The trials and tribulations of dragging a neglected nineteenth-century French farmhouse into the twenty-first century; preferably in an ecologically-sound manner, but first and foremost, as cheaply as possible!
Well, our Internet problems are not yet a thing of the past. Oh, we have Internet access all right. And for once it’s not Orange with the problem. Apart from speed, of course – the Orange line is currently running at 500kps instead of their promised 2Mbps. Satellite speed on the other hand is over 20Mbps. The technology is working fine.
No, the problem lies with the satellite service provider, Europasat. The service was up and running on the 4th of July. Now bear in mind we’re limited to a total of 20Gb in traffic – that’s both uploading and downloading. For reasons best known to themselves, Europasat have decided the limit is 17Gb for download, and 3Gb for upload. Here’s the technical bit. When you access a web page, your browser sends a request to the server. This request is considered an “upload”. And the server sending the web page to your browser is the “download”. Clear? Right. Now for the following paragraph I think you need at least a master’s degree in Advanced Mathematics.
Having happily used the satellite for a week, I thought I’d check our usage statistics. Shock! Europasat’s web page reported that we’d used 13.73Gb of our 17Gb download allowance. Not a chance. For ordinary web surfing and emails? No way. And the 3Gb upload allowance? Er, that didn’t make sense. Apparently we’d used negative 0.27Gb, so out of the 3Gb allocated, we still had 3.27Gb left to use.
Add the two together: 13.73+3.27=17.00.
20Gb allowance – 17Gb = 3Gb unaccounted for.
Fast forward two months. Our usage is still showing the same figures. In other words, their system is not updating itself.
Anyway, that’s not the problem. Although we’re supposed to pay €39.95 per month for this service, it took them three weeks to take the connection fee and first payment. That was for July’s service. Since then, nothing. We basically owe them for two month’s service, but they’re just not taking the money. I even called them up at the end of August and spoke to their accounts department, explaining that we had agreed to a monthly payment. What we didn’t want was to pay nothing for ages, and then have say ten months’ worth of subscriptions suddenly taken from our bank account in one go. This sort of thing plays havoc with the budget.
“Oh yes, I see. There’s a problem. Well I’m not going to be able to resolve it on the phone now, we’ll look into it.”
As of today, they still haven’t taken August or September’s payments.
I don’t know how they’re surviving as a company with this sort of attitude to cash-flow.
So although we’re happy with the technology, Europasat’s customer service and accounting leave much to be desired. In all honesty, if you’re considering satellite internet, don’t use Europasat.
In other news, the limecrete floor for the barn has progressed; there’s less than a quarter left to do. However, we’ve run out of gravel, so we’ll need to take a trip to the quarry next week. As long as the weather holds out and temperatures do not drop too much, we may even have the floor base finished this year. Here’s one of the latest photos:
Oh yes, I’d forgotten. You haven’t seen the finished bathroom yet. It’s a bit difficult to photograph, but here’s what it looks like now:
As far as husbandry is concerned, this year has been an “annus horribilis” for the bunnies. Mrs. Bunny did not have a litter after all, so she is now in the freezer. Neighbour J gave us a replacement Mrs Bunny. Unfortunately two weeks later we lost one of the last batch to myxomatosis. And it looks very much like the three remaining animals have it as well.
Chirpy is still doing fine and has the run of the garden. She particularly likes it when LSS digs up potatoes, because there are Things To Eat (like mole cricket larvae and various other beetles and grubs).
Speaking of hens, the other nineteen have become Houdinis, and escape from their enclosure on a regular basis. We’ve discovered that the reason for this is that the plastic netting has become perished. They stick their heads through the mesh to get to a particularly juicy blade of grass, the mesh tears, and off they go. So as mentioned previously, I’m constructing replacement fencing panels out of chicken wire. I estimate some 50 panels are needed. I’ve made and installed 15 so far.
The gravel road on the property is now fully repaired; all the potholes have been filled. And I’ve also thinned a couple of oaks alongside the repaired road, bringing back the wood to be processed and stored in the wood-shed. Next I need to tackle some leaning birch and aspens in the field we call Soggy Bottom. We gave it that name because it’s at the bottom of the property, the ground is normally very wet for most of the year, and if you sat down that’s what you’d get.
In August, summer finally arrived with a vengeance. Temperatures were very high indeed for a few days. I have an old refrigerator outside the workshop, which I had converted for use as a smoker. I haven’t used it that much; once for smoking some tanned rabbit pelts as an experiment in making them more waterproof, and once to smoke and dry some deer meat. Anyway, the point is, I have a thermometer mounted in the door so I can check the temperature inside. On several days in a row it reached 42 °C.
And the dry conditions have meant that LSS has had to water the garden in the evenings. Of course when I designed the solar power system, I had measured the electricity consumption of the borehole pump for a week, and sized the battery bank accordingly. Unfortunately this did not take into account the daily watering of the garden. So on the second day, the inverter alarm went off; the batteries had insufficient power left for the borehole pump.
It was a matter of minutes to switch the borehole power supply from the batteries to the mains. So we now know – we do have the ability to be independent from the mains electricity as far as the water supply is concerned, as long as we don’t water the garden. Yes, the size of the battery bank could be increased; but with each battery costing €130, we’ll have to wait until we have sufficient funds. Buy some of my books, won’t you!
Despite the heat, and LSS’s dire predictions, the garden has produced some crops. The potatoes have a satisfactory yield, and as for green beans, well, we now have sufficient quantities preserved to last us a year or two. The sweetcorn has also done very well this year, and the tomatoes are also all right. Fruit trees, on the other hand, are not happy at all. We may get a few pears, but apples will be in short supply. I suppose because there was a bumper crop last year we shouldn’t complain.
Cutting the grass and brush in the alleyways around the property has now been completed for this year, so I removed the brushcutting attachment on the tractor and reinstalled the transport box. The two fallen aspens have now been brought back to the wood-processing area, and are well on their way to being transformed into firewood. I’m having to do the wood cutting-and-splitting first thing in the mornings before it gets too hot. This is normally a winter-time job, but this year things have been pushed back a bit because of the finalization of the bathroom construction. Oh yes – and the washing machine has finally been moved from one of the outbuildings into the space reserved for it in the bathroom.
Speaking of construction, a start has also been made on the conversion of the rest of the barn. Nearly half of the remaining floor area has been transformed from beaten earth to limecrete. If the weather holds, we may be able to finish this before winter, meaning that next year the barn will get a tiled floor. Because the cement mixer has been busy, we’ve also had to take several trips to the local quarry with the trailer for more supplies of sand. And there’s not much left of the ten tons of gravel which we had delivered in 2014 (two years ago already?!)
We’ve also brought back several loads of crushed limestone, which we’ve used to fill the pot-holes in the dirt roads around the property. Oh, isn’t it fun!
The tanning of bunny skins is still ongoing; I now have 61 in stock. Perhaps this winter I’ll make a start on the bedspread. I already have two skins reserved for the making of slippers, but have been waiting until I had some suitable leather for the soles. When neighbour T delivered a road-killed deer to us a while ago, this was the answer, and I tanned the skin. However, the resulting pelt was not very satisfactory. I have discovered that leather only becomes supple if it is worked whilst drying. And although rabbit skins can be stretched by hand, a deerskin can’t. It needs to be worked over a sharp edge. So I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a suitable deerskin-working-stretching tool.
I found one in the Aged FIL’s workshop. I think it was originally meant to be a felling wedge. It’s basically a piece of metal shaped like an axe-head, but it’s aluminium. Of course the Aged FIL had tried to use it as a splitting wedge, so the blunt end was very damaged. I tidied it up and mounted it on a stand, so it’s now ready to be used in earnest.
The plastic netting around the chicken enclosure has started becoming the worse for wear. Some recent windy days didn’t help much either; the netting is torn in several places. I reinforced it with some wire mesh temporarily, and have started constructing some fence panels which will eventually replace it. Each panels consists of a wooden frame, 2 metres long by 1 metre high, with chicken wire stapled to it. The idea is that they will be light enough to move around if we want to move the fence. Between each two panels, additional support will be provided by a plastic electric fence post. I’ve made eight panels so far, and am treating this as a fill-in job between other tasks like pouring limecrete. I’ve also constructed a hinged gate using the same technique, which means we no longer have to step over the plastic netting when entering the chicken enclosure. This is a Good Thing, because to date I have twice measured my length on the ground through getting one foot caught in the top of the netting.
But August has not just been all work and no play. Friend V arrived to stay for a few days, and this happened to coincide with the timing of the Perseid meteor shower. So we spent a few nights outside in deckchairs under the stars, covered with mosquito repellent, going “Ooooh” and “Aaaah” to the natural fireworks. During the daylight hours we put Friend V to work picking elderberries, to be used for this year’s batch of elderberry wine.
It so happened that the finals of the national French competition for Dog Agility took place in a nearby town, so we went to watch. Personally, I thought the turnout for a national competition was rather disappointing. The majority of the spectators were the families of the participants. We didn’t stay too long; it was horribly hot, and there were no shady trees anywhere near the event. I felt sorry for the dogs.
We have also had a few barbecues, with CC (a new abbreviation for you – see Cast List at the top right) and his missus as invited guests to one of them. We had one barbecue in particular last year where I cooked sosaties (a type of South African kebab) – and they had liked them so much they requested a repeat this year. As a reward for the barbecue they invited us to use the swimming pool at the gîte whenever we wanted – as long as there were no paying guests in residence, of course. We took them up on this offer one very hot Saturday afternoon.
Perhaps I should explain about CC, as this is the first time I’ve mentioned these initials. In the past I’ve referred to him as “the temporary next-door neighbour with the gîte“. If you haven’t been to France, a gîte is self-catering holiday accommodation. You see, the property next door used to be a working farm, but the owner retired and decided to sell. It was purchased by a chap who works in the construction industry. Not that he wields a trowel or pushes a wheelbarrow, you understand. In fact, I believe he’s one of the Directors of this particular company. He used to work with his father, until his father retired. And in fact several years ago the Aged FIL got the father to do some repair work on La Darnoire’s roof, which is why it’s still in good condition.
Anyway, they upgraded the farmhouse next door, converting it into accommodation for twelve people, and installing a swimming pool. The barn was upgraded at the same time, and turned into a small house for the owners. They don’t actually live there; they have several other houses scattered around the area, so they sometimes use this place as a weekend retreat.
It was a bit strange when we met CC for the first time. He had no concept of “personal space” so tended to stand right up in front of you when talking, which was somewhat disconcerting. He’s improved recently though – perhaps his missus put him wise to his habit.
Having had a few barbecues also meant my stock of firelighters was getting rather low, so I made some more. I keep a large barrel in my workshop, which over time I fill with sawdust and wood shavings, especially when I am transforming old pallets into something else. We also have a stock of cardboard egg cartons. As we have hens, people seem to assume we collect these. And I have a bucket of paraffin wax left over from when the late MIL used to do preserves. This used to be melted and poured over the food before the jar was closed. We have no use for it normally.
So I fill the hollows in the egg carton with sawdust and shavings, pressing it down firmly. Some melted wax is then poured over the mixture and left to harden. When you want to light a fire, simply tear off one of the egg pockets and light that. It burns for about ten minutes, by which time the charcoal is fully alight.
On Sunday, LSS’s Parisian cousins came to lunch. They spent the afternoon fishing in the pond and took a bagful of small fish home with them.
Friend L came to visit one Saturday; but just for a lunch – she didn’t stay. And later that afternoon, JP (again, see Cast list at top right if you’ve forgotten who JP is) paid us a flying visit with his son. They had been delivering a trailer-load of hay to a farm nearby. Well, I say farm. It’s basically a house with a small plot of land. But the owner is a horse-trader. He buys horses cheaply – probably from Eastern Europe, fattens them up a bit, and then sells them on. Some of the new arrivals are in pitiful condition. Anyway, as he does not have much land, he needs to buy hay for them to eat. Enter JP, who has lots of hay. He’ll be returning next week with the tractor, towing the super-large trailer, with a bulk load of hay this time. Today was just the reconnaissance trip. JP and his son then went off to see the Aged FIL.
Meanwhile, LSS had gone for a walk with Friend V, and as well as meeting JP en route, they encountered a UK-registered vehicle entering the Aged FIL’s farm. Their GPS had directed them to a road called “Taillevert”. Unfortunately, all the unpaved roads around here are called “Taillevert”. For a long time, I thought it was the French term for “green lane” – in other words, an un-named road suitable for vehicles, generally of the 4×4 variety. I have since found out that it’s actually the name of this “district” on the Land Registry documents. The worried-looking driver was very surprised – and relieved – to find somebody who spoke perfect English in the deepest darkest French countryside! LSS deduced they were looking for the gîte next door, and gave them directions.
Then, the following Saturday, we were surprised by a white mini-bus full of Dutch youngsters arriving in our courtyard. This was surprising because the courtyard is reached via a private road from the Aged FIL’s farm. The driver didn’t know much French, but spoke very good English. They were lost. Just like the English visitors the previous week, their GPS had instructed them to follow “Taillevert” to get to the gîte next door. They were very apologetic about being on a private road, and very grateful for the directions to their destination. Obviously the GPS satellites have had a recent Windows Update…
Speaking of the Aged FIL, not much news to report on that front. He had an appointment with the bank one Monday. Not that he went to the bank, of course. The bank manager came to him. It was so that he could sign some documents giving LSS signatory powers for his chequebook, as his signature has been becoming more and more illegible. Now at least LSS can sign cheques on his behalf.
The Renault 5 once again went for its roadworthiness test, the “contrôle technique“. Much to my surprise, it passed.
And what news of the menagerie? Well, the four little chicks are growing rapidly. We think one of them may be a cockerel, so there’ll be some competition with George in the future. And the little rescued chick is now actually larger than the other four. Not surprising; she’s still separated from all the other hens, but now has the full run of the garden, so is not competing for food. She comes when called (we’ve called her Chirpy) and eats out of your hand. So we now have a new pet.
Here she’s saying hello to the little Mr. Bunny by eating some of his dandelions. He doesn’t seem to mind.
She still sleeps in one of the empty rabbit cages, because it’s the safest place for her at night. I made a little perch for her, and she does use it, although her preferred roosting spot is on top of the lawnmower handle in the shed. We have to move her from there into the cage though; the lawnmower handle is no protection from foxes.
Mrs Bunny did not have a litter after all. So I think she’ll soon be introduced to Mr Le Creuset. Neighbour J has offered us another Mrs Bunny as a replacement.
Other than that, sundry repairs and maintenance have taken place. Things like sharpening chainsaw chains, changing the oil on the lawnmowers, and tidying the workshop. I can now see the top of my workbench. I wonder how long this will last?