December 26, 2012

Here today and …

gone tomorrow. I popped down to the supermarket today to pick up a few things and there was hardly a trace of Christmas to be seen anywhere! Sure, there are still decorations to be seen here and there and the ones put out in the towns and villages by the local councils will still be there in February or early March if last year is anything to go by. But unlike in the UK where the Christmas break often drags out for a couple of weeks or so, here everything is already back to some sort of normality. Only Christmas and New Year’s Days are official holidays and this showed with the number of local commercial vehicles out on the road and businesses open for business.

The supermarket itself was relatively empty but the shelves that had previously been loaded up with Christmas goodies had already been stripped and were being reorganised before being re-stocked with regular items. There was hardly a sign of Christmas to be seen anywhere in the store. But at least here in France I have been saved the sight of chocolate Easter Eggs being splashed all across the shelves as I’m told is already now happening back in England 😐

December 23, 2012

It’s a cracker!

We had a lovely warm, sunny day today (with the same or warmer expected again tomorrow) so I took the opportunity to pull my new little trailer out and give it a proper once-over. I must say, I’m very pleased with it. The dimensions of the ‘caisse’ (box) are 1.50m x 1.05m and there’s not a dent or ding on it anywhere. If I gave it a good clean up and its undercarriage a coat of hammerite, with a bit of TLC it could pass for nearly new – well, that’s if you close your eyes a little bit … πŸ™‚ The best thing about buying something like this second-hand is that you can put it to work straight away without having to worry about all the scratches that you’re putting on it, and that’s important for me as I’m going to be carting around concrete blocks, rubble and all manner of scratchy stuff.

Not that I don’t want it to look nice. Today I ordered some new black mudguards for it, from the UK again. I searched quite a bit but found it almost impossible to find suitable replacement mudguards over here and what I did manage to set eyes on were grossly over-priced compared to the abundance of items available from the UK. So that’s where I ordered some from. Since placing the order, quite by chance I came across some similar ones on a French web site, while I was looking for a suitable ‘bache’ (cover) but it’s too late now.

The ones I ordered were in black plastic because although I would have preferred metal, I think I stand more of a chance of being able to re-use the same bolt holes if I get ones of similar shape to those that I’ve taken off. I also tidied up the cable run using cable ties in the best microlighting tradition, to replace the tatty old bits of wire that the previous owner had used and here are some shots that I took afterwards, this afternoon.

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As you can see, it has a ‘roue de secours’ (spare wheel) and a ‘roue jockey’ which many trailers over here don’t have, especially smaller ones. I’ve now just got to wait for my new number plate to arrive, probably tomorrow as I know it has been despatched, and then for the new mudguards. They’ll not be here until after Christmas as the seller only ships to the UK (silly eh…) and they’ll have to be forwarded on by a family member. Until then, the trailer will stay tucked away in the handy place I have for it, under the tree in the corner of my garden, where it fits very snugly.

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Today was also a cracking day for flying with excellent vis, bright sunny skies and very little wind. I heard Wim’s Weedhopper approaching from the other side of Plazac and to my great envy he did two low passes over my house. His little aircraft looked very pretty in the sunshine as he flew overhead. At least I know that every day that passes is another day closer to when I’ll be able to join him and do the same πŸ˜€

December 22, 2012

Wet but worth it

It’s been raining lightly, yes still :-|, for almost the whole morning so when it stopped I thought I’d take the opportunity to see if I could fix my trailer indicator problem. It seems almost impossible to find a clear colour coded wiring diagram for my car on the internet so knowing that I’d already searched and got the information once I decided I’d have to rely on my original notes. The left indicator wiring colour is black/white.

As soon as I removed my rear lamp I could see what the problem was. There are two black/white wires – the heavier one that I’d tapped into obviously does the reversing light and I just knew that the other one was for the indicator. I checked it the best I could using my Robin meter but by now it was already beginning to drizzle again, so I thought to heck with it, just re-do the connection. And I was right, when I connected the trailer cable and switched on the left indicator I heard the tell-tale beep sounding reassuringly loud and clear and the trailer’s indicator was flashing merrily away.

But this was with my new trailer lighting board which I still had connected. What about if I went for broke and plugged in the trailer’s own cable, which the previous owner had said was ‘a revoir’? By now it was drizzling pretty hard but I couldn’t wait to find out. I switched over the plugs and first tried out the rear lights. They were fine. Then I tried each indicator in turn, with and without the rear lights. Perfect. Now finally, the brake lights. I had to find a length of wood to wedge my brake pedal and they also worked OK – so then I had to try them with rear lights and with the flashers working. Everything worked great and even all of the bulbs were OK, so it looks as though the previous owner was just being cautious in his ad. By the time I’d cleared everything away I was pretty wet but I was pleased to have sorted everything out. I’ve already ordered a single registration plate (in traditional French aluminium rather than plastic) to go on the back of the trailer and I’m going to look for some aluminium to make some new mudguards for it. When they’re on I think I’ll have a nice little trailer that will be worth quite a bit more than I paid for it, so I think it was worth getting wet to find that out πŸ™‚

December 21, 2012

Oops!

Ever since I fitted the towbar on my car, the wiring for the trailer’s left indicator hasn’t worked. I’ve checked it over and over again and finally concluded that the problem was something to do with the little beeper alarm unit that you have to wire in nowadays that tells you if your trailer’s indicators are working or not. It remained distinctly silent whenever I activated the left indicator and, of course, the trailer left indicator light didn’t flash. I felt so strongly that the problem lay with the beeper unit that I even contacted the towbar supplier and got them to send me a new one, which they very kindly did, probably with a big sigh, although I’ve never got around to fitting it as I’ve not needed to tow anything since I brought the X-Air home. One of the things I took with me yesterday was my new trailer board that I’d never had to use up till then. The trailer’s previous owner had said in his ad that the electrics are ‘a revoir’ (need fixing) so I thought it would be a good idea to take it, and as he’d forgotten to remove his old number plate it was lucky that I did. So I came all the way home with my number plate and an almost full set of trailer lights except for the left indicator.

This morning despite the continuing rain, I thought that as the trailer was still on the car I’d nip up to the ‘dΓ©chetterie’ (waste disposal site) in Rouffignac and get rid of an old metal swinging hammock frame left by the previous resident of my house that has been outside my back door ever since I arrived here and that I cut up a few days ago. I started the car and swung it around and then put it into reverse to back the trailer up towards where the bits of frame were lying. As I engaged reverse I heard an instantly recognizable tell-tale beep and I immediately knew what it was. I disengaged reverse and the beep stopped only to restart when I engaged reverse again.

What a twerp! I’d wired the trailer’s left indicator into the car’s left reversing light! I have no idea how I managed to make such a silly mistake because I’ve checked the cable colour code time and time again without spotting it. But how lucky to discover it now because although changing over the wire on the car’s rear lamp cluster is a relatively simple job (if and when the rain ever stops), replacing the beeper unit is much more difficult and involves stripping out quite a lot of rear trim. I’ll soon have the trailer indicator working but it just goes to show – no matter how careful you are, it’s still easy to make silly mistakes. Lucky it was only a little bit of trailer wiring eh, and not something more serious πŸ˜‰

December 20, 2012

A rainy drive in south-west France

I went off on another one of my French jaunts today, over to the Poitou-Charente to buy a small trailer. It was a bit of a way to go because the trailer didn’t cost a lot of money and it took me most of the day to get there and back, but I don’t mind because I welcome the opportunity to see a bit more of France and don’t see trips like this as just being a cost of petrol. Not that I managed to see that much today because the ruddy weather got up to a few tricks.

It was chucking it down while I loaded up my tool kit, some other things that I needed to take with me and Toddie so I was already feeling pretty soggy by the time I got on the road. I was heading for a town called MΓ©dis over on France’s south-west coast some way to the north of Bordeaux, and I was looking forward to driving through a large chunk of France’s Bordelais wine growing region which I’d last visited when I was working in the wine trade back in around 1974/5. I drove past field after field of vines but what was really noticeable was how flooded the land was with many fields containing what were often almost small lakes of standing water. And it was hardly surprising because for the first part of the journey the rain just pelted down non-stop, and even as the sky cleared as I got closer to the coast, some small but violent storms kept sweeping through with rain so heavy that at times it was like driving through a car wash making the road ahead hardly visible.

My trusty sat-nav took me right to the trailer seller’s door and as I liked the look of the trailer, which I’d only seen as a small picture on the internet, we did a deal in a few minutes. But before we could get it hitched to my car it began to fall down again and we had to rush indoors to keep dry. It stopped again after a few minutes and we shook hands and said our good-byes. On the way home I saw what I think was the most intense double rainbow that I’ve ever seen that seemed to have its foot in the field alongside the road and I could have kicked myself for not having my camera with me but as darkness fell, the drive just became more and more tedious because of the constant muck and spray being thrown up by the traffic.

But the little trailer ran beautifully. I’ve been told that unlike England, there’s no trailer speed limit over here and I was quite happy to whizz along with it at 110 kmh (70 mph) even in those driving conditions. Not long after I’d got home, my phone rang and it was the trailer seller’s wife. She speaks a bit of English and we’d had a conversation together about the trailer last night. She was just phoning to check that I’d got home safely because she knew that the weather had been bad. I thought that was a lovely thing to do and is so typical of nearly all of the people I’ve come across down here. Would it have happened back in England? I really don’t know… 😐

December 15, 2012

Enjoying a blonde

Yeah, I should be so lucky! Of the Pelforth variety that is. It’s just gone 4.30pm, I’ve just come in from the garden and I’m feeling quite warm, so a cold beer is going down a treat. The weather forecast said that it would get up to 12 or 13 degrees C today and I think it did, which was very welcome after the recent cold snap we’ve had. Yesterday we had non-stop rain all day and I think most, if not all, of the night too, and the forecast said that we’d have some more light showers today. As the X-Air has been standing outside for just over 9 weeks and hasn’t been either started or even had its engine turned, I’ve been wanting to get out there and get it running. But I needed a day that was warm and dry because when the cover is off, the cabin is completely open and also, because the prop is made of wood, I needed to have enough time to fit it, run the engine and take it off again afterwards.

Lo and behold, today dawned bright and sunny and although the ground and trees were wet, there was a wind that was brisk and warm enough to start everything drying up. I had to nip down to the Intermarche to buy a few things because at this time of year it closes on Sundays, and by the time I’d done my chores, had some lunch and finished pottering around, you know what it’s like, it was going on for 3.00pm. And still no rain! So I decided that was it!

In no time at all I had the X-Air’s covers off, its prop on and some chocks under the main wheels. I decided to put Toddie indoors just in case, because although he’s normally sensible enough to stay clear of noisy engines and moving props, his hearing is going now and I’m worried that he just might not realise that he could be heading for danger. I wondered if the battery had held enough charge to start the engine but my fears were quite groundless. There is no fuel tap so all I had to do was pump fuel up to fill the fuel filter ‘and a bit more’. Then a turn of the key and after a few turns, the engine burst into life. There was loads of charge in the battery and the engine sounded great and after it had warmed up a bit I did a mag check. A tad more drop on the right mag than on the left, but all well within limits. I set the revs to 3000 rpm and watched as the water temperature came up. It steadied at around 60 degrees C which I thought was OK and then I made sure I was holding the brakes and opened up the throttle. The engine revs picked up very quickly, quicker than I can remember other 582s doing, and I had to make sure that I didn’t over-rev the engine. Maybe the quick pick-up has something to do with the wooden prop, but it bodes well I think. I’d noticed when I checked around the engine before starting it that there is quite a bit of slack movement in the throttle cables and this translated into a lot of free play in the throttle lever, so this is something that I’ll have to deal with when I come to it. But even so, the engine had a rev range from tick-over (approx 2200 rpm) to over 6000 rpm so there were no problems other than that.

I ran the engine for around 10 minutes to warm it right through and then switched off. Some 582s are pigs to re-start when warm so after I’d let it stand for a short while, I re-started the engine. No problems, it started as sweetly as anything. I repeated the cycle a few times and then decided that as the sky was greying up a bit, it would be a good idea to put the aircraft back to bed. Just as I began to remove the prop there were a few spots of rain, but I’d kept the covers and bungee ties to hand and pretty soon had everything covered back up, better than before actually. So that was it, I’d run the engine for the first time and was very pleased with the results. I suppose I should be really, because I think I was the last to fly the aircraft with Bertrand and it should be in a perfectly flyable condition if it was re-rigged. Here are some shots that I took of it this afternoon.

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I’ve just looked outside again and the rain that threatened has not yet materialised. I can see the X-Air outside my window all nicely covered up but I can’t see me doing anything on it this side of Christmas. I will be able, of course, to make a start on my new panel when the stuff I’ve ordered arrives so at least there is that, but I can’t wait for it to be all back together again and ready to go. Here’s to 2013 πŸ˜€

December 14, 2012

Very pleasing developments

I’m writing this on a cold, wet Dordogne afternoon so the weather isn’t much to be cheery about. But a few other things that have been happening have put a smile on my face, though. First, my ‘sejour’ floor tiles. At the end of last week, I happened to drop into my local Point P builders merchants in Montignac in the hope of seeing some tiles that they show on their group internet site that they say are held in stock. The lovely lady there said that actually they didn’t stock them and that they’d have to be ordered in especially, which is hardly surprising considering the state of the economy, but was able to show me a sample from the same range but in a colour (‘Rose’) that I didn’t want. Somehow I just knew from the look of it that the ones I’d hoped to see, in ‘Rouge Flamme’ and ‘Languedoc’, also wouldn’t be close enough to match my floor and as there were no other customers in the showroom, we got talking about the problems I was having in finding the right tiles. I mentioned that I had some photographs in my car and when I showed them to her she immediately said that mine are old tiles called ‘parefeuilles’, which are characterised by their very variable colours and which are no longer available. However, she said that she might be able to help and got onto the phone. She asked me how many I needed and when she’d finished speaking said that if I left her my contact details, she’d have 20 for me the following week. I could hardly believe it! After driving around much of southern France without success, here was someone in the builders merchants just down the road saying that she could get me what I wanted 😐

And sure enough, after receiving a call from her on Wednesday, I went in to see her yesterday. She said that unfortunately, she could only get 13 tiles, but I could tell immediately that they would do the job. The reds are very close in colour to my existing tiles – you have to flood the surface with water first to imitate the treatment that you apply to make them shine – and the lighter ones, which are a little too light (but I’m not complaining) do indeed have traces of red in them that make them look very similar to the ones I currently have. But I’ve got another little trick up my sleeve πŸ˜‰ The new tiles are unglazed and are therefore quite absorbent. They are also not perfectly smooth – their surface is a bit like comparing matt paint to gloss. But a few days ago I ordered a diamond concrete polishing tool from Ebay USA which I was originally intending to try out on a sample tile that I recently received from a supplier in Millau to see if I could make a rough, hand-made tile perfectly smooth. Now I’ll be able to use it on these new ones and because they’re very absorbent (water is just sucked into them) I’ll also be able to experiment with adding dashes of say, red and yellow concrete colouring to them to see if I can make them look even more like my existing tiles, especially the lighter ones. I can afford to give it a go because 13 isn’t enough to do the whole area in question but more than enough for the patch in front of my fireplace and also, amazingly, the lovely lady at Point P only charged me 20€ for the whole lot because they were an ‘end of stock’ disposal! So good news at last on my tiles!

I’ve also had an excellent result for my wood-burner! I’ve been relying during the recent cold weather on the electric heaters that I bought a few weeks ago and I must admit that they haven’t really been up to the job. Sure, the house isn’t cold, but it isn’t warm either and everyone has been telling me that I must get a wood-burner installed ASAP. The choice of wood-burner was also going to be influenced to a great extent by the availability of floor tiles to fill the ‘pit’ that currently exists in the fireplace and now I pretty much know how many tiles I have to play with, I have been able to work out a suitable design for a platform to stand the stove on in the hearth itself and the floor in front of it. My fireplace is quite wide and high so even with the platform design I have in mind, it will need quite a large wood-burner to look right. I’ve been searching the local small ads (petites annonces) for wood-burners (poeles a bois) for some time but without success. I love the French, but as I’ve said before, they seem to have some silly ideas about what second-hand items are worth. If you buy something like a stove for 700€ and use it for two or three years, in my mind you can’t then expect someone to come and pick it up from you and hand over 500-600€ for the privilege. But they do! The classic that I came across yesterday was an advertiser asking 450€ for a poele a bois that is currently being sold for 429€ in Brico Depot outlets all over France πŸ˜€

But I digress. Lots of the stoves that are being sold are also quite old, so as well as being a bit tatty, they are not as efficient as newer models. Most of the used stoves on offer are also of quite low power, and that’s if the seller knows the figure anyway, and I reckon I need at least a 10kW model for my house. And the latest ‘green’ models also have dual-burn designs to increase their efficiency and allow them to burn for 10 hours or even more so you can keep the house warm overnight. So taking it all round, stumping up 300-400€ for an older-design used poele a bois and also having to pay to pick it up seemed to me to be a bit of a false economy, but what to do? Search the internet, as usual, that’s what. So I did, diligently, and I came up trumps. Some time ago, I’d found a web site selling wood-burners called www.habitatshop.fr and to cut a long story short, when I returned to it this time, I realised that your first order is delivered FREE! Most similar web sites charge anything from 60-100€ to deliver a wood-burner, so this was immediately quite a saving. And in my search for what I was looking for, I eventually found this.

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This is the Invicta Altea, a cast iron 10kW model of dual-burn, ‘clean glass’ design, that fitted my requirements down to the ground. I found it on various web sites for anything from around a heavily discounted 650€ on the web up to around 800€ in the shops, but I was very satisfied with the deal I got at www.habitatshop.fr of only 570€ including delivery πŸ˜€

So now I can get on with doing my floor and fireplace while I’m waiting for it to be delivered. What else? Yep, I’ve also moved forward a bit more with my X-Air panel design. I was rather disappointed to find that the current panel layout only has a water temperature gauge as I would also like to have an EGT (exhaust gas temperature) gauge to show the health of the engine in flight. It would need tappings in the exhaust manifold to take the sensors, just as MYRO had, but I thought it would be uneconomic to fit a replacement if the existing one didn’t have them, which I assumed would be the case. In fact, when I checked the other day, the tappings are there with blanking plugs, so I can go ahead and fit the EGT gauge as I would like. This, of course, means slightly modifying my panel design, and here’s what I’ve now come up with.

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I’ve also ordered some hole cutters (80mm for the large gauges and 57mm for the small) from Ebay in the UK as well as a couple of very nice waterproof ‘cigarette lighter’ sockets from Vehicle Wiring Products, my usual supplier in the UK. So pretty soon I’ll be able to get cracking on my new panel. All in all, a very satisfying week πŸ™‚

December 11, 2012

Wim’s Weedhopper

Last Sunday was a beautiful day here – crisp, dry and sunny. Wim invited me over for a cup of tea and said that as he hadn’t flown for a few weeks and wanted to start and warm up his aircraft’s engine, we could meet up at his piste on the hill over on the other side of Plazac. Wim was waiting in his 4 x 4 on the approach road when I arrived because he thought that the ground further up would be too wet and soft for my car and he was right. Wim’s piste is surrounded by an electric fence because the field that it’s in usually contains cows, but they weren’t there on Sunday and in a few minutes Wim had his little aircraft out and running.

Wim has a single seat Weedhopper which bears a remarkable resemblance to MYRO because apart from having just the one seat that makes it narrower, it is constructed from many of the same parts. And as it has the same engine as MYRO, when it was running and ready to go it looked and sounded very similar too. Because Wim’s piste slopes down slightly at one end, unless the wind is quite strong, he takes off towards the down-hill end and lands in the other direction. Wim decided he’d make a short flight and as the wind was quite light, that’s exactly what he did on Sunday. If you click on the pic below, you’ll be able to see a short video that I took of it, the first I’ve taken of a microlight flight since I’ve been here!

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Like my X-Air, Wim’s Weedhopper doesn’t have doors fitted and with what he was wearing at the time, five or ten minutes was enough on Sunday. It didn’t take long after landing to taxi the aircraft off the runway, switch off and push it back into the little hangar, and only a few minutes later we were at Wim’s house eating biscuits and drinking tea. This is what microlighting is all about down here in this part of France and I can’t wait for the time when I am doing exactly the same thing in my X-Air πŸ™‚

December 4, 2012

Got more information

Victor, Wim and I went to the airfield at Castillonnes on Saturday as planned. The journey there and back was doubly exciting because we went in Victor’s fantastically restored Citroen 2CV! I left the front seat to Wim because he has longer legs than me and I was bounced around in the back the whole way there and back, but it was a real treat and I wouldn’t have missed it for a moment.

I didn’t take my camera with me so couldn’t take a picture but I’ll make sure I do next time. Victor has done the most incredible job because the car looks as though it’s just left the showroom. It’s finished in the most beautiful shade of turquoise blue and as well as having had a new soft-top made for it in the same colour, it has also had new upholstery fitted in a very attractive matching striped velour fabric. Victor is an engineer so the engine isn’t standard. Performance is limited by the gearbox, which I think is the standard one, but the engine is surprisingly lively and keeps up very easily in normal traffic. I always had the idea that 2CVs are noisy and gutless, but I was only correct in one of those assumptions. Well, for this particular one anyway πŸ˜‰ And to top it off, it has traditional yellow headlamps, as was apparent as it got dark as we drove home. Lovely πŸ˜€

The northerly wind meant that it was quite chilly at Castillonnes. Although the chart shows that name, the signs locally show the airfield as Cavarc. We were the first to arrive and after Victor had mixed 20 litres of 2-stroke fuel, we had begun to get aircraft out of the hangar before others began to arrive. One of the first was Philippe, one of two instructors at Castillonnes. Victor had arranged for an hour or so’s instruction with him and while people were getting things ready to go, I grabbed the opportunity to have a few words with him and show him the email I’d received from Bertrand. There are two training Hurricanes at Castillonnes, one of which has a pod (carenage) and one that doesn’t. I showed a picture of the one that does have in a previous post but to save you searching for it, here it is again.

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As you can see, the Hurricane is an open tandem design so you need kit similar to when you fly in a flexwing. This includes the normal helmet, visor and headset and also an insulated flying suit at this time of year. Several hardy souls went off in the non-podded Hurricane but Victor did his instruction (he’s working towards his ULM licence) in the one in the pic. After he’d returned, I was offered the chance to have a few minutes in the front seat (there are controls but no instruments in the rear position), which I jumped at. Philippe was with me in the back but although I can’t say I liked flying with a helmet and visor, possibly partly because the helmet was too big for me and kept dropping forward down my forehead, I was quite happy to take off and climb out although I hadn’t taken the controls before. I then flew straight and level at a height of 250 metres for a few minutes followed by a level 180 degree turn to the right. As we approached the airfield Philippe took over for the circuit and landing which he had to do, because without insurance, it would have been illegal for me to have done so.

After the flight we talked about my situation in more detail. Although I have a current UK medical declaration, the French rules state that I must have a letter from a French doctor indicating that there are no health considerations that would prevent me flying. However, unlike in the UK where I have to get this done at my cost every year on account of my age, once I’ve met the requirement in France, that will be it, for life. As I don’t yet have a French doctor, although I am now registered in the French system, I will have to make the necessary arrangements in the next week or so. Modest FFPLUM licence subscription fees also apply (91.95€ for me) and as these run from the beginning of each year for the following 12 months, we decided that as I must get a doctor’s letter beforehand, we’d start my licence conversion after Christmas in the New Year. Subject to weather, it should be possible to get it done by the end of January, during which time I will have short-term, temporary, membership of the club at Castillonnes.

So that’s it then! There are two doctors in Rouffignac, which is closer to Plazac than Montignac, so all I have to do is give them a call, decide which one to go for and make an appointment to drop in and get the letter I need. That sounds easy enough – now all I have to do is DO IT πŸ˜‰