January 16, 2021

Les Terres Cuites d’Aizenay

Here’s the reason why I treked all the way ‘up north’ yesterday. I took the picture this morning while the hand-made ‘terres cuites’ that were specially made for me were still nestling in the boot of my car.

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And this was after I’d removed them and placed them on the floor of my ‘atelier’ until I can get around to laying them in front of my new sliding patio door, hopefully when it gets a bit warmer down here.

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Not many of them and hardly worth driving all that distance for, you might say, and that’d be true to a certain extent. They came to just under a couple of hundred euros in total but the main problem was that due to the high chance of their being damaged in transit, the factory refused to ship them except on a small pallet. And that would have cost about half again, or maybe a bit more.

However, my Ford C-Max is pretty economical (around 5.5 litres/100 km on a drive like that) so it was more than worth making the trip, plus it also gave me a chance to get out and see again a bit of an attractive part of France (Charente Maritime, Charente, Deux Sèvres, Vendée) on what turned out to be a chilly but mostly bright, sunny day. It would never have paid to do the trip in my Kia, though, as that would have burnt almost twice the amount of fuel as the C-Max, which used just over a single tank there and back.

The reason that I need these specific tiles is that I want to match a design that I originally created for the platform that I built on which my woodburner now to stands. Here’s a shot of what I’m talking about.

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It won’t be as easy as it sounds because my main floor tiles are nominally 30 cm square and the new ‘terres-cuites’ are 16 cm square. This means that all of them will have to be cut down on all four sides so two with a joint will be the same width as a floor tile. It won’t be too bad though as I still have the electric tile cutter in my workshop that I acquired when I did the original job.

I also bought some spare patterned tiles as some will have to be cut up to make the fleur-de-lys ‘cabouchons’ that make the design so attractive (in my opinion 🙂 ) and interesting. That will also not be too difficult using the tile cutter but I know that I’ll have to take great care, as I did before. Now I just need to get going as soon as possible!

January 15, 2021

Another road trip

I drove up to the Vendée in the Pays de la Loire in north-west France today to go to Les Terres Cuites d’Aizenay and pick up the tiles that they had specially made for me. The whole trip was 850 kms there and back and having left at 8.00 am, I got back this evening at 7.30 pm. But every minute was worth it because this factory has everything that I like about ‘la France ancienne’.

The last time I was there was almost exactly 8 years ago to the day but the proprietor greeted me and said that he remembered it well, just as I did. He took the trouble on that occasion to show me around the factory, which didn’t take that long because it’s still a small, family owned and run business just as it was when his great-great-great (I think that’s the right number of ‘greats’) started it way back in 1868 I think it was.

And although some ‘modern’ parts have been added (if you can call them that) the heart of the factory remains the kilns which remain unchanged and are still in use today just as they were then, fired up by lengths of scrap wood that is stacked in huge piles that are replaced as the wood is burnt. And everything is still done by hand just as it always has been. It’s the only way that the product finish and quality can be maintained and it’s why the factory’s products are still in great demand for the renovation and refurfishment of ancient buildings in many parts of France.

More of why I went to the factory tomorrow, but here’s a shot of its outside, taken from Google Steet View and edited by me to improve it’s quality. The factory itself had changed not at all since I was last there but my GPS had some minor problems getting there because there has been a great deal of road building in the area and the industrial area in which the factory is situated is also being quite drastically expanded.

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Here’s a shot of the factory’s ‘showroom’ which also hadn’t changed since my previous visit. I wish that I’d had the time to take a shot of it myself because this one is taken from the company’s web site and is of very poor quality.

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Here’s a shot of the open-sided outdoor store where my tiles were stacked on a small pallet waiting for me and from where I loaded them into the boot of my car.

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And to finish off, here’s a shot also from their web site showing one of the kilns being stoked up with scrap wood.

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Because of Covid, I made a couple of baguette cheese sandwiches last night to take with me together with a flask of tea this morning. That way I only had to stop twice for refreshments and once at a Casino supermarket for fuel. This is the first long road trip that I’ve made since the start of the Covid crisis and from what I could see, it was business as usual everywhere except in the roadside cafés and restaurants that I passed. And traffic seemed to me to be more or less completely back to pre-Covid levels.

All of the factories and businesses on the myriad of industrial estates that I passed appeared to be in full swing and on the face of it, I would say that although there may be a shortage of Covid vaccine in France, its economy looks as though it’s much closer to being back firing on all cylinders than that of the UK. Journalists and commentators in the UK keep crowing that the UK will be first out of the starting blocks in terms of economic recovery but I think that unless people start getting back to work in the UK, any advantage from early vaccinations will be lost. And big time.

January 4, 2021

Fantastic news!

What a day this has been. Earlier on this afternoon I received a call from the person from whom I’m buying my land asking if I’ll be free to go the Notaire’s office on wednesday to sign the ‘Compromis de Vente’, after which there will only be formalities to complete to make the land mine. Of course, I said that I would be and it’s great to know that things are moving on in that department.

Then shortly afterwards came the cherry on top of the cake. I received a call from the lovely young couple who have been along to see my house and have already in just a few days had it inspected by a building expert, to say that they want to buy it. I’m so pleased for them as much as for myself because as we got to know each other I knew that they would be the perfect new owners.

What a start to the year this has been. So much has happened in not much more than a week and it’s amazing that I’ll soon be all set to embark on yet another new episode of my life here in France. It’s so exciting and I can hardly wait 🙂

December 31, 2020

Here we are again

Yes, it’s the end of another year. One that we won’t forget very quickly, although we’d like to. A year that was defined by the Covid-19 pandemic that affected everything that everyone did all over the world.

So not surprising that everyone has their own story, of loss, failure and disappointment. Principally our hearts must go out to those who lost loved-ones to this awful disease, and there were many. But we must also sympathise with those who have lost businesses and livelihoods many of whom may never work again and, may as a result, have even more to lose in the coming weeks and months. As someone who ran a small business in good and bad times I understand that pain very clearly.

I and my friends and neighbours were relatively safe down in this little rural corner of France and I don’t know of anyone who was directly affected by Covid, although I am sure that we will find as conditions ease that many small cafes and restaurants that we knew and loved will have gone to the wall. Luckily, none of my close circle of friends, any member of their families or any member of mine became ill as a result of Covid and I am greatly thankful for that.

My main disappointment was that due to the lockdowns that were imposed on both sides of the Channel, 2020 was yet another disappointing year for flying. I only managed 19 hours and 51 minutes and much of that only as a result of my bringing my ex-pat Xair over to France from the UK. Even so, this was not my lowest total in recent memory – I did far fewer in 2017, the year of my illness and did less in each of 2012, when I came to live in France, 2013 and 2014.

So I can’t really complain too much, especially as there are hundreds, if not thousands of pilots on both sides of the Channel who will have done far fewer hours than me. And, of course, I’m also aware that my disappointment is trivial and pales into insignificance compared to that of people who have lost loved-ones, family, friends, jobs, livelihoods and businesses.

Now we are at the end of 2020 and hopefully we can look forward to the new year with hope and confidence as vaccines come on stream and life slowly begins to return to some sort of normality. There are doomsters who say that it never will but I disagree with them. We humans are incredibly resilient – we have had to be to have been around for so long – and old habits die hard.

We will learn from 2020 and will move ever onwards and upwards as we always have done, armed with the new-found knowledge that the year has brought us. I am also fortunate in having an added benefit to look forward to in the form of my impending house sale and new house build on the land I’m buying in Fleurac. 2021 will therefore be an even more significant and exciting year for me than it would have been were I just recovering like most others from the downsides of 2020.

So let’s wish good riddance to 2020 and raise our glasses to a better, safer, more prosperous and more healthy 2021. And for other Brits who are reading this, let’s also raise our glasses to a Brexit that will return independence and sovereignty to our country and herald a new dawn for a successful, global, outward-looking United Kingdom. But let’s not forget our friends in Europe for they are many – the ordinary people who think like us and want the same things for their families as we do for ours.

Happy 2021 everyone!

December 17, 2020

So…

What’s happening? OK, I’ll go on to explain, but before I do I’ll explain what’s been happening to bring about the quite major changes that are going to be happening in my life over the coming weeks and months.

A short way to the rear of my house is a patch of open land, quite a big patch actually if you also include the part of it that extends right the way up to Le Bos de Plazac. Over several years, the landowner, like many others in this area, has been cashing in on the demand for building land and has sold off several plots that my neighbours have built their homes on. This has never created any problems, quite the opposite actually, as the houses are not on top of each other but are close enough for us all to be in quite a tight-knit little community in which we all know each other.

In the last year, however, the landowner has put the patch I’m now referring to up for sale, which is a slightly different kettle of fish. The access onto it is down the narrow track that runs alongside my garden and forms the entrance to my house and that of my neighbour directly in the rear. Technically the track is a public ‘chemin rural’ but in reality for the most part it is quite a lot narrower than the legal requirement of 4 metres and is also bordered by trees in my garden and that of my neighbour.

In anticipation of wangling a way to sell the land with planning permission, some time before I arrived the owner created an entrance into it and laid down stone to make it suitable to carry light vehicles. However, two problems remained. Firstly the boundary of my neighbour at the rear’s land terminated slap-bang in the middle of the ‘entrance’ leaving only a distance of 2.6 metres available, much less than the required 4 metres and therefore disqualifying the land from being ‘constructable’. The second problem, of course, was that the ‘chemin rural’ leading to it was also less than the legal requirement of 4 metres in width, thus compounding the issues.

However, although the land is classified as ‘agricultural’ and not ‘constructable’ on the local regional plan, I recently heard that the land was being offered for sale in two plots with building permission. And not only that, but this was with the support of the local Mairie at Plazac. The ramifications of this soon became clear to me, but not to my neighbours apparently, and I launched myself into a stiff opposition as I had nothing to lose by doing so.

It soon became obvious that this would be an uphill task, not just because I was an ‘outsider’ fighting against vested interests but also because those same interests knew their way around the system and ways of getting around obstacles. The first shock that I got was that the Mairie at Plazac has refused to respond to any of my letters despite being legally obliged to do so, not the least because I am a resident of the commune, and although the local regional planning office has been tacitly supportive of my efforts, it has repeatedly advised me that I should seek a resolution of the problems through the local Mairie. So not much help there, then.

Things moved on at the end of October when, presumably in response to my complaints, a surveyor was sent to confirm the boundaries in question and place markers, know as ‘bornes’, on the ground. He was supposed to do this with reference to the official government map (called ‘le Cadastre’) that is available on the internet and clearly shows all of the boundary markers across the whole of France together with precise positions and measurements

However, to my astonishment the ‘borne’ at the boundary of my neighbour at the rear’s land that should have been placed slap-bang in the middle of the disputed entrance was omitted and not only that, the ‘borne’ on the other side was moved more than a metre from where it should have been, taking land belonging to my other neighbour and by so doing, widening the ‘chemin rurale’ to more than the required 4 metres.

It was now time to take stock of the situation and I therefore contacted both of the neighbours whose land had been affected by the above and here’s when I was gobsmacked. Neither could be bothered about it, even though each of them would be affected more than I would if the land was sold and built on. And not only would the one with their property on the other side of the ‘chemin rural’ to me be giving up a part of their land, they might also face the possibility once it had happened of being asked to cut down the trees along the side of their garden as they would then be less than 1 metre beyond the edge of the new ‘public’ right of way.

I soon realised that in the light of the above, the chance of my opposition succeeding was more or less zero, the more so when my neighbour at the rear said that they had ‘given’ the land to the Mairie that it required. So it was time for me to come up with a new strategy. Subsequent conversations have shown that my neighbours care far less about such matters than I do, but although it clearly wouldn’t be a total disaster, I didn’t much like the idea of the changes that might happen at some time in the future and it made me start to think a bit more about what I want out of the rest of my life here in France.

And when I did, I realised that having lost two years when I was ill and while I recovered, my original ideas for my house were in tatters. When I came here I had both the energy and enthusiasm to tackle the project and the work that it entailed but now, although I still had the enthusiasm, I no longer had the energy or the time ahead of me to do so. So that made me consider what alternatives were open to me and finally I came to look at the nuclear option of selling up and moving on.

This would be an enormous move at my time of life but the closer I looked at it the more I realised that not only could I do it but that if I did it right, it would afford not only some amazing opportunities but also a much more comfortable lifestyle in these latter stages of my life.

I was initially worried that my house would be difficult to sell because I haven’t finished all of the jobs I had lined-up to improve it but my friends and family have all said that I shouldn’t care about that as it will sell as it is anyway. It was certainly in far worse a condition when I bought it than it is now, so I have to admit that they’re almost certainly right. It also turns out that I had a somewhat pessimistic view of its value and with everything considered, after putting all of the numbers in the equation, it turned out that I could afford to buy a parcel of land (referred to as a ‘terrain’) myself and have a brand-new little house built on it.

I have a somewhat philosophical outlook on life and I’m a firm believer that ‘things happen for a reason’. I’m convinced that what is happening now conforms to this philosophy and even more so by what I’ll now go on to explain. When I told my friends Victor and Madeleine what was going on and what I was thinking about doing, they asked me whether I knew of a certain ‘terrain’ that was up for sale not far from where they live in Fleurac. I did know of it but thought that it would be beyond my price range, but Victor said that I should go and see the seller, who he and Madeleine know, anyway.

So after I’d taken a look at the land, he and I went along and I subsequently made an offer for it. You can probably guess what’s coming next. Everyone’s been telling me that following the Covid scare, there’s a great demand for property and land in our area from people looking to move to the countryside. Victor said that he has seen lots of cars with people looking at the very piece of land in question, but I decided to make an offer below the asking price anyway. And after a couple of minutes haggling, I got it.

I’m in the fortunate position of being able to acquire the land before selling my house, so the purchase is now in the hands of the Notaire. If necessary, I can wait for a few weeks, or months even, to sell my house, although I hope that I won’t have to. Within a day of putting up the ‘A Vendre’ sign outside it, I had a call from someone who’s interested and they’re coming next week to view it. I’ve also got an agent biting my arm off to handle a sale for me saying that they urgently require properties like mine and that it’ll sell very quickly, so I’m cautiously olptimistic.

So what about my future plans? I’m very excited and can’t wait to start putting them into effect. First the ‘terrain’ that I’m buying. It’s fantastic, about 30% larger than what I’ve got now in an excellent position on a local road that’s no busier than the one my present house is on, mainly farm traffic and local residents. I’m not going to say where it is until things have been wrapped up even more than they are except that it is clear on all sides, with an adjoining ‘terrain’ that may or may not be sold for another house in the future but would not be too close to mine anyway. In fact if I’m as lucky as I am with my neighbours now, it’d be nice to have someone next door.

The plot is about 100 yards long of a width that will allow an excellent entrance and is about 30 yards in width at its widest point, which is at the other/far end. It slopes downwards very gently from the road and the slope increases slightly from about its mid-point. Here’s what the plan looks like.

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There are trees running alongside the road on the adjacent strip at the western (road) end and due to special circumstances, they will always remain there. That will be great because I love having trees close by my house, as I have at present. There are also trees at the bottom of the plot beyond which it says that there’s a ‘chemin rural’, but even if there was once, there’s nothing there now. So there should never be any threat in the future of my new home facing problems such as encroachment or loss of privacy, which will be a great relief.

So what of my ideas for the new house itself, which I’ve indicated on the plan above? I’ve already been asked whether, having gone for a traditional stone French house I’ll do the same again, and the answer is ‘No’. I’ll be going for a brand new, modern little single-storey house that will require little or no further effort or input from me when I move in and will allow me to concentrate on the more pleasurable things in life, like flying and enjoying time with my friends.

There are many house builders in south-west France offering a wide portfolio of ‘off-the-peg’ house designs making it easy for people like me who can search and browse the internet. I’ve already chosen what I think will be the design that I’ll go for – it’s called the ‘Floride’ and its availabe in several alternative sizes and layouts. The following picture gives a very good idea of its style but is of either the 95 or 104 sq metre model, I’m not sure which, rather than the 102 sq metre one that I want.

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The plan shows my original thinking for how it will fit on the ‘terrain’, with a long commanding entrance and front parking area all in rolled stone. Water and electricity are conveniently available at the top-most corner next to the road so they will be easy (and cheap!) to run.

As usual for this area, there will be no mains sewerage and I’m thinking that rather than have a septic tank (‘fosse septique’) I’ll go for the more environmentally friendly, natural Aquatiris system that I was going to install in my current house when I did the extension. This uses special flower beds to biologically filter and purify the waste water and is totally maintenance free once it’s running. It also has the advantage of not needing to split the ‘clean’ waste water (kitchen, bath etc) from the ‘dirty’ water from the toilet and as the ‘terrain’ slopes away from the house, it will be a perfect fit.

To finish off, although I don’t yet have a proper image of the 102 sq metre ‘Floride’ design, here’s a plan of its layout, which I doubt I’d want to change even though you can customise it within reason.

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So there you have it. There’ll be much, much more to come over the coming weeks and months and I’m super excited. Things like this don’t happen quickly in France and for now I’m just going to be concentrating on doing things in my present house and making it better until its sold. I’ll need to respond to requests made by the Notaire regarding my land purchase as the process proceeds and make a non-refundable 10% payment when the ‘Compromis de Vente’ is raised. It’d be very nice if my house sale is also underway by then so here’s keeping my fingers crossed 😉

December 14, 2020

Something unexpected

Here’s a sight that I didn’t expect to see after I came to France and had settled into my little house in Plazac. Photographs taken outside my house this afternoon.

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I thought that I’d be here for the rest of my retirement and that this would be the last house that I’d ever live in. But it now seems certain that that is not to be. However, I’m not disappointed or downhearted and I’m looking on the prospect of selling up and moving as more of a new beginning than an end of something. And let’s face it, even at my age you can’t have enough new beginnings, can you 😉

I’ll tell more in my next post.

December 1, 2020

Autumn shades

Here’s another one of my ‘Covid lockdown videos’ that I shot on Sunday from my garden and uploaded to my Youtube channel tonight (Monday evening).

This year’s autumn colours are magic. Maybe they are every year but I haven’t noticed and it’s taken Covid to make me take the trouble to look more closely.

I also received a bulletin from my ULM insurer on Monday telling me that as from 28 November, limited personal flights will be allowed until lockdown is lifted in France on 15 December. Maintenance and training flights will be permitted but for me the relevant information is that solo flights together with another person from the same household will be allowed for a distance of 20km from one’s home base and for a maximum of 3 hours. The reason my insurance broker sent it was to say that all of the insurance companies have said that they will definitely not pay out for any incident involving a pilot who fails to observe the rules.

OK, it’s a lot better than nothing so if the weather continues to hold (we’ve had a month of calm, high pressure, windless, perfect flying days during the current lockdown) I should at least be able to get a few hours in in both my Savannah and my Xair. Let’s see…

November 27, 2020

I’ve admitted defeat

I tried this morning to salvage my winter break to Hurghada but without success. The ‘alternatives’ that Kiwi.com originally proposed involved switching my outgoing leg to Hurghada from Basel to Amsterdam but that then involved a lengthy transfer by bus from Lille to Amsterdam with my having made my own arrangements beforehand to transfer myself from the airport to the bus station. I didn’t fancy that so I proposed a change of dates that if I’d booked the whole trip today would have cost 214€.

I then heard from Kiwi.com that easyJet had also cancelled my return leg from Gatwick to Bordeaux and their proposed ‘alternatives’ then changed – the cheapest being at an additional cost of 245€ ie more than if I just wrote off my original booking and made a completely new one! This obviously made no sense and I have therefore taken what I think is the sensible decision and cancelled the whole trip.

I’ve requested a refund which I may not receive for several weeks, or even months from what I hear, but as I’m cancelling within the normal 14 day ‘cooling off’ period, I think that I should be entitled for reimbursement in full. It’ll be interesting to see whether, as all four legs of my original booking were with easyJet, although by cancelling just two of them they’ve made the whole trip impossible, they’ll try to just refund for the two legs they’ve cancelled and hang on to the payments for the other two. I hope not as I think better than that of them.

I’ve also made requests for refunds of the sums I’ve paid for travel insurance and parking. I sent an email in connection with the travel insurance and again, as it’s within the 14 day follow-up period, I hope that I’m repaid without too much hassle. I know that the insurance would have covered me for any costs that I’d incurred from flights being cancelled but I’m hoping that if I do lose out, the amount(s) will be less than the just under 50€ that the insurance would have cost me.

Reclaiming what I paid for parking at Bordeaux was a bit more complicated as I had to download a form and send it off, but as it specifically mentions that full refunds will be made for claims made within the 14 day ‘cooling off’ period, I’m happy that that’s what will happen.

I know that I could now just make another booking for alternative dates but I can’t see the point as what’s to say that the same thing won’t happen again? The airlines are in an impossible situation with governments arbitrarily creating and closing ‘corridors’ and they have my sympathy but it’s making it almost impossible to make bookings for weeks ahead. For the moment at least, therefore, Covid has won, but I’ll leave it until closer to the day and see if I can arrange something at short notice which I know will happen. The trouble with that is that if/when it’s possible, prices are bound to have gone up 😐

November 26, 2020

Bad news

I received a message yesterday saying that the easyJet flight that I’d booked from Basel to Hurghada in February has been cancelled. Kiwi.com was offering alternatives, all costing more with several involving a bus transfer from Lille to Amsterdam which I don’t fancy. As they would all have meant reorganising my travel insurance and airport parking I decided to decline all of them and look for other alternatives myself.

When I contacted Kiwi.com I found that the easyJet return leg from Gatwick to Bordeaux had also been cancelled so that threw things even more up in the air. I’ve proposed rearranging my whole trip by putting it back to 15th February and staying for 10 nights in Hurghada. If that can be done for a supplemental payment, I’ll cancel my hotel booking and make yet another. The daily rate will be more expensive than I managed before but I’d have to live with that. I’d also have to see about rearranging my travel insurance and airport parking but I’m sure that I’d be able to do that on account of Covid guidelines.

However, if my suggestion isn’t accepted I think I’ll just cancel the whole thing and just go for refunds all round, which will be very disappointing as I have been looking forward to this winter break even more than I did for the previous occasions that I’ve gone. I’ve got to wait 24 hours or so to find out what’s going to happen so there’s nothing I can do until I hear back. It just shows how Covid is making everything so much more tricky and unpredictable than before.

November 25, 2020

Getting in the wood

I just made another somewhat whimsical Covid lock-down video as I like to make proper videos using footage from my Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter. It keeps me amused while I’m stuck at home and I also think that it’s what drones are for.

The video is a little snapshot of life in the Dordogne and it’s about what many of us here have to do at this time of year when winter’s just around the corner.

I’m hoping that I’ll have enough wood to see me through but it depends on how hard the winter turns out to be. I’ve got enough split down to keep me going for quite a few weeks and I’ll have to split more as I need it as winter draws on. Those cold winter days that we usually get in the new year… what a prospect!

November 19, 2020

Lighting the Fires in Lockdown

Just as in the first lockdown of 2020 here in France, we’re not permitted to fly our aircraft. Whether that’s a daft decision or not as if you fly solo and take off and land at the same location you wouldn’t come into contact with another person, but that discussion is for another day.

But whether they’re flown or not, our aircrafts’ engines must still be occasionally started and run until they’ve warmed up in order to keep them in good order and mitigate corrosion and the DGAC published a letter during the last lockdown giving pilots permission to do that as well as make short flights to a maintenance facility if their airworthiness certificate would otherwise lapse.

That doesn’t apply for ULMs but we still need to run our engines, so that’s what I planned to go to Malbec and do this afternoon. I took a GoPro with me to record events but then succeeded in deleting nearly all of the footage that I’d recorded while transferring it to my PC. Below is a link to the video that I put together from the material that I managed to salvage.

Hopefully even if this ruddy ‘confinement’ is extended in some form after its scheduled end date of 2nd December we’ll be permitted to fly again subject to similar conditions to last time. It’s very frustrating because while we’ve been gounded for the past few weeks we’ve had perfect flying weather and I’d have liked to have boosted my feeble flying time before the end of the year.

Even if we can resume flying after 2nd December you can bet that by then the weather will have changed – plus I’m expecting delivery of some new windows in the first week of December that I’ll then need to fit before the weather takes a turn for the worse. How typical is that, eh… 😕

November 17, 2020

I’ve taken a gamble

But had a bit of luck! After I’d completed my course of chemo back in January 2018 I booked a week in Hurghada on the Egyptian Red Sea in order to get a bit of sun and raise myself back up both physically and spiritually. It worked so well for me and I enjoyed it so much that I’ve been back twice since at about the same time of year, in 2019 and this year, and I had every intention of making a booking for 2021. Except, of course, the Covid crisis has messed everything up. Or so it seemed.

I originally began checking prices and the availability of flights and the hotel a few weeks ago and was pleasantly surprised to find that if I was prepared at that time to take the plunge I could book a flight from Bordeaux, as I did last year, and a room at the same hotel as before for just a little less than I paid this year. The first time I went I booked through Thomas Cook but on the two occasions since then I’ve made my own bookings and secured excellent savings each time but I would have been very happy to arrange everything again for what it cost for 2020.

However, I was uneasy to go ahead at that time as the whole Covid thing was (and still is to a great extent) very much up in the air and I wasn’t keen on making financial commitments that might well have turned out to be at risk, so I held back. And lucky I did, because when I looked back again for the dates that I had in mind, there were no flights available from Bordeaux and even the hotel availability seemed uncertain.

And the latter had increased in price in the meantime even if I could book a room through the source that I’d used previously. But I decided to keep my eye on things because the earlier you book the better the prices you get on both the flight and the accommodation. Even the airport parking. I put off booking (and paying for) my parking at Bordeaux for a few weeks last year and it ended up costing me around 20€ more!

The flight in particular is important because you can’t fly direct from Bordeaux (or any French airport I think) to Hurghada so you have to make at least one stop and transfer. In fact you can be forced to make two or even three depending on when you want to go and how much you want to pay because airlines just want to get bums on seats and are prepared to accept just a few euros to do so rather than leave a seat empty.

So the trick is to trade off journey time and the number of stops against cost. There are several canny web sites that let you do that and my favourite is Kiwi.com. It can find lots of flights for you, even ones that start off with a bus journey to a cheaper airport or send you off initially in totally the wrong direction.

Now, I don’t want to head off to Hurghada via Spain and take two days or more to get there and I definitely don’t want to start off with a long bus ride, especially after last year when our flight was disprupted by an air traffic control strike in France and instead of being able to fly straight to Geneva for an overnight layover, we had to fly to Lyon and then take a bus there. It wasn’t that painful as we’d otherwise have been longer overnight in Geneva than we actually were, an experience that I wouldn’t recommend as apparently the Swiss don’t see the need for passenger seating in airport terminals.

So when I checked again a couple of nights ago and found that now I could book easyJet a bit later than before, in early February, the whole way to and from Hurghada with only one stop in each direction, I was immediately interested. I prefer easyJet because of its larger cabin bagage allowance and was even more delighted because whereas in 2020 the return flight had cost me 216€, this time around I could do it for only 167€!

OK, I’d have to pay for it now and there is always the threat that it will be disrupted, even cancelled, because of Covid. However, 167€ isn’t the end of the world, and as my son pointed out to me, I’d be able to get a refund or even a voucher that I could use to fly to the UK as and when the Covid thing clears up.

The fare I found maybe needs a bit more explanation. When you do a search using Kiwi.com, you don’t just get one price for your trip. You actually get a price grid showing how the fare varies, up and down, for the days around your planned travel dates, there and back. This is great for people like me who are totally flexible. In fact it meant that last year, by choosing a longer stay-over in Egypt and paying for two days more in the hotel, I got a stay of 11 nights for less overall cost including flight than I would have paid if I’d stayed for only 9 nights. See what I mean about canny… 😉

My 167€ fare was again only for a 9 night stay in Egypt, but that will suit me fine as I did find this year that 11 nights was actually a bit long. So then it was time to book the hotel, but my luck then ran out. I’ve stayed at the same hotel on all the previous occasions, the Hawaii Riviera Aqua Park Resort, which I would have been happy to go back to, but for some reason I just couldn’t make a booking on the internet.

I’m sure that it’s still in business – maybe it’s up-in-the-air because of Covid – but whatever, that’s no good to me as having got a flight lined up I must have a hotel room ready and waiting for me. So I had to look for an alternative, a pleasant, reasonably priced hotel with all-inclusive service and preferably on the beach with a sea view. And I found it in the form of the Labranda Club Makadi resort.

My original hotel, the Hawaii Riviera, is located some 20 kms to the north of Hurghada airport whereas the Labranda Club is some 30 kms or so to the south. It also appears to be quite different in character, smaller for a start. Here’s a shot of the entrance of the Hawaii Riviera.

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And here’s a shot of the Labranda Club (I’ve just lifted all of the Labranda Club shots below from various internet sites).

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The facilities at the Hawaii Riviera seem to be on a larger scale than those at the Labranda Club, the former having more ‘aqua-park’ attractions like water chutes and slides aimed at children and families, whereas the Labranda Club seems to be aimed more at adult clients. Here’s a view taken this year from my room at the Hawaii Riviera.

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And here’s an exterior view at the Labranda Club. I won’t miss the water chutes and slides as I don’t use them, preferring just to lie in the sun and read my books.

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The rooms at each establishment seem to bear many similarities in terms of both layout and the facilities they contain. First, my room this year at the Hawaii Riviera.

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Now some shots of rooms at the Labranda Club. The first two are of a typical double room which would be equivalent to my room at the Hawaii Riviera.

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This final shot is of a ‘standard’ room, which is probably more like what I’ll end up with.

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My room at the Hawaii Riviera this year was fairly atypical. When I arrived I refused the first room that I was taken to because it was so dark and dingy and was moved into the one shown. This was in a more recently built roof-top annexe and was brighter, cleaner and much nicer than the rooms I’d occupied on the previous two occasions. I think, but don’t know for sure, that the Labranda Club is newer and more modern than the Hawaii Riviera but in any case, I’m looking forward very much to going there and am keeping my fingers crossed that my trip won’t be dusrupted by ongoing Covid problems.

So what’s the gamble I’ve taken? It’s that by the time I’m due to travel, the main Covid-related problems will have passed. The Labranda Club reopened after the Egyptian Covid shut-down in June of this year and is taking stringent anti-Covid measures, say management, so hopefully I will be able to look forward to my stay there being smooth. But in any case, I don’t have to pay anything until late January, just a week before my planned departure date, and can cancel at no charge at any time up to then, so there’s not much at stake there.

And surely we will all be flying again by the first week in February of next year. We can’t stay locked-down forever and in any case, there should be vaccines available by then which will start to allow life to get back to normal. And also, by planning my trip for a couple of weeks later than I have previously, it will allow a bit more time for the problems to be solved.

So what was the ‘bit of luck’ that had? Last night I booked my planned 9-night stay at the Labranda Club and as is often the case, the web site flashed a message saying that this was ‘the last room available’ at the price. And as I mentioned above, it was ‘book now, pay in January’ with no-cost cancellation. This morning I checked back on the internet to get some photographs for this post and idly decided to check whether there were rooms still available and if so, for how much more than I’d paid.

This will make you smile. In fact the site said, once more, ‘the last room available’ was there to be snapped up but instead of costing more than I’d paid last night, it was for nearly 35€ less than I’d paid the previous evening for my 9 night stay! So what did I do? Obviously I cancelled my original booking (at no cost) and made a new one! Come on, what would you have done if you’d been me?

So what did this mean? In 2018, booking through Thomas Cook, I paid 672€ including flight for a 7 night stay. Booking myself, in 2019 I paid 535€ for a 9 night stay and 620€ for an 11 night stay this year, the latter figure ‘all-in’ including insurance and airport parking. This time around I’ve paid 462€ all-in for a 9 night stay and that I think is a real result. Happy holidays 🙂

November 14, 2020

Another Microsoft Fail

Is Microsoft the most useless, gormless organisation in the universe? I think that there’s a distinct possibility that it is.

I’ve had a Microsoft ‘account’ for years for which I’ve used the same email address the whole time for log-in purposes. I call it an ‘account’ but it’s no such thing really as no financial transactions are ever involved. In fact, it’s only purpose nowadays is so I can log in every morning while I’m eating my breakfast to do the on-line Solitaire daily card game challenge and the only data it stores are my daily scores.

But shock horror, I recently really upset Microsoft’s system by changing my email address. I had no choice because I’d been using a free address that was being withdrawn unless I wanted to start paying for it and as most of the messages it received were junk, I didn’t much fancy that idea at all.

I’d also been using that same email address for log-in purposes on quite a few other web sites both in the UK and elsewhere so I had to embark over several weeks on a lengthy exercise of changing it on all of those as well as on my Microsoft ‘account’. The other web sites did actually include some significant ones, such as Paypal and Amazon where security is very important and very much so in comparison to Microsoft, and after going through the required procedures, which were fairly painless, the changeovers occurred and all are now functioning with the new email address that I switched to.

But not so Microsoft. Oh no. Microsoft detected ‘unusual’ activity on my ‘account’ and decided to bar it. Err, yes, it was due to a change in email log-in. Now humans are far too important within Microsoft to be bothered by petty matters concerning customers so there’s no way of contacting them and everything is dealt with by an ‘automatic system’. And this ‘intelligent’ system requires you to respond using the email address that you’re no longer using (that’s how bright their programmers are).

You then have to submit yourself to a process of confirming details about your ‘account’ which in my own case go back so many years that I can no longer recall them (eg the number of the credit card I used to pay for a Skype service back in around 2010) after which it tells you with no recourse that it hasn’t received enough information to unbar the ‘account’ thus leaving you in continued limbo.

So horror of horrors, Microsoft has now barred me fom my daily Solitaire card game. For security reasons. Is this pathetic or not? I certainly think so. It’s a tragedy that this appalling organisation that hasn’t had an original idea since Gates et al devised their operating system can continue to live well on that legacy despite their inept management style and business model. And it’s total contempt and disregard for those unfortunates like myself who have to continue using its services will hopefully some day lead to its downfall.

November 10, 2020

Autumn’s arrived

And here in the Dordogne autumn brings with it chilly mornings that fill the river valleys with mist and later burst into sunshine-filled days with clear blue skies. I shot a video on one such morning a couple of days ago using my Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter and I’ve just edited it and uploaded it to my Youtube channel.

It’s all very frustrating. We’ve had perfect flying weather for much of the last two weeks but once again we’ve been grounded because of Covid. So whereas I’d been hoping to make up my flying time in this latter part of the year instead my two aircraft, the Savannah and the Xair, have just been languishing on the ground. Flying my drones from my garden during this latest lockdown in France is OK but it’s still a rather poor substitute for the real thing 🙁

November 3, 2020

Making good inroads

The supplier from whom I’ve obtained my wood for the past two or three years let me down again this year, as they did last, by leaving their wood out into the autumn so it got wet. I had problems last year getting my woodburner up and running, for the first few weeks anyway, and I didn’t want to have to face the same difficulties all over again, so I had to look for another source this year.

I came across someone from over near the Chateau de l’Herme in Rouffignac and after making contact last week, took my trailer over yesterday morning to pick up 4 stères, 2 of ‘chêne’ (oak) and 2 of ‘chataignier’ (chestnut, so called, or just general wood really). Four stères weighs about 3 tonnes and although he gave me a hand getting it loaded, I had to unload and stack it outside my wood store all by myself, so it was a tiring business. But I was all finished by not long after 1.00 pm, as I wanted to be, as I had to get over to Périgueux for a routine follow-up medical check later in the afternoon.

Here’s the stack as at yesterday before I went off. That’s my neighbour’s cat who always comes to spend time with me when I go outside.

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This year once again, I’ve got to cut it down from the standard 1 metre lengths that it’s come in and split it as necessary down to sizes to fit into my woodburner. Plus I also like to make some ‘smalls’ that I can use when I initially start it up. The wood man assured me that the wood could be left out as no rain was expected but I didn’t trust the forecast and felt sure that we were going to get a bit, so I used my one and only large waterproof plastic tarp to cover the wood pile up with. And lucky I did, because sure enough we had enough drizzle overnight to create small pools of water on the plastic but the wood remained safe and dry underneath.

I got cracking this morning to cut and split it down to size. I’ve still got my electric saw that I could use to cut the lengths down but I’ve decided this year to use my chainsaw instead as it’s quicker and less trouble. The Stihl saw that I bought from LeBonCoin a year or so ago has turned out not to be one of my better buys and is more trouble than it’s worth but luckily the cheap-as-chips saw that I bought at Brico Depot to clear my garden with shortly after I arrived in France is still going like a bomb with a new chain and guard, so I’m using that.

I’d hoped to get half of the wood done today but I think that might be optimistic as I’m now a bit tired for starters. Here’s how things looked when I came in to grab some lunch a short while ago.

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I’m now going back out to get going again. Who knows, I might make it…

October 30, 2020

We’re right back in

In Covid lockdown that is. From today until at least 1st December, so it could be longer. And it was announced at short notice too, giving hardly anyone time to prepare, unlike the last time. So that means probably no more flying this year, a hold on any more work that I might have done on my house and possibly making it impossible for me to sell my Ford C-Max as I hoped to do in the next week or so, among other things.

I had to rush but I managed to have a productive day yesterday by getting in a blood test (after I’d been told that I now needed an appointment and none was available until Monday, which would have been too late), a shopping trip and two visits to the local ‘déchetterie’ (rubbish tip) at Rouffignac. These allowed me to dispose of all the rubble and waste that resulted from my recent ‘baie coulissante’ work which would otherwise have been stuck outside my window in a trailer for at least the next month.

Once again, not only can’t we travel, we can’t even leave our homes except under certain specified circumstances and when we do, we have to carry a signed ‘derogation’ stating why we are outdoors, on penalty of a fine of 135€ for breaking the regulations. But this is so infuriating and frustrating. Covid ‘cases’ may again be increasing in some cities, notably Paris and Marseilles, but in our area the risk of being infected by Covid is probably less than being hit by a bus. And they only run twice a day.

Although people who can do will still be allowed to work (with their ‘derogations’ in their pockets or handbags) and schools will be staying open (although parents taking their children there will have to do so carrying their ‘derogations’) bars, cafes and restaurants will have to close again. So pity the poor beggars who’ve been struggling to keep their small businesses going as although they will get some support, it’s inevitable that many more than usual will go to the wall this winter.

What precarious times we are living in and our ‘leaders’ seem to have no real strategy or clue how to deal with them.

October 25, 2020

Got there

Despite the weather having deteriorated considerably compared to yesterday and being subject to constant drizzle and harder showers while I was working outside, I still managed to get to exactly where I said I hoped I’d be with my new ‘baie coulissante’ work today. Firstly I had to finish off fitting the remaining side securing screws which was a bit tedious and fiddly as I just had to get the best fixings that I could by packing more plug material into the wall blockwork. I succeeded eventually but luckily the results will never be seen as they weren’t pretty and I didn’t achieve the tightest fixings in the world.

Then I had to move on to the external making-good. This included adding a small amount of stone in the top left corner where material had come out during removal of the old window frame, filling all of the ‘bad’ joints in the stonework next to the new window frame and adding material where the gap between the wall and the frame was too large, the latter two so I eventually end up with a sealing joint that’s as even as possible all around the frame. You don’t have problems like this with a ‘normal’ house but mine is far from that as I mentioned in my last post.

The final steps were then to do some of the ‘worst’ making-good on the walls inside to make the final making-good easier (remember, some of what were old external walls are now inside) and seal all around the frame inside to make the whole job weather-tight. I just used acrylic window/door frame sealer for that and it didn’t need to be too precise as the internal seal will be completely hidden when the walls have been made good. Here’s how things finished up at the end of the day.

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I’m very pleased with the results. The doors both slide really smoothly and despite yet again there being a dearth of fitting information, the door handles and locks work perfectly. I originally found that locking wasn’t working properly but I found that that was due to a small piece of sliding plastic mounted on the door edge not returning high enough to allow the pin that locks the handles from slipping into position but a few minutes of ‘adjustment’ using a small round file solved that problem.

I’m now having to get around to thinking about making the floor good which won’t be as easy as it sounds as sourcing matching floor tiles will be impossible, as I found when I did my fireplace work, and even getting ones that are close to what’s there will be difficult due to their age. I’ve found a couple of ‘possibles’ on the internet so far, but as I found when I did my fireplace, when you get to see them after driving possibly hundreds of kilometres, they look nothing like my existing ones or even the photographs of them on the internet in many cases. But that’s for later. The priority now this week is to get my winter wood organised and in my wood store ready for the cold days and nights.

October 24, 2020

Back on the ‘baie’

My new ‘baie coulissante’ that is. Today was supposed to be a piece of cake compared to yesterday but it wasn’t, far from it. Wim arrived at 9.30 am after I thought I’d have all the rest of the frame fixing screws in, but without exception every single one went wrong, so I decided to come back to them once we’d got the doors in.

In theory, all we needed to do was lift the doors up, offer them into the frame on a slant to slot the top of each door in and then lift the bottoms up and over and drop them onto their respective bottom rails. But it didn’t work out like that. It appears that the supplier of my new patio door likes to work to a precision of a millimetre or so and no matter what we did, after slotting the door tops into place, we couldn’t lift the doors high enough to get them over the edge of the bottom frame. And as they were already fully glazed and incredibly heavy, we also had to make sure we didn’t do any damage including dropping them while we were heaving and straining.

It turned out the the door tops were fouling on a fibre sliding pad that had been installed in the top channel during manufacture and also the heads of the fixing screws that we’d used to attach the frame top to the underside of the door beam. The only solution was to remove the screws, which was made more complicated by the fact that having been screwed in they didn’t want to come out again.

In fact we managed to get away with removing just the one in the centre by cutting it with a hacksaw blade inserted between the frame and the beam and replacing it with a large flat-headed one. Eventually, we finally managed to get the doors in after much extra effort that wouldn’t have been necessary if the manufacturer had reduced the height of each door by just a millimetre or so.

Here’s how the job looked at that stage.

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That meant that Wim was then able to head off and leave me to the finishing up, which included fitting the door handles, getting the locks working and adding the final trimming pieces, all of which was made more tiresome than necessary by the almost complete absence of meaningful instructions which has dogged us the whole way through the job. Nevertheless, I managed to get all that ‘sundry’ stuff done in time to go and do a bit of shopping in the early evening.

I didn’t take any pictures as I decided that I might as well leave that until I’ve got as far as I can do tomorrow, which will hopefully be with all the securing screws in, sealant applied around the whole frame inside and out and the whole job made clean and tidy. That will only leave the making good to be done which, as the job will by then be fully weather-tight, I’ll be able to do at my leisure.

We’ve been very lucky with the weather which has stayed fine despite a few light showers that haven’t disrupted us at all. If it stays that way until I’ve at least done the external sealing and making good, that’ll mean that I can get on and organise my winter wood supply. That’s now becoming a high priority, especially as this year I’ll again have to cut it myself down from standard metre lengths to sizes that my stove can handle. And as that’ll mean keeping the uncut wood outside while I’m cutting and splitting it to go into my store, I really do need for the weather to stay dry the whole time while I’m doing it 😕

October 22, 2020

At last!

The big leap forward with my new ‘baie coulissante’, my new sliding patio door. My good friend Wim arrived at 9.00 am this morning to give me a hand and we got cracking straight away. The first job was to knock out the old windows and door frame and after that I wanted to press on. However, Wim said that it would be a good idea to pause and erect a plastic screen to seal off my living room and although initially I thought that we could do it later, in fact it was a master-stroke as later on we generated a huge amount of mess and dust that would otherwise have flown straight in.

I knew that the job would be no pic-nic as sliding doors have to be mounted dead square and vertically in an almost perfectly rectangular aperture. This is OK when you’re dealing with a ‘normal’ house, but mine is far fom that having been converted from what was genuinely an old farm barn many years ago when the builders hadn’t needed to worry, therefore, about having everything plumb and square.

It had also made my measuring job much more difficult than it might otherwise have been, so I’d been keeping my fingers crossed that everything would work out OK when we eventually came to fit the new door frame into the wall. And it wasn’t easy – far from it. We had to cut quite a lot of really hard stone away on one side to get an edge that was clean, vertical and true. We started by doing it by hand with a club hammer, a cold chisel and a brick bolster but it was just too much effort, so when I went over the Brico Depot to pick up the materials that we’d need that I didn’t already have, I also picked up a multi-purpose cutting blade to go onto my large electric angle grinder.

This made it much easier and what could have taken an hour or more to do by hand only took a few minutes, plus it was also possible to shave a bit off at a time so as to get a nice neat fit without the danger of going to far and creating gaps between the aluminium frame and the walls. We finished up at the end of the day with the frame secured in place along its top edge where it meets with an oak beam and two screws in the lower corners of its sides. Here’s how the job ended up this evening.

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We could almost have fitted the doors but I want to get the remaining frame securing screws in place and a concrete bed installed for the frame to sit on first. I’ll do that tomorrow morning and we should then be able to fit the doors when Wim arrives in the afternoon leaving me free to do all of the making good and finishing off by myself afterwards. As usual, I couldn’t have got anywhere near this far on without his help and certainly not in the relatively short time that it has taken to get to where we now are.

October 19, 2020

Job done

Only my workshop rewiring, not the installation of my new ‘baie coulissante’, the work that I really want to see completed before the weather changes for the worse. Even so, it was a relief to see the end of the electrical work as it was well past due and in such a poor state that it could well have led to an accident at some time in the future. It took all day again, mind, and I didn’t finish until 6.00 pm having dashed down to les Briconautes in Montignac as planned first thing to buy the extra junction box that I needed together with a couple more short lengths of cable.

But I think that at the end of the day the effort was well worth it. The extra lighting will make the area much more open and it’ll be a great help having a range of plug points in positions where they’ll be much more convenient and usable. Here’s how the place looked after I’d given it a bit of a clean and tidy up. In fact this was the first time that I’d cleaned the bench top in the eight years since I’ve been here. It was already filthy when I arrived and I haven’t started on the area underneath it yet.

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The extra lighting in the rear will be a great help and once I’ve had a chance to have a bit of a clear out, it’ll give me quite a bit more usable space. I’ve got two more shelf units that I’ve not even unpacked yet so they will make welcome additions when I’ve got those set up in the back area.

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Here’s how the area near the door ended up looking with the revisions that I made. I left the light switch where it was but added an extra plug point (there was already one there) and both now have proper earths.

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The whole place now looks so much better even though I’ve only given it a bit of a clean up. It had mouse droppings all over but I recently got rid of a couple and I hope that’ll sort out my mouse problems for a little while at least. It’ll also help if I make a new door with no holes and gaps in it, but that’s another job that I’ll have to get on to later 😉

October 18, 2020

Another project?

I said in my last post that my next project would be installing my new ‘baie coulissante’, my new double patio door. But it turns out that I was wrong. I thought that before I cracked on with that I’d re-do the lighting in my workshop, something that I thought would only take a day yesterday, allowing me to get started on the patio door today. But as soon as I started looking more closely at the workshop wiring I knew that that was hopelessly optimistic.

I knew that the existing lighting was running of the workshop’s power circuit but that didn’t matter, it’s what I did when I put lighting in my wood store. I also knew that the one plug socket in there didn’t have an earth and it was only when I looked more closely that I realised why this was. Sure enough, the incoming power cable did have an earth but it wasn’t being used. Why? Because although there was a single bulb mounted on the cross-beam in the workshop, some fool had run three core cable from it up to the light switch and power socket near the door and used the earth cable as one of the pair feeding the light switch!

All I’d wanted to do was fit some extra lighting – one strip light each side of the cross beam to put light into the back of the workshop for the first time ever and another over the work bench that just had another single bulb hanging off a nail over it that had been daisy-chained into the light switch. So a real dog’s dinner and there was no way that I could leave it like that.

So I did a couple of things yesterday. First I fitted a new handle to my ancient sledge-hammer that I’ll need when I knock out the old windows and door on the back of my house ready for the new patio door and then I got hold of all of the materials (cable, plug sockets, junction boxes etc) that I thought I’d need to do the workshop wiring work. I didn’t do too badly given how I’d been more or less thrown in at the deep-end – all I ended up being short of was one junction box.

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After a long day, by 8.00 pm this evening I’d broken the back of the job, having done a proper re-wiring job with the correct weight of cable on each leg and with a proper earth system. I’m adding several plug sockets although their positioning will be mainly for convenience as the total load will be limited and it won’t be possible to run several heavy duty services (eg compressor and large angle grinder) at the same time. I’ve fitted two sockets onto the cross-beam and a strip light replacing the original single bulb. The junction boxes allow for a further connection to be run later on to another strip light on the reverse of the cross beam achieving my objective of lighting up the rear of the workshop and thus making it more usable and accessible.

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I’ve kept the light switch in its original position up near the door and the wiring is already in place for another one or two plug points in the same area plus the third and last strip light over the work bench. Unfortunately I couldn’t install them and connect them up because I needed another junction box to contain the connections.

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I really do now need to make a start on my new patio door as we should be getting a couple of fine days, albeit with a cold start each day due to having clear skies at night, but with wetter weather expected in the second half of the week. I think that if I make an early start tomorrow though, if it is a bit chilly I could pop down to ‘les Briconautes’ at Montignac, pick up another junction box and finish the job off. I’ll have to wait and see what the morning brings 😉

October 16, 2020

My next project

Nothing to do with ULMs, this one. I’ve just taken delivery at about 8.30 am this morning of what I need to get cracking on it. I’ve lived with the door at the back of my house for the last eight years since I came to France and every winter I’ve cursed because whenever a storm has blown in from the west, rainwater has come pouring into my living room. The reason is that it’s so old, rotten and full of cracks from having been dried out by the sun over so many years, you can see daylight through its joints.

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Well, enough is enough and at last I’ve got around to doing something about it and I’m now going to replace it with a double aluminium framed sliding door, what is called a ‘baie coulissante’ here in France. I ordered it over eight weeks ago but what with Covid and the French tradition of closing down for the month of August, it’s only just arrived.

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I’d hoped to get it before the weather began to cool down but there was no chance of that and now I’ve got to keep my fingers crossed that it’ll stay warm and dry enough to get the job done next week. I’ll have to make a start ASAP because the forecast is for storms in the second half and if I leave it until then, things will drag on into the next week when it’s bound to be becoming cooler and less favourable.

October 14, 2020

You learn something every day

Well, almost. This post may be of interest to other British ex-pats who do ‘D-I-Y’ things and even to anyone in the UK who is also experiencing satellite TV problems.

When I came to France over eight years ago I brought a Sky satellite kit with me that I’d never got around to installing while I was still in the UK. Even though I’ve never been a ‘TV person’, after arriving here I quickly fitted it and bought myself a new wide-screen TV so I could still watch UK TV on Freesat if I wanted to plus a collection of DVDs that I’d brought with me and also listen to UK radio (I’m a great Classic FM fan).

And it worked pretty well up until a few months ago when I noticed that my ‘HD’ channels began telling me that they had no signal and picture quality in general began playing up. Things finally came to a head a week or so ago when, after a fairly hefty storm, signal disappeared across the board. I checked everything inside and concluded that my Humax box was still working OK so then turned my attention to the satellite installation outdoors, thinking that maybe something had come loose and it had become misaligned in some way.

That wasn’t it though, and when I went up a ladder to take a look I soon found the source of the problem, as shown by the following image.

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The dish receives the signal from the Astra satellite hurtling around above the earth and focuses it so it can be picked up by the receiver mounted in its centre which is called the LNB. The latter is absolutely critical as the signal received from the satellite is incredibly weak and the LNB’s role is to collect it and pass it on so it can be amplified and sent to the satellite box in the house.

It was clear that after more than eight years on a south-facing wall, not only had my dish been focusing the satellite signal onto the LNB, it had also been focusing the rays of the sun with the result that the concentrated UV had caused massive damage to the LNB itself. The main problem was that the LNB’s end cover had completely disintegrated and disappeared as shown below.

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This is what an LNB should look like.

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The final result was that rainwater had been allowed to enter the LNB causing shorting of its internal components, so it was no surprise that it had stopped working. The solution, therefore, was simple. Just order a new LNB, snap it into the exisiting mounting bracket, reconnect the cable and the system should be back up and running.

Whoah! Just a minute, because this is where the catch comes in that this post is all about. You find when you go to purchase the replacement LNB that all of the ‘universal’ ones have a 40 mm diameter body, so that’s what you order. Then you climb up your ladder to fit it and find that it’s a bit snug in the old mounting bracket, to say the least. However, you persist in your efforts and within a couple of seconds, the old mounting bracket that has also been affected by the UV, snaps.

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And believe me, this isn’t much fun when you’re up a ladder several metres off the ground and are then faced with the job of removing the old bracket from the arm on which it’s mounted, which can only then be done with great care and brute force.

So what’s the reason for this? Well, it seems that the LNB that comes with UK Sky satellite kits IS NOT 40 mm diameter – it’s 37 mm, so a new replacement universal LNB will NEVER fit onto your Sky satellite dish. But no worries, a new universal mounting bracket will, so the lesson is this. Don’t do as I did and just order a new LNB. Order one together with a new mounting bracket because firstly the job will end up being more expensive (something like 50-60% more compared to if you order the two items rogether) but your system will be out of commission for longer and you’ll be up and down the ladder a lot more times than you’d otherwise have had to. And why do that (remember poor Rod Hull?) if you don’t need to.

October 10, 2020

La Vendange

‘Vendange’ means grape picking and in a recent post I mentioned that I had the privilege last month of being invited to the ‘vendange’ at my neighbours small vineyard. Nearly 50 of his family, friends and neighbours turned up on the day to pick and collect the grapes from his vines mirroring similar events that have taken place in much the same way for generations in this part of France (my neighbour’s family have lived in the same house since the 1600’s). Tradition also means that everyone who participated is then hosted to a slap-up meal by the ‘vigneron’ and in this also we were not disappointed.

My neighbour is much taken by my quadcopter video exploits and he suggested that I might like to be there and take a few shots of the day’s picking. I decided to go a step further and create a video showing the whole day but having done so I decided that I wouldn’t share it on Youtube or any other social media so as not to invade the privacy of the local people involved who are also, of course, my friends and neighbours. In the event, now that he’s seen it, my neighbour has said that he’s delighted to share it and he knows that everyone else will feel exactly the same, so now I can post it here on My Trike.

It was a fantastic day and immensely enjoyable. After the grape-picking was over – it only took until mid-day – we all sat down for an ‘apero’ and then the 30 who had stayed on shared the most hearty French meal that I’ve ever enjoyed. It started at about 12.30 pm and just went on and on. I left at about 5.00 pm and at least 20 were still there. I lost count of the courses. We started with soup then had shrimps, whelks, wild boar (I think) with haricots verts, cheese – they just kept coming. The haricots contained far too much garlic for me and I blamed them when I was as sick as a dog after I got home. The alcohol can have had nothing to do with it of course, but somehow every time my glass emptied it was magically full again with last-year’s vintage red wine, as did it also when we got onto the plum brandy at the end of the meal.

I was extremely touched as a ‘newcomer’ to be invited to share in the day and being regarded by the locals as ‘one of them’ is a great feeling. I was also very pleased with how the video turned out and I hope that it gives a good idea of the life down here and how warm the people in this corner of France are.

September 30, 2020

Bumpy flight

Up to yesterday I hadn’t flown in either my Savannah (77ASY) or my Xair (24ZN) since July when I took Sophie’s granddaughter up in the Xair. The Savannah had been fuelled-up ready to go for a couple of weeks or so, but I’d not been able to find either the opportunity or the motivation to get airborne so as the weather is now becoming rather autumnal and opportunities might start becoming few and far between, I thought that I’d better make the effort before I lost my flying mojo.

The daily weather forecasts for this week were not too encouraging but although yesterday started out cloudy and dull, it brightened up considerably during the afternoon and as there was also little wind, I decided that it would be a good time to go flying. In fact, although the temperature was only around 19 or 20 degrees Celsius, I was surprised to find as soon as I took off that it was surprisingly bumpy.

As I knew I wouldn’t be taking off until late afternoon, I thought that I’d go for a fairly short flight, from Malbec to Figeac-Livernon in the Lot and then back to Malbec via Sarlat. The planned flight time was 65 minutes but with taxying, approaches and landings, the total came out to 90 minutes. Here’s a pic of the route.

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I mounted a GoPro behind me in the cabin and although I planned to get more, I shot a video of just the leg from Malbec to Figeac-Livernon, including the take off and landing.

There’s a reason why I didn’t get as much video as I wanted to. While I was on base leg at Figeac, I heard another aircraft call up to say that they were coming in for a touch-and-go somewhere behind me and to my alarm, I heard him call final while I was on final myself. Figeac has no taxiway and it’s normal practice to backtrack after landing to exit the runway on the short length of taxiway down to the parking area.

However, knowing that this other aircraft was behind me, I thought that it would be prudent to go for the grass and it’s lucky that I did, because in the time that it took me to turn 180 degrees, he was landing beside me. It’s not a good idea to taxy on the grass on an unknown airfield because there are often hidden objects and/or rabbit holes that you can taxy into and damage your propeller and engine, but I watched closely what I was doing and taxied slowly and with great care.

Even so, it was a bit much for this other pilot to just assume that I’d be kind enough to get out of his way and he should really have extended his circuit or approach to allow me to land and clear the runway. That’s what a British pilot would have done anyway. Here are a couple of shots that I took of 77ASY in its ‘usual’ parking place opposite the flying club clubhouse and airfield offices. Unfortunately, however, the bumpy surface of the grass had caused the GoPro to fall down and as I didn’t notice, that was effectively the end of videoing for the day.

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That’s a Maule, the first one I’ve ever seen, in the second shot above. It looks just like the one in Microsoft Flight Simulator, and even had a ‘N’ registration!

After a brief stop, I took off to head for Sarlat. By now as the afternoon wore on, the turbulence was beginning to subside and the flight was fairly uneventful. There was one annoyance though. A student pilot, evidently with an instructor on board, was flying circuits and ‘touch-and-gos’ there in a Robin and the problem was that he was flying absolutely huge circuits which were totally uncalled for and unnecessary.

In fact I saw him climbing out and thought from the height that he climbed to that he was going to fly away from the airfield, but no, after flying a huge cross-wind leg and turning downwind, he called downwind to land well after he’d passed the runway landing threshold. And then he carried on so far that I lost sight of him.

This caused me problems because in the time that it then took him to fly all the way back again, I could have cut in and landed, but you can’t do that sort of thing. So I had to also fly an extended circuit until I could see him on final and turn in to land myself. What the instructor was doing I do not know. That is not the way to train a student pilot to fly circuits, even in an ‘avion’ (Group A aircraft).

Here are some shots that I took at Sarlat.

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The very pretty Piper Cub was on the parking area. It transpired that the owner was looking to sell it. It could be a bargain for someone as its engine is almost out of time and will require a complete overhaul. However, even if its selling price reflects that, which it should, I can say with some certainty that that person will not be me!

After filling in the movements sheet at Sarlat, which the majority of visitors don’t seem to do, I then took off to head back to Malbec. I heard the student pilot start taxying for another session of circuits so made sure that I climbed away and cleared the area as quickly as I could.

The flight back to Malbec was in almost clear air in contrast to when I took off and I landed without incident shortly after 6.00pm. I’d enjoyed my first flight in something like 6 weeks but I was glad to be back again and also pleased that despite the break, all three of the landings I’d done were very respectable if not actually greasers 😉

September 24, 2020

Nighttime visitors

A few evenings ago I turned the lights on in the small area of garden behind my house and this was the sight that met my eyes.

We’d had showers over the previous couple of days that had made the weeds shoot up again even though the grass is still burnt after the summer. Three small deer, called ‘chevreuil’ here, were eagerly eating them, which they can come back and do any time as far as I’m concerned, just so long as they leave the plants in the front of the house alone. It was about this time last year when I looked out in the morning only to find that the tops of half of them had been eaten during the night. Maybe this three had returned to the scene of the crime looking for easy pickings.

Sorry about the quality – I had to grab the video very quickly using my phone camera in poor light.

September 19, 2020

More quadcopter videos

Have been dealing with a few other things in recent weeks so have not been posting much on My Trike. I made another couple of videos using my Fimi quadcopter, see below. The first was another ‘end of summer’ video showing how things are changing here now that the seasons are drawing on.

The second was in ‘response’ to some ‘reviews’ of the Fimi that I’ve seen on Youtube that I think cast it in completely the wrong light. I wanted to show a completely different side of the story and how well it’s been performing for me.

I had an amazing day last Saturday. A next-door neighbour has a small vineyard and Saturday was the day of the annual ‘vendange’ (grape picking). He’s interested in my drones (he introduced me to another neighbour a short distance away, Bernard from Belgium, who also flies quadcopters) and asked if I’d like to take a few shots on the day. In fact I went even better and did a complete video showing the day from beginning to end. I was super-pleased with it but unfortunately I can’t post it here on My Trike as it shows lots of local people and neighbours – about 50 turned up to give a hand of which 30 joined in a superb meal afterwards – and it would not be right to offend their privacy.

After the grape-picking was over – it only took until mid-day – we all sat down for an ‘apero’ followed by the most hearty French meal that I’ve ever enjoyed that started at about 12.30 pm and just went on and on. I left at about 5.30 pm and more than half were still there. I lost count of the courses. We started with soup then had shrimps, whelks, wild boar with haricots verts, cheese – they just kept coming. Every time my glass emptied it was magically full again with last-year’s vintage red wine, as did it also when we got onto the plum brandy at the end of the meal. I felt highly privileged to be invited and being regarded by the locals as ‘one of them’ is a great feeling.

I still haven’t flown since the one flight I did in the Xair after bringing it over from the UK. I keep being distracted by other things and I’d hoped to get a couple of flights in this coming week. The weather is changing, though, and although it’s now becoming cooler, which will be a good thing, it looks as though it could also be wet for the next few days. I’ll just have to wait and see.

September 2, 2020

Another quadcopter video

My new phone was delivered on Monday and I couldn’t wait to try it out with my Fimi and Hubsan Zino drones. It took a day to get it configured with all my apps and settings and I was able to give it its first runs yesterday morning. It worked well with both of them and as I was especially pleased with the footage that I got with the Fimi, I thought that I’d make a video and upload it to my channel on Youtube.

There’s very little lag between the drone and phone video and the new phone’s screen also seems a bit brighter. There’s just one thing with it though. My old phone had a USB 3 connection while the new one has a USB-C. This is OK as far as it goes, but for some weird reason the latter keeps turning itself off in certain situations once it’s been used. I don’t know why, but it does this with both drones and if you disconnect and reconnect them for any reason the phone has to be rebooted for the connection to be restarted.

This must be some kind of unintended glitch or flaw in its design but I guess I’ll have to live with it unless and until I come across some way around it. However, it doesn’t stop it being very annoying, especially as it wasn’t something that happened with my old phone, which was an earlier version of the same model 🙁

August 25, 2020

Animal crackers

A few days ago I had yet another bat in my living room. I heard a noise behind me and found it lying quite calmly on a tread half-way up my stairs. It was quite large – quite a lot bigger than the one that woke me up in the middle of the night a week or so ago by flying in circles in the darkness around my bedroom.

It was about the same size as the bat that came into my house a year or so ago but luckily nothing like as mad. That one had angry red eyes and made a constant clicking sound by snapping its teeth together. I think it might have been rabied and was quite nervous about scooping it up in a thick towel and freeing it outside.

This last one was much more docile, however, and I scooped it up quite easily from my stairs after it briefly tried to hide behind a decorative brass warming pan that’s there and it happily flew off when I dropped it onto the little glass-topped table in the garden.

But today takes the biscuit. I went into the kitchen to dump my lunch things in the sink and… there was a small snake on the worktop! It was trying to climb up and hide itself in a towel that is hanging on the wall and before I could grab it, it dropped down and shot into a gap between the (unfinished) worktop and the wall. I pulled the dishwasher out and all of the cabinet kick-panels but could find no sign of it, so it may still be there.

It was quite thin, brownish-green in colour and about 20 cms long. I think that it was probably a grass snake and have no idea what can possibly have possessed it to come into my house. For the time being I’ve just left the doors wide open, which is how they must have been when it found its way in, in the hope that when it finds that there’s nothing for it inside it’ll just find its own way out. If that doesn’t work and I catch sight of it again, I’ll just have to take up a new career as a snake-charmer in the hope of mesmerising the ruddy thing 😕

I’ve just come back to say that I’ve had another thought about this. Domino, the cat belonging to one of my neighbours, is an avid hunter of the lizards that climb up the stone walls of my house and sunbathe on the paving slabs. She was over just before I found the snake and I’m wondering whether she caught it and left it as a little ‘gift’ the way that cats do?

I didn’t realise that living in the country would be quite so wild…

August 23, 2020

And then there were two

Up until June I owned three ULMs (ultralight aircraft), a Savannah MXP 740, an Xair and a Weedhopper. However, I couldn’t justify keeping all three – I couldn’t fly them all enough for a start – so much as I loved it, in June I sold my lovely old Weedhopper leaving me with just the Savannah and the Xair. We had a very hot July/early August here in south-west France so I was unable to fly either as much as I would have liked and they spent most of the time in the barn where they are kept, gathering dust and bird droppings.

Although the Xair is covered up, the Savannah isn’t so yesterday I pulled both aircraft out of the barn to get to the Savannah so I could clean it today. Just as I began videoing them with my Fimi X8 SE 2020 quadcopter a large black cloud moved in and centred itself right overhead the airfield and it began to rain. Wouldn’t you just believe it! However, I kept shooting and here is the result.

I made an early start this morning and was able to pull the Savannah out of the barn, give it a good clean and get it back into the barn before it got too hot. Here’s a shot that I took after I’d finished.

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I didn’t get to fly it because I’d enjoyed a bit of a heavy evening last night at a ‘Marché Gormand’ in Plazac and thought that it would be unwise to fly given how much I’d had to drink. However, it looks as though the coming week will bring a few good flying days so I’m going to make sure that the Savannah gets some air under its wings after having stayed on the ground for several weeks, far too long. Watch this space 😉