Early this morning, LSS received a telephone call from one of the two retirement homes to which she had applied on the aged FIL’s behalf. They wish to see the aged FIL to make an assessment of his condition, because the application form (signed by the doctor) states “The patient is bed-ridden.”

Simple enough, no? All they need to do is get in their car, travel eight kilometres, and they can assess him as much as they like. Ah no. It doesn’t work that way. They wish to see him at the retirement home.

So LSS needs to go and see the doctor. To get a prescription for an ambulance. To take him to the retirement home. And bring him back. And to top it all off, she needs to be present as well. “It’s going to be difficult to arrange a date for all this, as I’m working,” she said.
“No, it’s very simple. Just tell your boss you need to take the day off,” was the reply.
“I AM the boss. I’m self-employed. So if I’m not working, I don’t get paid.”
“Oh. Well in that case shall we say Friday next week?”


It was -6.5°C this morning. On a day like today it’s even difficult to do the laundry; because the outlet pipe from the washing machine was frozen. We had to wait until the afternoon when it warmed up a bit.

We had been thinking that Mrs Bunny may not have been pregnant after all; she wasn’t eating very much and didn’t seem to have any fur missing (they pull out some of their fur to line a nest). However, this morning LSS had a look inside the great big pile of hay in one half of the double cage – and there’s definitely a furry nest there, with occupants. She didn’t look too closely so we don’t yet know how many there are.

Cat was behaving suspiciously in the lounge again, so has obviously brought another little furry friend home. “I don’t understand it. I brought my breakfast inside, but it’s gone missing…”

We spent the morning repairing the aged FIL’s access road, with the assistance of his neighbour. Due to the amount of daily vehicular traffic (the carers), the road has started to resemble the lunar surface; with potholes gradually becoming craters. The neighbour has a machine called a telescopic handler. This has a large scoop on the front, so this was used to spread a large pile of aggregate along the length of the road. Then LSS and I used rakes to even it out. At least all the potholes are now filled, and hopefully this repair will last a while!


Today saw the first snowfall of the year. There wasn’t very much of it, and it was mixed with sleet, but it didn’t immediately vanish either. The hens did not seem too bothered. “Pawk! Can I eat it? No. Oh well, back to scratching then.” Part of their fenced-in area looks like a scene from the battlefield of the First World War. Who needs goats or pigs to clear an area? We don’t.

Unfortunately I also noticed another problem with the greywater reedbed sump. The pump was constantly starting and stopping. I found that the outlet leading from the sump into the reedbed was blocked. I tried flushing it through by sticking a hosepipe down the pipe, but this had limited success. Now if you refer to the design of the reedbed system here: http://www.la-darnoire.com/greywater-reedbed.shtml (look at the second sketch) you’ll see the T-shaped entrance pipes through which the greywater enters the reedbed. Fortunately when designing this entrance pipe, I had the foresight to seal the ends with screw-caps. I unscrewed one of these end caps – and discovered that the roots of the reeds had entered this pipe, blocking it fairly comprehensively. Fortunately access to this pipe is fairly easy, but I think I’ll need to make a small cutter which I can use to clean out the pipe – something similar to the cutting auger they use to clean tree roots from sewers.


So much for the New Year resolution to make more frequent blog posts. No, not really. I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a long time ago. The truth of the matter is that my computer keyboard ran out of ink.

Seriously, I have just not been in the mood. However, this has now improved, and although I can’t promise a new blog entry every day I will try to ensure the interval between posts is not too long.

On the garden front, things are not looking too brilliant. LSS pulled up a few parsnips to go into her vegetable curry. Unfortunately it looks like we won’t be doing any parsnip wine this year; the crop has been very poor.

A week or so ago we were required to complete a census. Whilst LSS was at work, I was visited by the official census person. Unfortunately the timing could have been better, as LSS was at that point knee-deep in paperwork for the aged FIL (retirement homes application forms). Of course LSS had to fill out the census forms on behalf of the aged FIL as well. And as I was the bearer of this bad news when LSS got home (the paperwork had to be completed within 48 hours), I was the unfortunate recipient of an angry tirade (although I had filled out as much of the forms as I could). Moving swiftly on to other news…

The pond has once again frozen over. And isn’t it funny that problems with mechanical items always occur at the wrong time of year? LSS’s Hyundai started losing power at low revs. I initially though there could be a problem with the clutch. Then there was an increase in noise from underneath, so the diagnosis of a hole in the exhaust pipe was fairly easy to make – this was confirmed when I crawled underneath. The next day the engine management warning light came on. LSS took the vehicle to a local garage, who said the low revs power problem and engine management light warning were all due to the hole in the exhaust; the lambda sensor was giving incorrect readings. They quoted €180 for a new front exhaust pipe. Plus labour of course. So instead I ordered a replacement part online, saving €100, and this arrived a couple of days later. So despite the freezing weather, I was underneath the car, installing the new front pipe. The engine management ECU was reset by simply disconnecting the vehicle’s battery for five minutes, and everything is now back to normal.

Then, when cleaning the greywater reedbed filter last weekend, I noticed that the plastic barrel which was serving as a sump had risen out of the ground by about 20 centimetres, lifting the wastewater entry pipe and slightly buckling the side of the barrel. I initially thought the cause was a phenomenon called “frost heave” (where water in the soil freezes and expands in volume – this can even crack concrete). However, further investigation revealed the culprit – the high water table. All the cold wet weather recently means that the water table is now 30cm below the soil surface. I opted for the easiest remedy, putting 14 bricks inside the barrel, and also placing a block of concrete scavenged from the aged FIL’s shed on top of the lid. All this added weight means that the plastic drum is now once again in its original position. I estimate I’ve lost some 20 litres of greywater capacity due to the bricks, but that still leaves 100 litres which should be sufficient.

The Aged Aunt is still in the recuperation centre (the same place the aged FIL was). She’s doing all right; they’ve inserted a steel pin into her femur so she’ll have to avoid airport security screens in future. But she’s getting physiotherapy and seems cheerful enough.

A small tree near the pond was leaning over the road due to the sheer weight of the ivy it was carrying, so I cut it down. It is now currently awaiting further processing so it can go into the wood shed. If it’s not too windy, one day next week I’ll make a start at felling the first of the two large dead aspen trees. They’re both the same size; with a dbh (technical term: diameter at breast height) of 0.68 metres.

As an update regarding the Yagi antenna: I think it needs to be mounted at a greater height. However, as I don’t have any 20-metre poles lying around, further refinements will have to wait. I obtained a new battery for my old Sony Ericsson mobile, and I now have a signal strength of one bar inside the house. However, I’m not sure whether this is due to the new battery, or the Yagi. I do know that I’m not at all impressed with the Blackberry’s reception. Which is a pity, because I like the full Qwerty keyboard. Here’s the mounted Yagi (and I did NOT enjoy installing it one-handed from a nearly vertical ladder):

The 2013 batch of elderberry wine (24 bottles) was tested last week. Unfortunately something seems to have gone a bit wrong with it, as the taste was rather sharp and slightly vinegary. So we reluctantly decided that we would have to use it for cooking rather than drinking (we don’t throw anything away unless we absolutely have to!)

However, as it was so cold yesterday evening, we had a brainwave. We poured a bottle of the stuff into a saucepan with some cloves, cinnamon, orange juice, sugar, and a tot of apple brandy – and made some mulled wine. Delicious. 23 22 bottles left…

I’ve also started fermenting the next batch of beer. A barley wine this time. I’m aiming for a 12% brew.


Well, I hate to admit failure.

But unfortunately it transpires that I’m not a mobile phone antenna boffin. Because of the extremely poor reception where we live, I constructed a Yagi antenna, with the directors and dipole cut to the correct length and spacing for a frequency of 900MHz (GSM). I used a length of PVC pipe, and connected some 75Ω coax to the dipole via a balun. Here’s the constructed Yagi: (excuse the mess on the workbench!)

YagiI then leaned the ladder against the end wall of the house, and balancing precariously on the top, connected the antenna to the gable end, using another length of pvc pipe for the mast. I pointed the Yagi at the closest mobile mast (apparently 2km away, due East). The coax cable was fed through a gap in the brickwork just below the roof tiles, into the barn.

The other end of the coax was stripped, and the copper braid bent back, to form another dipole suited to the 900mHz wavelength (each piece of copper being 83.25mm long in case you were wondering; these two pieces in total equate to half a wavelength). I stapled this coax to a beam in the barn, and came back inside to switch on my new Blackberry.

Before installing the aerial: Zero signal.

After installing the aerial: Zero signal.

So at the moment I’m a very disappointed puppy.


I checked the weather forecast for our area yesterday. “Sunny, but cold,” it said. So I planned on chopping up the final logs from the fallen tree I collected last month.

“Sunny, but cold”. Hah! I have no idea what computer program these weather forecasters are using. Not one beam of sunshine was visible all day. It was heavily overcast, and foggy to boot. It was cold though, so they got that bit right. Well, cutting up the logs and splitting them with the axe kept me warm. I think I’m not going to bother looking at weather forecasts any more. I’ll just look out of the window instead. Perhaps I should invest in one of these:



With talk in the media about the global economy and the upcoming BRICS nations supporting each other (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) even to the extent of creating their own reserve fund, it would seem that the BRICS could be the potential new powerhouses of the world economy. Well, it seems that some other countries had been feeling left out. These decided to form a co-operative group themselves, and are Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey. So the current buzz-word is MINT.

I wonder how long it will be before a new group is formed from yet more countries who were not invited to join the party? For example, Argentina, Reunion, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Back in the real world, modern-day communications are the order of the day. You see, I purchased a new mobile phone from the UK, as the battery on my 12-year old phone finally gave up the ghost. I opted for a Blackberry Curve, as the only thing I’ll really use the phone for is sending LSS the occasional text message. I can also use it as an MP3 player. However, we live in a real black spot as far as mobile reception is concerned. LSS’s Nokia can just about receive texts, but to retrieve phone messages or make calls, she needs to go outside and walk down the road – not much fun when it’s raining! The Blackberry gets no signal at all.

So I’ve been researching methods of improving the mobile reception here. I have started constructing a Yagi antenna, which will be mounted on the roof and connected to an omnidirectional colinear aerial sited upstairs. Both of these will be constructed from bits and pieces I have lying around. I’ll report back on the effectiveness (fingers crossed!)

The pond has finally defrosted; it had been frozen over since our return. We’ve now started using the final pallet-wood compost bin, as the third one is now solidly full. Next season we’ll be able to empty the first one and dig it into the garden.

This morning we saw five deer in the field behind the pond. The hunters hunted on the Sunday we left; and we’ve heard that they’re not happy. They have not seen a wild boar or deer for two months now. Of course the fact of the matter is that they turn up here once every six weeks; usually at around 10 a.m. – so we’re beginning to wonder how serious they are. If you’re after larger game you need to get up a bit earlier in the day!

Last night we tried a bottle from last years’ batch of parsnip wine. Once again we were impressed – it was very nice indeed, but not as sweet as the year before. We’ve also sampled the pumpkin ale. It needs a bit more time to mature but is very good. One doesn’t taste pumpkin; instead there is a hint of caramel, with a slight aroma of bananas. Just thought you’d like to know!