names; after all, they’re not pets but food.

It rained pretty much all day today. In the afternoon, we had lightning and thunder (with more rain of course). And in the evening the aged FIL pushed his emergency button. This time LSS was home to take the call. He was once again without electricity. It wasn’t a neighbourhood power cut this time, but his mains box had tripped. LSS checked all the old ceramic fuses (which were all fine) and finally in desperation gave the festoon of wiring around the old mains box (did I mention his electricity needs upgrading?) a shake. This seemed to resolve the problem. I have a feeling it’s temporary…
Electricity wiring

17/05/2014

In the morning I fitted the solar panel tubing into the frame, having first inserted a layer of glass fibre for insulation. I now need to drill some holes in the end of the frame for the exit of the tubes.

We then went to the aged FIL so that I could pump up the three spare tractor tubes. I think the reason they are going flat is that they have punctures; but when testing for leaks I had not inflated them sufficiently. Having pumped them up using the ancient compressor in his garage, I discovered I was correct. Each one had a tiny puncture. These have now been repaired, and I’ve asked LSS to feel around the inside of the actual tyres to see if there are any thorns, as her hands are more sensitive than mine. I couldn’t feel anything, but there must be a thorn through the casing somewhere.

Now, if you remember correctly, I have mentioned several times in the past that the aged FIL’s house is in sore need of electrical rewiring. However, he has refused, saying that a) he does not have the money (“If the house needs rewiring, YOU can pay for it. I’m not paying a cent!”) and b) it’s not necessary anyway. “It’s worked fine since the electricity was first installed in 1946. I don’t care if standards have changed since then.”

Well, today was the day that our predictions came partially true.

At 6 p.m. LSS received a phone call from one of the carers. “I’ve just arrived to give him his dinner, and I’ve called the Fire Brigade; the garage is burning down.”

We dropped everything and dashed over. The Fire Brigade arrived some ten minutes later; the village fire engine is apparently in for repair, so they had enlisted the help of the next village, Brinon. The entire building had collapsed, burying the compressor, welding machine, and heavy-duty lathe. Fortunately we had removed the aged FIL’s car from the garage several months ago, as it was getting covered in owl droppings.

The police were there as well. Apparently when there’s a fire, they have to attend to determine whether the cause was accidental, or arson. The mayor turned up too, as did the Garde Champêtre. The reason they attended was because it was a domestic fire, and they needed to ascertain whether the occupants needed to be re-homed if the building turned out to be uninhabitable. Rather a good system, I think.

Fire!

It seems that the ancient wiring had finally given up the ghost. Fortunately the ancient ceramic fuses had given way as well, so the entire main building was also without electricity; otherwise there could well have been a chain reaction which would have burnt down the main farmhouse too, with the aged FIL therein.

Although I had unplugged the compressor from the mains (as I usually do after using any of his equipment), the strain on the ancient, cloth-wrapped wiring had obviously finally proved to be too much. The silly thing is, although the aged FIL wears an emergency aid button on his wrist, he didn’t think of pressing it. “I heard loud bangs, and saw lots of smoke,” he said sheepishly, “But I didn’t want to bother M&O.” (The way the emergency button works, is that the central control station telephones us first, then M&O, then one of the carers, and if no response is forthcoming from any of these, the fire brigade. As luck would have it, the last two times he has pushed the button, we were unavailable, so on both occasions M&O responded.) LSS drily pointed out that M&O had volunteered to be on the list, and would not have done so if they had not been prepared to help.

The loud bangs he heard were exploding paint tins, as these were stored on a shelf above the electrical cabinet. Well, I call it a cabinet. It was a piece of wood with wires draped around it.

Because of the electrical danger, the Garde Champêtre had called a local electrician to ensure that when the fire department sprayed the smouldering roof beams with water, there were no unpleasant electrical surprises. The head of the fire brigade then held an impromptu meeting with the other officialdom present viz. the electrician, EDF, and the police. The conclusion was that the wiring was unfit for use, and if the aged FIL does not upgrade it, his house will be declared uninhabitable.

The local electrician then looked in horror at the electrical installation, but dug out his miner’s LED head-torch and got busy in the gloom to ensure that at least the kitchen and bedroom had a temporary electricity supply for the aged FIL’s heaters.

On Monday LSS will be busy on the telephone, getting estimates for the electrical upgrade, speaking to the insurance company etc. etc. Unfortunately (or fortunately) this is the last straw; if the aged FIL refuses to have his electrical wiring upgraded, LSS will have no option but to contact the police and EDF in order to declare the building officially uninhabitable; and the aged FIL will then be re-homed to a retirement house in the village whether he likes it or not, for his own safety.

16/05/2014

The solar panel frame painting is now complete. We also visited Neighbour J to pick elderflowers, for this year’s batch of elderflower champagne and elderflower cordial. In the afternoon the two newest hens were allowed to exit the chicken coop to join the others. They are now roosting with their elder companions so they know where their home is!

We have decided to close my bank account and convert LSS’s bank account into a joint account. The reason for this is twofold. In the UK, banking is free. In France, you’re charged a monthly fee of approximately €8.50 for the privilege of having a bank account. By having a single joint account, we’re saving one of these monthly fees. Also, my nearest HSBC branch in Brinon has now closed, and the banking facilities have been moved to a town called Argent-sur-Sauldre, several kilometres beyond Brinon. As LSS is the one who tends to do the shopping, and is the one currently receiving payments for giving English lessons, it makes sense that her account is the one to be kept.

LSS called HSBC on my behalf and asked what they required in order to close my account. They replied that all they needed was a letter signed by me. “What about the chequebook and bank cards?” LSS asked. “Oh no, we don’t need those back. Once the account is closed you can destroy them.” We are by now, of course, thoroughly suspicious of any official information received (due to the fiasco of the Quittus Fiscal paperwork in our first year of residence – for further details, read the book!)

So LSS drafted a letter for me, requesting HSBC to close my account. It will be posted on Monday by recorded delivery.