Monthly Archives: September 2014

28/09/2014

For the first time since its installation, we’ve switched on and tested the central heating. It’s simply a programmable timer which switches on a 12V pump. The pump circulates propylene glycol between a copper coil in the thermal store, and a radiator. It certainly works! I’ve now programmed it to switch on for a couple of hours in the mornings as well. The thermal store retains enough heat overnight for that.

A weekly task on Sundays is to empty out and clean the greywater filter. This is simply a cheap stainless steel flour sifter, through which the grey water passes on entry into the sump. I’m not impressed with Chinese stainless steel though; there are already rust spots everywhere. But it’s working fine.

On Wednesday this week, I collected the “sorry you were out” parcel from the village post office. One of the items in the parcel was a special type of hydrometer, rated for “low-density” liquids. So I was able to measure the strength of our “plum wine derivative” (if you know what I mean). It wasn’t too bad for a first effort, but it only measured 20%. I think the equipment needs some modification in order to achieve a higher – um – delivery!

LSS bumped into an old school friend on her way home one evening last week so stopped to chat. During the course of the conversation LSS explained what she was doing and how many hours she was working. The friend, typically French, was horrified. She has what LSS and I call sarcastically “A Good Job.” In other words, a job in which you start work at 9 a.m. exactly (not one second before); and knock off at 5 p.m. precisely (not one second later). Except for Fridays of course, when you finish work at lunchtime (there’s a 35-hour week here you know). Mondays to Wednesdays are spent talking to your colleagues about what you did on the previous weekend. Thursdays and Fridays are spent talking about what you are going to do the following weekend. You get a month off every year; in addition to the myriad of public holidays, of course.

“And your husband – he obviously couldn’t find a job here in France then?”
“He didn’t look for one. He has a full-time job renovating our house and writing books about it. One has been published already.”
Blank look. “But that’s not a job. People don’t write books!”

No, of course not. Libraries are full of books not written by anybody. I wonder if she’s ever heard of Stephen King?

23/09/2014

There’s a definite chill in the air now. This morning the temperature on the solar thermal panel was 5.6° C. We may soon be lighting the boiler stove with the aim of warming up the house rather than just heating the water. Speaking of the boiler stove, we still have a slight problem with the bedroom getting smoky. It’s because where the stove pipe exits into the chimney, the sudden increase in volume means that the smoke cools and fills the chimney before exiting at the top, and the vacuum caused by the VMC (extractor fan) means the smoke is still finding its way through the false ceiling to the bedroom. I’ve also noticed one of the sections of stainless steel stovepipe has developed pin-holes. I smeared some fire cement on the inside of this section, covering the holes; but I’m seriously unimpressed with the quality of the stovepipe – it’s only been in service for a year.

A solution to improve the draught and prevent the interference from the VMC would appear to be the installation of a chimney liner from the stovepipe exit to the chimney pot. Although I try to do all renovation and repair work myself, this is one thing I’m not comfortable with doing. Even though we “borrowed” a two-piece 6-metre ladder from the aged FIL, this is still not long enough to reach the top of the chimney pot. I also still don’t like working at heights. I actually had a fear of heights when I was younger, but this was resolved by trying skydiving with a university friend. This was back in the days when parachutes were still round – before the modern square “ram air” parachutes were in common use.

There is an amazingly loud “CRACK!” when the parachute opens, followed by complete silence as one drifts peacefully downwards. The view from that height is obviously spectacular as well.

I think it was on our second training jump (still using static-lines) that my friend had a problem; one of the parachute lines became crossed over one side of the canopy, causing a malfunction known as a “Mae West” for obvious reasons. Fortunately he was able to untangle this line fairly quickly without having to ditch the main ‘chute and pull his reserve. He landed safely, but due to the utmost concentration on resolving the malfunction, he had become confused about timings. I had actually jumped before him, but he was under the impression that he had jumped first. Looking up, he saw what he thought was me. What he actually saw was one of the more experienced free-fallers.

Assuming my main ‘chute had not opened, he was yelling upwards at the top of his lungs, “Pull your reserve! Pull your reserve!” – and then he noticed me walking across the airfield grass to join him.

I still don’t like heights though.

Where was I? Oh yes, the chimney liner. We requested and accepted a quote from the chimney sweep to have the work done. This was in July. France, of course, takes the month of August off. He had promised to do the job by mid-September. LSS called him last week, and was told that he would now not be able to do the work until the first week in October. Oh well, I guess we’ll just keep opening the bedroom window until then.

One of the aged FIL’s carers has been booked off work for a week due to a neck injury sustained in a car accident. The crash wasn’t her fault. The teenage joyriders in the car which T-boned hers did not have a licence so obviously had not been taught the meaning of the octagonal sign with the word STOP printed on it.

22/09/2014

So, I expect you’re wondering what the coypu stew was like? Well, it tasted a lot like a rabbit stew; LSS prepared it with mustard. Our first garden carrots were included, as were home-grown onions and potatoes. Basically it was a totally free meal (except for the mustard of course). The sauce was enriched with half a bottle of our pea-pod wine. It’s not very nice to drink, but tastes great in a stew! For dessert we had a bowl of strawberries each; we’ve been eating these regularly since May.

The blasted post(wo)man left another “sorry you were out” card in our letterbox! LSS will no doubt be informing one of her old school-friends, who justhappens to be the head postmistress for the area. I don’t think the postie will be getting a Christmas present this year. In France, at the beginning of December, various persons pay one a visit, selling calendars for the following year. These persons include the fire brigade – which is staffed by volunteers – and the post(wo)man. They purchase a stack of calendars themselves, and sell them on to householders. One pays as much – or as little – as one wants.

I have now finished operating the rotary hammer; the doorway is now at its required width. And the ceiling hasn’t fallen down, which is a bonus. Tomorrow I will construct a plywood form which will serve as the support for the brick arch until the mortar dries. Some geometry comes into play here; the arch needs to be 15cm high, and the width of the doorway is 90cm. So it is necessary to calculate the radius of a circle which fits the arc.

In case you were wondering, the formula is: Radius = H/2 +W²/8H, where W is the width, and H the height. The radius in this case is thus 75cm. Now I just need to find a compass big enough…

21/09/2014

LSS went to the aged FIL to collect some dandelions from his garden for the bunnies. As his garden has been left fairly untouched for two years, the dandelions have sprouted everywhere, and the rabbits love them. When she got there, not only was he in his chair, but he was actually watching television! This event is worthy of inclusion in the evening regional news, based on his previous reactions to suggestions that he should switch on the set.

The young peach tree near our kitchen has produced a good crop for the second year running. Although small, the fruit is now fully ripe and starting to fall from the tree. I must say I have never in my life had such tasty peaches. Although I love fruit, I have a problem with things like peaches and apricots. Their furry skins really put my teeth on edge, so I have to peel them first!

The coypu which had invaded our pond a while ago spent the day defrosting. In the late afternoon, LSS introduced it to the stew-pot, and we hope they will be the best of friends. We hate wasting any sort of food. LSS was chatting to the mother of one of her students the other day, who works near a branch of “Restos du Cœur“. This is an association which dishes out food parcels and hot meals to persons in need. Unfortunately it would seem that there are some persons in need who are not really in need. She has seen evidence in a nearby skip that food parcels have been opened, and un-liked contents simply thrown away. Having grown up in Africa – well, I’ll say no more about this.

20/09/2014

Our normal postman has been off sick for a while now. I think they have replaced him with a person from outside the region. For the second time we discovered a card in our postbox: “We attempted delivery of a parcel, but you were out.” Well, I wasn’t out. I was actually in front of the computer all day. Because the road running past the farmhouse is unsurfaced, one can easily hear vehicles going past the property, and no such sound was heard.

I don’t think the replacement post(woman) knows where our house is; the postbox is next to that of the neighbouring property, just outside their gate, some 400 metres away from us. We think she probably rang their bell, and, getting no response, left the card. So once again I’ll have to trot into the village on Tuesday next week (the post office is not open on Mondays).

19/09/2014

It was another very cloudy day, so the boiler stove was lit once again in the late afternoon. I spent most of the day behind my SDS+ rotary hammer; we now have an opening from the corridor to the barn! Oh won’t LSS be surprised when she gets home – we have moved one step closer to achieving an indoor bathroom.

The hens have finally reached full production; ten hens: ten eggs. And we’ve just had one of our watermelons. All right, it wasn’t very big. I noticed it was rotting away in the garden, so I picked it up to give it to the hens. When I cut it in half, I noticed that only half of it was rotting; so we ate the non-rotten half. Very nice it was too! And the hens loved the other bit; they really are dustbins.

The rind wasn’t wasted either – the rabbits enjoyed it.

In the evening we treated ourselves by going to a restaurant in Salbris for dinner. Run by a Portuguese (there are a lot of them in Salbris), the menu was great. The choice of beer wasn’t that good though. We ended up selecting a Grimbergen Rouge – a Belgian beer brewed with the addition of raspberries. Well, it was either that or a 1664. Next time I think we’ll try the Portuguese wine…

18/09/2014

Due to the success of the last batch, I started brewing another lot of ginger beer. I’m having to use a large saucepan, because one of the fermentation buckets is currently occupied with a Belgian Triple, and the other is fermenting some perry. Once the Triple has been bottled, I’m going to try making some pumpkin ale. Well, the pumpkins have done well this year!

I also finished the corridor construction – now I can start breaking through walls. But one can’t just take a hammer and create a hole! Because it’s a load-bearing wall, it needs to be supported before any bricks are removed. This is done by knocking a small hole through the wall at a height which will be above the top of the intended doorway. A timber beam – or metal bar, depending on what you have – is then poked through this hole. This is called a needle. The needle is then supported on either side by acrow props (long metal poles with a screw-thread). I fortunately found two of these at the aged FIL’s. Once this arrangement is taking the weight of the wall, you can then create an opening. Then after the installation of the lintel (or arch), the props and needle can be removed. (My father was a building surveyor, and my brother a civil engineer, so I obviously picked up a few tips!)

17/09/2014

As it was cloudy all afternoon, we had to light the boiler stove for the first time in three weeks. I actually saw LSS at lunchtime today. Due to her heavy work schedule (which includes Saturdays), she now only comes home for lunch on Wednesdays.

Also, because of her schedule, she has not been to see the aged FIL since Sunday. On that day he did not say a word to her. In a later telephone conversation with the head washer (who telephoned on Monday evening to inform LSS about the abusiveness of the aged FIL), it transpired that he had told the carers, “It’s all LSS’s fault. The reason I am being put in this chair is because SHE is making the decisions. Well SHE’S not making decisions any more. I AM THE BOSS! I MAKE THE DECISIONS!!”

Er, actually, no. LSS did not have anything to do with the chair; in fact she didn’t even know such a thing existed. It’s the medical profession who made that decision. The doctor wrote the prescription, and the head washer ordered the equipment, oversaw the delivery, and trained the carers in the use of the chair and the engine-hoist-type contraption for lifting the aged FIL out of bed. Oh, and by the way, when I say “head washer” I don’t mean someone who washes heads; but the trained nurse in charge of the team of washers. And, for further clarification, there are two teams looking after the aged FIL: the carers; who get him out of bed, feed him, change nappies, and put him in the chair; and the washers – who give him a bed-bath each morning. And yes, I did say nappies. (Or diapers if you’re reading this in the US).

LSS is actually quite relieved about the aged FIL’s silence, because this means there are fewer shouting matches, and less stress on her. She just drops off his shopping twice a week, and sorts out his daily medicine dose using one of those weekly pill boxes (a plastic container with separate trays for each day).

Wildlife diary: A kingfisher. This is not actually such a rare sight here; we have frequently seen them fishing in the pond. They’re extremely fast – you normally just see a flash of electric blue. But they like to perch on the bonsai display table, which provides them a good vantage point for observing the water, so we’ve managed to get a good look at them through the binoculars. However, today’s kingfisher was not on the bonsai table. Nor was it anywhere near the pond. I had left the barn door open, and went in again to fetch something. I heard a fluttering above me, and saw it perched on a roof beam. It had obviously got slightly confused, as I’m fairly certain there aren’t any fish up there. I left the door open hoping it would find its own way out; which it eventually did.

16/09/2014

The greywater system is up and running again. I just need to fabricate a couple of hinges for the refrigerator door, and then I can mark that task as completed (and go back to the corridor construction).

The tractor has also now been returned to its barn at the aged FIL’s with liquid in its tyres. Um… I’d better explain that. There are lots of brambles and thorny trees around the property, and when the alleyways are trimmed using the brushcutter (prior to the hunting season), we generally find that one of the front tyres has become punctured by the end of the day. I was getting fed up with patching tubes, so wondered if there was some sort of miracle cure for this problem. One suggestion involved filling the tyres with expanding foam. However further research revealed that this could not be done using the crack-filling expanding foam normally sold at hardware stores, because it crumbles into dust. Instead, the tyres need to be professionally filled. Finding a place to do that locally proved impossible; and from what I read, costs seemed to be extremely high.

I had heard of Slime tyre sealant before, so investigated that. As it is an American product it was not widely available here. I found it on Ebay of course but it seemed to be aimed more at the mountain bike tyre market and for the quantities required for a tractor it would have been prohibitively expensive.

I then found a UK company which produces a liquid tyre sealant which can be pumped into the tube (or even tubeless tyre) via the valve. Called Linseal OKO, their website had an interesting video showing a military Land Rover running over a board studded with nails, without any resultant loss of air from the tyre. If you have a minute, the video is quite interesting (although film quality is not brilliant; the video was probably taken in the 1990’s): Linseal Demo Video

The tyre sealant can also be used for vehicles escaping from hostile situations. So if LSS starts chasing me with the frying pan, I can make a rapid escape through the brambles without fear of punctures.

I purchased a 25-litre drum complete with pump, and the liquid is now installed in all four tyres on the tractor. However, there was an interesting moment when I started. The tube connecting the pump to the tyre is fastened at either end with jubilee clips, and I neglected to check that these had been fully tightened before commencing operations. When pumping the liquid into the first tractor tyre (a rear) the tube came off the pump, and I was covered with green slimy liquid. Fortunately I normally wear overalls during the day. I can also confirm that the liquid is non-toxic and water-washable!

Having finished with the tractor, I then added some liquid to the tubeless trailer tyres, a punctured tubeless tyre from the Renault 5 (which is now once again holding air!) and my bicycle. I couldn’t treat LSS’s bicycle because it does not have Schrader valves, although if I can find my valve adaptor I may remedy this at some point in the future. I also didn’t put any in the Honda ST1100 tyres because I’m using Dynabeads for balancing. I estimate there are 4 litres of liquid left in the container.

Hopefully that’s the end of the puncture repairing for those vehicles!

15/09/2014

The 120-litre container has now been dug into the ground near the reedbed, with the top just above ground level. We haven’t had much success in finding any discarded refrigerators; however at the aged FIL I found a refrigerator door. I will mount the solar panel on this, and use pallets to construct a frame on which the door can sit. The construction can then be insulated. I don’t really want to use glass fibre as it absorbs moisture and gets soggy very easily. Perhaps some bits of polystyrene? We’ll see what we can find.

The aged FIL is definitely not a happy bunny these days. Upon doctor’s orders, he is now spending his mornings sitting in the special chair. Instead of lying in his bed contemplating the ceiling, he is now sitting in the chair contemplating the wall. Last Saturday I popped my head around the door to say hello. For the first time ever, there was no “hello” back. His face could have curdled milk.

He complains to all and sundry that he wants to be in his bed instead, and he has apparently become quite abusive to the washers (the medically-trained specialists who give him his daily bed-bath). After his wash, they put him in his chair, as they have been instructed to do. The thing is, when he’s lying down, his breathing is quite laboured; you can hear him wheezing. When he’s in a sitting position, there’s no wheezing at all. Conversations with him all run along the same lines; whether it is the washers, carers, or LSS speaking to him.
“Would you like to read a book?”
“No! I want to be in my bed.”
“Would you like to listen to the radio?”
“No! I want to be in my bed lying down, not sitting here.”
“Would you like to watch television?”
“NO I WOULD NOT. I’M GOING TO BREAK IT! I WANT TO BE IN BED!”
“Well the doctor has said you have to be sitting down, not lying down.”
“I’M GOING TO BURN THIS CHAIR!!”
“Good luck with that; firstly you don’t have the strength to get out of the chair and go to the kitchen to get the matches. Secondly the chair is made of fire-resistant material. Thirdly if you do succeed, you’ll probably burn the house down too, with you in it.”
“I WANT TO BE IN BED!!!”

If you’re wondering why we don’t just let him have his way, we tried that before. After a couple of days of lying down:
“Gasp! Wheeeeeze! Wheeeeeze! I can’t breathe properly. Call the doctor!”
We call the doctor.
The doctor arrives and examines the patient.
“The problem, aged FIL, is that you’re lying down all the time. This is not good for the body. It puts added strain on the heart, and the lungs start to fill up with fluid. Your neck muscles are also sagging, putting added pressure on your windpipe. This is why you can’t breathe properly. There’s no miracle tablet to cure you; the best thing you can do is to sit upright as much as possible. Do you understand?”
“Yes, doctor.”

The following day:
“Gasp! Wheeeeeze! Wheeeeeze! I can’t breathe properly. That doctor’s no damn good, he didn’t give me any medicine.”

I think that the relocation of the aged FIL to a retirement home is becoming more and more likely.