23/03/2014

Today heralds the start of Year Three!

The scarcity of posts so far this year is simply because, in addition to various works around the house, I have been spending a lot of time on A Secret Project. This is now nearing completion. More details will follow soon; and hopefully by the end of next month I will be in a position to Reveal All.

So here’s a brief recap of recent events.

The coypu skin has now been tanned and is lovely and soft. I now need to make a template so the fur can be cut and sewn into the shape of a hat.

The solar thermal panel construction is progressing slowly; the framework is now complete and is ready for the installation of the metal backing plate and pipework. The aged FIL’s neighbour has offered the use of his hay bale lifting machine to enable us to put the completed panel on our roof.

The few remaining parsnips in the garden have been processed; I now have fifteen litres of parsnip wine fermenting quietly in one corner of the kitchen.

Work on the barn floor has finally started. LSS freed up a quarter of the floor space by tidying up all the scattered cardboard boxes left over from our house move. (They’re all still full; there’s a lot of stuff for which we don’t yet have room, including an entire library of books). Digging into the floor has commenced. The hard-packed earth needs to be removed to a depth of about 20cm. A thin layer of lime will then be laid (to absorb any moisture), followed by a layer of compacted coarse gravel. (We’ve had another ten tons delivered). Some sort of membrane will then go on top of this layer, followed by hand-mixed lime concrete. We are (I am) going to have to mix this by hand; we can’t get an entire truckload of ready-mixed concrete delivered, because we want to use lime, not cement. There is a cement mixer attachment for the tractor, so we’ll need to see if this is any good. If not, we may need to buy a second-hand electric cement mixer. Once the floor has been laid (well, in one section anyway), we can start constructing a proper bathroom. With real walls, not army groundsheets!

Wednesday turned out to be another fine sunny day. We’ve now had sunshine for two weeks, and it’s such a lovely change from all the grey skies and rain. There were two large piles of branches which were stacked before we obtained a wood chipper, and due to the growth of grass and brambles, these have proved impossible to separate and feed into the chipper, so we had two lovely bonfires instead. Obviously any future branches which are too small to be used for firewood or kindling will now be reduced into wood chips for either mulching, absorbing mud in the chicken coop, or for the compost heap.

I have been constructing yet another shed from recycled pallets; this time it is intended to house bits and pieces like garden tools, wheelbarrow, lawnmower, the motor tiller, and our new wood chipper. Work has stalled because I need some decent-sized sleeve anchors (fixings for anchoring a wooden beam to brickwork to support the corrugated iron roof). So on Thursday I decided I would see if I could find these items in the closest town. I started up the Renault 5.

Well, I didn’t get very far. A few kilometres down the road the engine started struggling, as though I was driving with my foot on the brake, and something smelled hot. I pulled over, and checked each wheel in turn. The front right was very hot indeed; the disc brake calliper piston had obviously become stuck, so the brake pads were unable to release their pressure from the disc. I limped home again. So I’ve now ordered some parts, and yet another entry has been made on my “To Do” list.

That’s one vehicle out of action.

LSS’s Hyundai is not used for driving around the farm, as we want to keep it in good condition! Therefore the other vehicle in the family stable had to be used; the aged FIL’s Citroen AX. Unfortunately this car has problems as well. If it’s left standing for any amount of time, the fuel pump appears to be incapable of drawing fuel through to the engine. The aged FIL’s solution to this was to disconnect the fuel line from the carburettor, and suspend a small two-litre petrol tank from the inside of the bonnet, connecting this to the carburettor with a length of rubber pipe. When the engine started, this tank was disconnected and the fuel lines rapidly reconnected. The resultant vacuum was then able to draw fuel through from the tank. It could be a perforated membrane in the mechanical fuel pump. I don’t have the time to thoroughly investigate this vehicle’s problems, but by installing an electric in-line fuel pump I have been able to eliminate the need for messing about with fuel lines and two-litre tanks.

The other problem this vehicle had was that the aged FIL had allowed the brake fluid reservoir to run dry, so the brakes didn’t work. I filled it with fresh fluid and bled all the brake lines, which resolved this issue.

Friday saw the discovery of another of the late MIL’s hidden caches. We visited the barn at the other farmhouse in order to dismantle a block of six heavy pre-cast concrete rabbit cages and bring them back to La Darnoire with the transporter box on the tractor. (Neighbour J has promised us a pregnant female rabbit in Spring, and as Spring is now here, we’d better start getting ready to receive it, together with its impending litter). I had already poured a lime concrete footing for these cages, and it’s been drying out over the past few weeks.

Well, tucked behind one of these cages in a dark recess was a wooden box, containing nine bottles of wine. Two of these were half empty because the corks had dried out; but the other six had foil caps, so still had all of their contents. The remaining bottle
was some sort of champagne. We have no idea what the contents are, because the labels disintegrated a long time ago.

Saturday was haircut day again; so we’re not looking quite as hirsute.

And today was voting day, when the village selects the Mayor and Village Council for the next four years. As I’m a resident, I’m allowed to vote in this election, so LSS and I trotted down to the local village hall. We fetched neighbour J on the way, as nobody else had offered to take her. The aged FIL has signed a paper allowing LSS to vote on his behalf, as he is reluctant to leave his bed for any non-essential reason.

Unlike in the UK where you receive a piece of paper and mark your selected candidate/party with a cross, in France you receive sheets of paper in the post. Each sheet contains a list of names. Two sets of different councillors = two lists. (In a village like ours which has less than a thousand inhabitants, you can mix and match by crossing lines through names which don’t take your fancy and adding others.)

Upon entering the village hall, you encounter a table containing these identical pieces of paper. You take a sheet from each stack, and an official envelope boldly engraved “République française“, and go into one of the three temporary polling booths where you fold your chosen list of names and insert this into the envelope. The non-used list is then customarily dropped on the floor, left in the polling booth, or, in our case, taken home for fire-lighting purposes.

You then make your way to the middle of the hall, where a long trestle table accommodates three officials. The first takes your voting card; or, in our case, a piece of paper signed by the Mayor stating that we’re allowed to vote (our official voting cards seem to have been lost in the post) and passes it to the second official. This second official only has one available hand, as the other appears to be permanently attached to the lever which opens a little flap on top of the transparent plastic ballot box.

The second official then reads the document, and states your name to the third official, who is in charge of The Book. This volume is the village electoral roll. The third official looks up your name in the book, and then covers the relevant page with a carefully-positioned transparent piece of plastic with a hole in it. He passes you a pen, and you sign the book through this little aperture. I suppose this is to prevent people writing things like “Kilroy was ‘ere” in inappropriate places.

Once you’ve signed, the second official leaps into action by opening the little flap through which you drop your envelope. The instant your envelope passes through the aperture, he states in a loud voice “YOU HAVE VOTED!” just in case you were in any doubt.

You can then go and chat with the other villagers if you so wish.

Having dropped neighbour J back at her farm (and having the obligatory coffee) we visited T&M as I wanted to borrow some pipe sealant. After having the obligatory coffee we returned home.

I opened the little outbuilding which houses some of our gardening equipment, as I needed some fertilizer for my bonsai. I had a surprise when I opened the fertilizer packet though. Derek had gone to sleep in it:

Derek

We wrapped him in an old hand towel, and left him to finish his hibernation on top of the pile of wood in the woodshed, hopefully out of reach of the cat.

 

 

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