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!
Last year we needed a new lawnmower, because our 2-year old Briggs & Stratton gave up the ghost. Yes, Chinese-made American rubbish. So I researched lawnmowers. A Honda-engined one would have been nice, but was waaaaaayy beyond our budget.
But then I saw an MTD, at a reasonable price, with a Kawasaki engine. Now Kawasaki (although not a Honda) is still Japanese. Got to be good, right? Not only that, it came with a TWO YEAR WARRANTY! So we bought it.
Used it a few times, and it did the job. Well, this spring we trotted it out of the garden shed to start cutting the grass again. It wouldn’t start.
I changed the fuel. Nothing. Checked the spark plug. Sparking fine. So I was about to start dismantling the carburettor when I remembered. TWO YEAR WARRANTY!
So we took it back to Weldom in Aubigny where we bought it. Their repair boffin took a look, and found that fuel was not getting to the carburettor. He fiddled with the float mechanism for a while and was rewarded with a gush of fuel all over his hand. “There you are,” he said. “All fixed.” So we brought the machine back home again.
Although the engine was now starting, it lacked power.
Back it went the following day.
The boffin had another look, and diagnosed a faulty carburettor. It would apparently have to be sent away for cleaning, so we left the machine with him.
One week later, still no news.
Two weeks later, still no news.
NINETEEN DAYS after taking the machine back to the dealership, we received a phone call.
“Right, your machine is ready. The carburettor had a problem, so I fitted a new one. And this is not covered under your warranty, so that will be €137. Thank you, kerching.”
We went to get the machine.
“Yes, I’m sorry about that. I spoke to MTD, and they told me to install a new carburettor to resolve the problem. But it’s down to user error, so it’s not covered by the warranty. Nothing I can do about it, I’m afraid. You can pay at the cashier over there. Strange though, we’ve sold ten of these machines last year and yours is the only one which has come back.”
So be warned. Two-year warranties are not worth the cash register receipt they’re printed on.
Oh – and if you’re in the market for a new lawnmower – buy a goat.
Do not buy an MTD lawnmower, especially if it has a Kawasaki engine. Some Japanese technology is not what it used to be. Kawasaki is, basically, Krap. (Kawasaki Rarely Attains Perfection).
Orange (formerly France Telecom) has been annoying us again.
Since the end of December, the status light on the Livebox has been performing like a traffic light. Red. Orange. Green. Repeat. With more of an emphasis on the red status. Just like a traffic light. So we’ve had intermittent phone and internet service. It seems to be at its worst when it’s windy; although it does also go down on perfectly windless days. And even when it IS working, the Internet connection is somewhat slow. Fortunately (since the last Orange debacle) we now have Satellite Internet as well. Which is much faster (see the spike in the “History” section of the above image). Unfortunately we have a 20Gb per month limit, so we tend to use it only when Orange is not working.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, an engineer visit was arranged.
When he arrived, he took one look and instantly diagnosed the problem.
These guys are GOOD. And experts in their field.
No, not really.
“Ah-ha!” he said. (In French of course). “I have taken one look and instantly diagnosed your problem. Come with me.” We went outside. Now the Orange phone line is attached to the EDF electricity pylons. Which run alongside the communal road traversing the property. And underneath these pylons is a hedge. Well, I say hedge. It’s a mixture of birch, oak and sloes in a line. And their upper branches are rubbing on the cable, which is approximately 4 metres from the ground.
The engineer explained that the rubbing of the branches on the cable was causing the problem, and he was unable to fix it until we cut all the branches. Now I will point out that further down the road, the telephone line is in a very poor state, having come off several of its support brackets. It is nearly touching the ground in places, and is obviously fairly old. It is no longer black in colour, but a sort of pale green due to the covering of moss and lichen. According to the engineer, the problem does not lie here; but rather with the approximately 5-year-old wiring which Orange installed after we’d moved in. Now I’m not an Orange engineer. But I very much doubt he’s right. Still, there’s nothing we can do about it other than carry out his instructions; they will quite obviously refuse to repair anything until such time as the line is completely branch-free.
So pretty much all work on the barn had to stop in order for us to take care of the hedge. We’ve now cut the entire lot back, by hand, to a height of approximately two metres. I suppose a couple of good things have come out of this exercise. We have some firewood. And lots of smaller branches which can be chipped and added to the garden as mulch. By the way, it does not matter which brand of gloves you use when dealing with sloes. You still end up with thorns embedded in your hands. They’re called Prunus spinosa for a reason.
Here’s what the hedge looks like now (note the branch-free Orange line – the lower of the two):
And as we were in the mood for trimming stuff, the ivy over the garage had a haircut too:
The ivy had reached the ridgeline of the roof, and had also grown through the eaves INTO the garage, where it was busily engaged in colonising the interior walls, and engulfing all the bits and pieces we have stored there.
We’ve had our first sub-zero temperatures of the season. Nothing spectacular; minus 8 degrees C is the lowest so far. And two full days of snow – although not consecutive. At the time of writing it lies approximately 10 cm deep.
“But hang on a minute,” you say. “What about Orange? Is it working fine now? Was the engineer correct? Were the branches the cause of the problem? Are you eating humble pie? With ketchup?”
In a word, No.
Since the hedge has been trimmed, the Livebox is still behaving like a traffic light. We’re going to have to ask for another engineer visit. Not at the moment though; with all the snow, the roads are considered impassable for school buses and Orange engineers. Although LSS is still happily out and about giving English lessons.
Friday saw the start of our sixth year here. Time has gone past incredibly quickly.
The rainy season has now returned with a vengeance. Still, it’s necessary; the water in the pond is at rather a low point. Fortunately before the rain started I was able to recommence work on the barn. The patio foundation has now been poured, and we’ve ordered a double-glazed window for LSS’s future office, and a non-opening double-glazed window which will go above the new sliding patio door.
I have removed the old lime plaster from the walls in one corner of the barn, and an old bird’s nest from one of the roof beams. I left the plaster untouched in the region of the window, as this will be removed together with the bricks when the opening is created. And the plumbing you see in the photo below is the pipework for the external shower. It’s been disconnected for the duration of the work. The next step will be to make a lintel for the office window, and lay the tiles on the patio step prior to the sliding door installation. Now prior to starting the work in the barn, I had purchased a small wet saw with diamond blade, because there would be a lot of tile-cutting involved. Up until now it has worked, although somewhat awkwardly.
There were some problems with this machine:
The floor tiles measure 460x460mm, which is approximately the size of the saw table top.
The water feed system was simply a shallow plastic tray under the blade, which emptied itself within seconds.
Plastic safety goggles and a raincoat were necessary equipment. (The flimsy blade guard did prevent spray; but it jammed against the leading edge of the tile and also left one unable to see the cut line, so I had to remove it).
And the flimsy single-clamp guide rail left much to be desired – especially if you like cuts to be straight.
So I constructed a new larger saw table out of plywood, made a frame for it at a comfortable height using pallet wood, and improved the water feed using a section of some old cupro-nickel brake pipe which can be connected to a garden hose. I now have a more accurate wet saw at the fraction of the price of a professional model.
And thanks to the incorporated zero-clearance sliding-rail sled, a raincoat is no longer essential equipment.
Saturday evenings have become our regular pub-night-at-home. Home-brewed beer, chips, and sometimes a steak; although this particular Saturday, sausages were on the menu. We’d just sat down and poured a pint when the telephone rang. It was Neighbour J.
“Help! I can’t get out of the house!”
“?” said LSS.
“My door lock is broken. I can only open the top half of the stable door, but something’s broken in the bottom bit. Bring an angle grinder; you’ll need to cut the lock out.”
Scratching my head, I put together a bag of tools that I thought I might need, and included the angle grinder for good measure. Although I thought there could well have been a problem if I needed to use it. You see, my power tools all have the correct plugs as per the current electricity standards. And just like the Aged FIL before the fire, Neighbour J’s house has never had its electric wiring upgraded – so her plug sockets all date from the 1950’s. And due to the design change, modern plugs don’t fit. Well, we’ll have to see!
When we arrived, with the aid of a screwdriver and a small pry-bar, I managed to disengage the latch from the strike plate, and open the bottom part of the door. Somewhat strangely, both top and bottom parts of the door have their own locks and handles. Removing the screws from the lower door lock, I found that the interior of the latch was badly worn, and was no longer being engaged by the spindle. I brought the entire lock back home, as I was sure that there was another one somewhere at the Aged FIL’s place which could be cannibalised for parts. But upon searching, the lock which I found was unfortunately not the same type, so I was unable to replace the latch mechanism. Therefore Neighbour J will need to buy a new lock. At least she can currently open the door, and close and lock it by using the upper lock and handle. And yes, her house only has one door…
One afternoon a couple of days ago, LSS had gone to the Aged FIL to deliver his weekly shopping, when I heard a vehicle stop at the driveway entrance. This was followed by a knock on the door. I went to see who it was, and was greeted by the sight of a blue Gendarmerie vehicle, and three tall, burly, police officers. Now I’m not exactly short at 1.83m, but they were much taller than I; and built like rugby players to boot.
After the customary Bonjours and handshakes all around, the tallest of the bunch rattled off a spate of rapid French.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch that. I’m English; if you speak a bit more slowly I’ll understand you,” I said. (In French).
“Ah. Eeenglish? I’ll speak Eeenglish then. We are looking for a dog.”
“Why? What’s it done?”
“?” (He obviously didn’t understand the English sense of humour).
The thing is, I don’t think that the Gendarmerie investigate lost pets. Unless the dog belonged to one of them, I suppose. It was apparently a small black one. I said I hadn’t seen or heard a dog recently, but if I did I would let the garde champêtre know. They then asked me about the house on the neighbouring property. This, like La Darnoire, had been abandoned for years; apparently being owned by some Parisians. Well, it was sold recently – to some other Parisians – and some renovation work has now been done. The owners tend to appear on weekends; although we haven’t met them yet.
“Parisians, you say? Ah, I see. Thank you very much. Have a good evening.”
At that they jumped into their vehicle and sped off.
Last week I processed two fallen aspen trees which the wind had blown down across the ditch dividing La Darnoire from a neighbouring property. (The one now owned by a solicitor. Yes, yet another Parisian.) And the pruning of low-hanging oak branches is also progressing, but the level of wood in the wood shed is still going down more quickly than it’s being replenished. Still, when it’s not raining, the sun is starting to have more of an effect on the solar thermal panel, so we’ll soon need to light the boiler stove less frequently.
In the workshop I have started the construction of some woodworking bar clamps, using pallet wood. These will come in handy for upcoming projects: a new combined table saw/router table, and the construction of stairs for the future upper floor in the barn.
Before I forget, I can now reveal the identity of the new home brew I mentioned in my last post: Birch Sap Wine! As we have a stand of birch trees (Betula pendula), I tapped some of them at the beginning of March; and 20 litres of the juice is now fermenting away in the corner of the kitchen. Birch sap is apparently very good for you. Obviously we had a taste of the sap before brewing started. It tastes like water, with a little something in the background. Hopefully the brewing process will give it more taste.
Oh, and Mrs. Bunny? She has six little kits in her nest, and their eyes are starting to open. And speaking of bunnies, as spring is now here I have re-commenced the tanning of rabbit skins…
In the last post I mentioned that the freezing temperatures had caused problems at the borehole. I’m pleased to report that this particular issue seems to have been resolved. This was not the case at the other end of the plumbing system, though. In mid-January the outlet from the reedbed to the pond froze solid as well. Fortunately this was fairly easy to fix. I gently heated the pipe by using the hand-held gas torch until I was able to withdraw the piece of ice which was stopping the flow. The sump itself has been fine. Unless, of course, you include the moles. They seem to have taken exception to the sump location, and are trying to cover it with excavated earth. Trapping them is having limited effect. Approximately one day after getting rid of one mole, another one moves in.
And speaking of pests, the outbuilding where we store the hen food seems to be the favoured abode for mice. All the hen food is stored in plastic barrels with close-fitting lids, so the rodents can’t get to it. Nevertheless, they like this room. Yesterday saw the mousetrap with occupant number 31 (and I’ve only been keeping score since the first of January).
Europasat have finally started taking payment for the satellite broadband. It only took their accounts department six months to wake up.
On the husbandry front, two of our oldest hens died, so we’re down to 13 again. It was probably just old age. I buried them at the edge of the woods. This turned out to be a waste of time; several weeks later they were dug up and eaten by the wild boar.
I’ve had to make a new door for the polytunnel. Some strong winds broke the frame of the previous door. At least it’s now much more strongly built than the first one.
The reedbed has been cleaned up a bit, by cutting back all the dead material:
All the biomass it had produced went through the wood chipper the following day, and has now been dug into the garden. I’ve also been reinforcing the hen park, by sinking galvanised steel posts at each corner and stringing fencing wire between them to help keep the fence panels upright.
This month we had a truckload of pallets delivered, courtesy of our part-time neighbour CC. So in my spare time I’ve been gradually dismantling these ready for future use as lumber:
In the background of the above photo you can see the hen fencing I mentioned previously. These panels are gradually replacing the green plastic netting, which has started to deteriorate. You will also notice the next pile of logs which are to be cut and split for firewood. Yes, I’m still bringing back logs for the wood shed. These are either dead trees, unwanted branches, or dangerous “leaners”. Speaking of firewood, I have improved the processing system slightly. Using the timber from a dismantled pallet, I constructed a bucking frame. This is loaded with smaller logs and branches. Once it’s full, I can slice the entire lot into the correct lengths for firewood with a few cuts from the chainsaw.
Home brewing report: Last year’s elderberry wine has now been bottled, the raspberry wine is maturing, and I’ve also brewed a Belgian Triple beer. As soon as spring arrives, I will be trying something new. But as LSS also reads this blog, I won’t mention what it is because I want it to be a surprise. But I will report back later!
And finally, we now have a new Mrs. Bunny, courtesy of Neighbour J. However, the start of her life here was not as peaceful as it should have been! She was collected on a Monday. On Tuesday night we retired to bed at the customary 10 p.m.
Shortly afterwards, we heard dogs barking. Which was rather odd, as none of our neighbours have dogs. LSS went outside with the torch, and the barking and yapping appeared to be coming from the woodshed area at the back of the house. Then a new noise became apparent; that of crashing metal. She shot back inside to fetch me, by which time I had donned my LED head-torch and was heading outside as well. We made our way to the woodshed area, where the cause of the noise became apparent.
Two fox-terrier type dogs were trying to get at Mrs. Bunny. The crashing metal noise was caused by the dogs taking turns at bouncing off the wire cage door. I managed to collar one of them (literally; it was wearing a reflective collar), and then gave that one to LSS to hold whilst I grabbed the other dog.
So there we are, in our pyjamas and slippers, each holding a dog, and wondering what to do next. We didn’t have anywhere suitable to put the animals, but what we did have was two empty rabbit cages. So one went into each cage, with a small dish of water and an old sheet as a bed. LSS then telephoned M&O (the head of the local hunt) to enquire whether any of their hunters had lost any dogs. No, they hadn’t. We then found a telephone number on the dog’s collar, but one of the digits was illegible. So the only thing to do was to follow the procedure advised by M&O, and call the garde champêtre (the local forest ranger/game-warden/village policeman). Unfortunately, by now it was 10.30 p.m., so this would have to be done the next morning.
Neither of us slept much that night; the dogs barked constantly.
On Wednesday morning the dogs were collected by the garde champêtre, who took them to the local pound. If their owners can be traced, they’ll need to pay a release fee.
My attempts to keep the wood-shed filled are not amounting to much at the moment. We seem to be using wood faster than it’s being replenished. Not that surprising really, with two wood-stoves on the go. At least we’re warm. I’ve now moved on to trimming low-hanging branches from the oak trees along the drainage ditches on the property, and thinning the growth where there are too many trees in one spot.
Processing all this wood wreaks havoc on gloves though. I have yet to find a brand of gloves which lasts longer than a couple of months. I have now taken to buying motorcycle gauntlets cheaply on Ebay. But then I had an idea. I had a pair of worn-out leather shoes which I dismantled. Pieces of leather were then cut out. These have now been glued and sewn onto the palm and finger areas of the motorcycle gloves. So far so good; they’re not wearing out quite as quickly!
Speaking of motorcycle gloves, the motorcycle is finally up and running. A new ignition switch has been installed, and although it looks a bit odd, it works – which is the important thing.
A chestnut beer has now been brewed and tasted. Quite nice, but not my favourite. It’s a bit sweet. You can definitely taste the chestnut though.
I have also fabricated a tow-hitch which can be attached to the three-point system on the tractor. I can now use the trailer instead of the open-backed transport box, so more wood can be brought back in one go.
The freezing weather has caused some issues with the reedbed sump system. The problem was that the hosepipe leading from the pump to the reedbed had frozen solid, which caused the little 12-volt bilge pump to burn out. I replaced it with one of the two 240-volt stainless steel sump pumps which I discovered in a corner of the Aged FIL’s workshop. All the wiring was connected up, pipes connected, and I stood back to see how it worked.
It didn’t. I discovered that the pump itself was burnt out, but the Aged FIL had kept it for reasons only known to himself. So everything was dismantled again, and the other pump installed. This one worked. However, it’s 1200 Watts, which is too powerful to be run off the solar system. A new 400 Watt sump pump was therefore procured. I also replaced the hosepipe with a larger diameter pipe (actually an old vacuum cleaner hose). So far so good. We’ll see how well the re-design works. Oh, and the burnt-out pump? I did what the Aged FIL should have done, and put it on the scrap-metal pile.
Another little job which was done just before the temperature dropped was to put together the frame for the sliding doors which will be installed in the barn. Putting the frame in position enabled me to see exactly what work needed to be done for the installation. The frame is narrower than the opening, so I will need to fill in one side with some brickwork. This means dismantling part of the wall so that the existing brickwork can be properly “toothed”. The dismantling is actually A Good Thing, because at one stage in its lifetime SOMEBODY hit the wall in this spot with a tractor, causing it to bow outwards in the middle by about 10cm. So when the weather warms up I’ll be able to straighten this bit at the same time as installing the door frame.
Now you may recall I mentioned a while ago that we received regular buckets of kitchen scraps for our hens from one particular person, whom I shall simply call Mrs L. The kitchen scraps have consisted of inter alia an entire roast chicken, a left-over beef steak, two duck breasts, half-eaten birthday cakes, packets of biscuits, entire cheeses, and crisps. Anyway, Mrs. L telephoned LSS two weeks ago and said that someone had given her ten pheasants, and were we interested. Yes, LSS said. She’d take one or two.
“Oh good,” said Mrs L. “I’ll just put the rest of them in the bin.”
“In that case I’ll take all ten!” said LSS.
So she went around later that day. There weren’t ten pheasants. There were fifteen. So two each went to Friend E, Neighbour J, Mr. T, and a retired farmer nearby who used to give us old potatoes for the hens (until he stopped farming potatoes last year). The rest went in our freezer.
A week later Mrs. L rang again. “I was given a piece of boar and a couple of pheasant. I don’t want them; so if you don’t want them I’ll throw them away.” There were two front quarters of wild boar, and five pheasant. I don’t think Mrs. L can count.
So this time Friend E got a piece of boar and another couple of pheasant. And as luck would have it whilst LSS was outside plucking pheasants with Friend E, the head hunter M&O turned up with our share of the spoils from the previous weekend’s hunt: a partridge and yet another two pheasants. So our freezer is now somewhat full; and I’ve had to go back to defrosting and processing bunny skins in order to make room.
Wildlife Diary: We were rather surprised to have a new visitor to the bird feeding station. A great spotted woodpecker. LSS managed to film it through the kitchen window.
And finally I’ve been having some fun with the borehole. No, not really. You see the temperature hit minus 10°C on Friday night. On Saturday morning I discovered that no water was coming out of the kitchen tap.
So I shot upstairs to have a look. The water pressure vessel was showing 1 bar instead of the usual 6. The electricity supply was working. Therefore I deduced that the borehole pump was not working. I went outside and opened up the borehole cover.
You see, I had carefully insulated all the pipework with bubble wrap. (We had tried glass fibre insulation a couple of years ago, but discovered that ants LOVE glass fibre. They had happily constructed an entire ant city in it. So we replaced it with bubble wrap.) Well, Mister Moley had decided he didn’t like this, and covered everything with earth. Which had been damp. And because of the low temperatures, this damp earth froze solid. As did the water in the pipes.
So, how do I resolve this? Thaw the pipes out, obviously. An electric heater! Except that we don’t have one. Build a fire? Not a good idea. Eureka! I have a butane gas cylinder in the workshop which I use for brazing. I can use that to thaw the pipes.
Er… no. Butane doesn’t work well at low temperatures; I could not get the nozzle to light.
Further headscratching resulted in an idea. We have a 150-watt infrared light bulb which was originally intended for use as a heat source in the toilet. But even though this is a fairly small room, it didn’t really give out much heat. So I constructed an extension lead with a light socket on one end, plugged it in, and directed the lamp at the pipework. I closed the borehole cover, and left things alone for half an hour. When I returned, I switched on the borehole pump. Success!
When the weather warms up I’ll have to pour a limecrete base around the borehole pipe so that Mister Moley will bang his head on it and be unable to cover everything with earth. I’ll also investigate getting some electrical thermostatic pipe lagging.
No, I haven’t forgotten about you. And yes, I’m still here. The item: “Urgent – Write Blog Post” on my daily To-Do list has just been shifted regularly to the following day, until finally I became tired of seeing it. Also, as it’s just started snowing, it’s a good time to be inside in front of the computer. Well, I say snowing. There are certainly flakes of snow coming down. But it’s mixed with rain, so the overall result is just a general slooshyness. Not nice at all.
So, what’s been happening since I last posted? Well, the interior floor of the barn was completed just before the temperature reached the freezing point. Although when I say completed, I mean the limecrete base has been poured; tiles have not yet been laid.
And a raised step has been created at the doorway, because as you can see in the above photo, the interior of the barn is at a lower level than the exterior. Without some sort of step it is very likely that rainwater would trickle in! The future sliding patio door will be installed on this step:
Chirpy has now discovered what her wings are for, and regularly flew up on to the garden gate and then down to the exterior. However, the advantage of this was that she then found out where the other hens were kept, and decided to join them. She now roosts with them in the hen coop, which makes things a lot easier for us!
Also on the husbandry front, we are now sans rabbits. The remaining three caught myxomatosis and died. It’s a disease spread by mosquitoes, so we’ve been waiting for a period of freezing weather to kill off these pesky insects before we get another Mrs Bunny from Neighbour J. Fortunately Neighbour J’s rabbits have not been affected so far.
The solar panels have now been adjusted to their winter-time angle of 66 degrees. They’re still working fine although I think we could do with another couple of batteries to increase the power reserve. These are expensive though.
We hired a chap from the village to come and de-forest one of our ditches. It’s what he does for a living. This particular ditch had been neglected from well before we arrived, so it was rather clogged with brambles and small trees. The Aged FIL does have a flail-mower attachment for the tractor, but the hydraulics are out of action, so it can’t be used. Well, the chap did a very good job, so we’d definitely hire him again if we need more ditch-clearing to be done.
Then Friend E finally got around to clearing out her late father’s workshop, and as a result had lots of scraps of wood which she offered to us. They filled the trailer. I managed to find a couple of decent pieces to keep, but most of it ended up as firewood.
We had a problem with the thermal store a couple of weeks ago. The pipes were making horrible bubbling noises so I extinguished the fire in the boiler stove and investigated. It turned out that the pipework had become clogged with rusty debris, so I had to drain and flush the entire 500-litre system. And in order to have a hot bath, we had to once again heat water on the kitchen stove for two days until the thermal store was back up to temperature. I then ordered some boiler corrosion prevention liquid from the USA because I couldn’t find any in France or the UK. When it arrived I added it to the thermal store, and according to the information on the label, we should now be fine for at least the next five years. I can thus confirm that the Fernox F1 central heating protection which I added three years ago doesn’t work. Mind you, in their defence, it didn’t say it could be used in boiler stoves.
Speaking of boiler stoves, last month I swept the chimneys. However, I discovered that there was quite a bit of creosote buildup in the boiler stove pipe just before it joined the insulated chimney liner section. I was unable to remove it with the chimney-sweeping brush, so had no option but to get rid of it another way. And if you’re wondering how to do this, it’s actually quite easy. Remove the stovepipe. Add a piece of crumpled-up newspaper. Light newspaper.
Creosote burns rather easily. It’s not very easy to see in the photo, but the flames shooting out of the pipe were impressive! You’re basically creating a controlled chimney fire. I’m pleased to report the stovepipe is now completely clean and free of creosote. Unfortunately the intense heat caused the stainless steel to discolour, but this is preferable to having a chimney fire.
LSS’s computer started misbehaving. I finally diagnosed the problem – it wasn’t her computer which had a problem, but the Draytek router. So I’ve had to order a replacement. I’m not complaining though, I’ve been using that one since approximately 1998.
I’ve also dug a small drainage ditch at Soggy Bottom using a ditching attachment on the tractor. Now when we get a lot of rain, Soggy Bottom shouldn’t be quite so soggy!
What else? Oh yes, we went to a small village near Lyon last weekend to visit another of LSS’s friends whom she hadn’t seen for ten years. So that was a nice restful weekend although it was cloudy and foggy much of the time. Which was a pity, because apparently when it’s a clear day you can see Mont Blanc from their house – Geneva is only an hours’ drive away.
The electrical wiring in my workshop has been improved by the addition of plug sockets on two of the walls, so now I no longer have extension leads trailing all over the floor. And speaking of electrical stuff, the poor old ST1100 has finally been examined. You see, several months ago I tried to start it, and it wouldn’t. I have diagnosed a broken ignition switch. Unfortunately they’re very expensive – if you are fortunate enough to find one – so instead I’ve bought a new “universal” ignition switch off Ebay for £7. It just means I’ll be using the new switch in addition to the old one (it won’t fit in the same place so I’ll install it elsewhere and extend the wiring).
More fallen trees have been cut at Soggy Bottom and processed into firewood, so we’re now able to go most of the way around the field perimeter with the tractor.
Oh yes – and we received a cheque from the Inland Revenue for €14. Why? As compensation for the crop losses we’ve suffered due to the flooding in June. Well, I suppose that will contribute towards some of the lost potatoes. I suspect it’s because this property was originally registered as a farm. The Aged FIL received a cheque for €80, so that will pay for a week’s worth of his electricity.
This year’s batch of pumpkin ale has now been bottled, but we’ll have to wait until the end of the month before we can try it. Next up will be a batch of chestnut beer. We didn’t really have many chestnuts this year, but there were enough to make some beer so we’ll have to see how that turns out.
The Europasat satellite account is still in the same position it was in September. In other words, we still haven’t been charged a penny since connection. We now owe them for four months service. I actually sent an email to their customer service department, including a link to this blog; so that they could read for themselves how unimpressed we’ve been. But even that has had no effect. LSS will be telephoning them soon to have a therapeutic shout.
Well, that’s us up to date again. Now I need to go out into the slooshyness in order to refill the wood cupboard…
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?