May 30, 2013

Besieged from all sides

Is how I’ve felt today. The day started off dull with light drizzle but then it got serious, since when the rain has been pelting down non-stop. The river outside my back door is back again, so I need to put a proper path in as soon as possible. But I can’t, even though I got myself a concrete mixer a few months ago in readiness, because now I need to get the kitchen done.

Because of the volume of rain we’ve had today, water has once again been dripping down the chimney onto my new fireplace. So I really need to get the wood-burner installed and the chimney capping tile back on again to keep it out, but I can’t because I have to get the kitchen done!

It’s been murder with Toddie today because he has to go out a lot these days on account of his age. And every time he’s needed to today, just as in every other day recently, he’s come back in sopping wet bringing half of the garden with him, which as well as drying him off, I then have to clean up. So it’s been a trying day today to say the least, and that’s without even thinking about the X-Air that’s still standing outside in the pouring rain 😐

But despite everything, I’ve pressed on as planned with my kitchen work. Today I needed to deal with the large hump in the wall in the left hand corner and prove that the corner units could be placed exactly as I need them to be. Having done that, I could then be fairly confident, despite the alignment of the walls being a bit rough and ready, that the rest of the fit would proceed without too many problems. The first job was to carefully take a club hammer and bolster to the hump to find out what was underneath it. It didn’t take long to find out that it hid a large bunch of plastic corrugated tubes containing electrical cabling, which should not have been a surprise as it was located right below the fuse box. After carefully chipping the surface back, here’s what I was presented with.

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Tubes like this are more or less universally used in French buildings to carry the electric cables and I didn’t want to disturb them too much. I also didn’t want to have an accident so as well as wearing rubber soled shoes, I also put on a pair of thick rubber gloves. After carefully removing material from the corner and the back wall I achieved what I had been hoping for, namely that the corner cabinet fitted in just as it had to to get the correct alignment along the main wall with the other units I’ll be installing, and with the two units fitted against the side wall. Here’s how they looked when I’d placed them roughly where they’ll be going.

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This part of the job isn’t yet quite completed. The angle between the walls is great than 90 degrees but I’ve worked out that this doesn’t matter so long as I can get the angle between the corner unit and the first 40cm side unit large enough. To do that I’ve still got to trim a bit off the back corner of the latter which I’ll probably do later this evening. Then the side units will have to stand off the wall a bit because of the geometry, but I’ve already worked out that this will be OK if I fit a 60cm deep worktop on the units along the main wall and a 65cm one along the side units. I’ll then have to fit a blanking panel between the back of the 60cm side unit and the wall to fill the resulting gap, but this shouldn’t present any problems.

I made up for all of today’s hassles by cooking myself a nice steak, which I’ve had for a while in my freezer. Because I still don’t have a microwave, I had to cook it from frozen and as I don’t have a proper cooker, I did that in a covered frying pan with some oil and spices. I had to be careful as I’d started it from frozen but it ended up deliciously medium rare πŸ™‚

I teamed it up with some frozen vegetables, PoΓͺlΓ©e ChampΓͺtre from the range by St Eloi, which I’ve found to be delicious and with flavours only the French seem able to achieve. I also had to cook those slowly in a saucepan but the wait was well worth it. After enjoying the meal with a glass of French beer, I can say that I then didn’t feel quite as besieged as I had done earlier πŸ˜‰

May 29, 2013

Weather weirdness

There seems little doubt from what people who have lived for some time in the Dordogne are saying that the weather we’re getting at the moment is pretty unusual and a bit weird. It’s much colder than it usually is at this time of the year and I remember when I arrived about a year ago thinking how nice it was having come from a cool, damp UK to experience the pleasantly warm days and nights. This week, a year on, we’re getting highs up to just 15 degrees Celsius and lows down at 8 degrees when the averages for this time of year are around 23 degrees and 12 degrees. Plus we’re getting day after day of constant showers or even continuous periods of heavy rain, so something does seem to be going on.

In my opinion, it looks as though it’s got a lot to do with the Jetstream, the very fast, high level winds that push weather systems west to east across the Atlantic. The very poor cool, wet summers that the UK has experienced in recent years have been explained by some experts as being due to the Jetstream having moved much further south than it usually does, dragging ‘arctic’ weather south over the UK. In ‘normal’ summers, the Jetstream is located to the north of Scotland allowing warm ‘maritime’ weather to come up from the south but with the Jetstream having moved to the south of the UK, there was a barrier to this happening. And the theory seems to have some truth to it, because the Jetstream has on average remained in that position for some time now during which the UK has experienced ongoing periods of colder than average weather and greatly increased rainfall.

If this is true and there is such a link, the news for us further south in France is not good. As if it was not bad enough having the Jetstream positioned to the south of the UK, now the situation seems to be even worse, as it has moved even further south, below the South of France and over the Mediterranean. This is shown very clearly in the following pic taken from the Metcheck.com web site

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If it stays like this, and there is no obvious reason why it should revert to its ‘normal’ position as it’s now been out of kilter for so long, the prospects for the weather here in the Dordogne do not look good. The weather that we’ve been getting, with its ‘arctic’ influences of northerly winds, much lower than usual temperatures and above average rainfall could well continue indefinitely, just as it has in the UK. Surely it can be no coincidence that despite being several hundred miles further south, the Dordogne, while it is clasped with the UK in the python-like embrace of the Jetstream snaking to its south, is experiencing almost identical weather and temperatures. I could be wrong, but I’m not optimistic given the image above that things are going to improve for us here in the very near future. We seem to have had seven months of almost continuous winter. How much longer is it to the longest day after which the sun will begin its trek south again? Not long… 😐

May 28, 2013

Cuisinary developments

I’m expecting family visitors in a few weeks time, my mother who’s 94 tomorrow (Happy Birthday Mum!), together with my sister and my brother-in-law, and I’ve decided that there’s no way that we’ll all be able to live in a reasonably civilised manner for the week or two that they’re here without some kind of proper kitchen. I really wanted to get the wood-burner install finished before I started on the kitchen because I keep starting new jobs without finishing the ones I’ve already got underway but I think that I have no choice with this one. The reason is because I’m still making do with a camping kitchen and double-burner stove and a couple of camping tables but there’s no way, even if the weather is lovely and we eat out a lot and outdoors if we’re eating at home, that such an arrangement will be suitable for the four of us. And it’s lucky that I installed the new toilet when I did, otherwise I’d have had that problem as well πŸ™‚

So I’ve decided that although I’d ideally like to deal with the kitchen ceiling before installing any kitchen units, because I know it’ll be a horrible dirty job, I’ll have to do that later and at least get all of the base units in. As luck would have it, last week the regular leaflet announcing the latest ‘Arrivages’ and special offers at Brico Depot arrived and it included details of a special offer on kitchens, so I went over there on Saturday and bust the bank by buying all of the kitchen units I need while they’re on offer. In fact I was able to get hold of a higher price kitchen than I’d originally planned for, for less than I was originally going to spend, so at least that was a result. In fact I’ve been back again after checking what I’d been supplied with to correct their and my errors and get some more units and I’ll be returning again soon to change one cupboard door for a door/drawer combination and pick up the accessories and worktops that I’ve chosen.

I’m going for a traditional French kitchen design in real solid oak which I think will suit the style of the house perfectly and I think the extra investment in solid wood rather than chipboard will be worth it in the long run. I’ve got my reservations about the handles that come with it, though, and as the doors and drawer fronts haven’t been drilled, I might see what options I’ve got to replace them with something I like more. The handles on my original choice kitchen were much nicer but unfortunately there’s no option but to accept the ones that are originally supplied with each style of kitchen, which is a bit of a shame, I think.

Here’s a picture showing the layout I’ve designed for the main wall. There’s no window in it sadly and although it might be possible to put one in (remember the walls of my house are nearly 3 feet thick) I think it would be too big a job to take on just now.

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The kitchen walls are way out of square and the left hand corner has a great big bulge in it, electric wires running down it as well and it’s also where the water pipes pass through the wall into the bathroom. However, I’m pretty certain that all of these will not present too many problems because of the amount of space the standard worktops leave behind the cabinets to allow for services, that there is to play with.

Here’s a pic of the heap of flat-packs that I’ve got to assemble into full units and this was after I’d already assembled the corner unit and the two cabinets on the left hand side in the picture above.

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And finally, here are the corner unit and the two left hand cabinets, not in position but just standing in the middle of my kitchen floor, where I assembled them. And yes, that is my new wood-burner behind them, still standing in my kitchen waiting to be installed into my new fireplace since January 😐

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At the moment, I’m using the ramshackle old wall-mounted gas heater that was here when I moved in, for hot water. It’s old and not very efficient and never got the water above luke-warm when the supply was very cold in the winter. Its flue also discharges straight into the kitchen and as well as not being safe, it’s also now making the ceiling above it black and sooty. But there must be many thousands more just like it in rural France! I’ll be installing a 200 litre electric water heater on the wall in the corner of my bathroom. I’d prefer to have it in the kitchen but there’s just no way it can be accommodated, so I have no choice. I’m hoping to be able to box it in in the form of a ceiling high cupboard because that will keep the steam away from it and also give me some tall storage, which I’d otherwise be lacking, for things like my ironing board. The heater won’t be the usual immersion type but will instead be of Steatite design, which is very popular here in France. It’s a bit more expensive but much more efficient and therefore cheaper to run, which’ll be just as well given the whacking great EDF bill that I’ve just received for using my electric heaters over the past few months πŸ™

May 22, 2013

Ca marche!

Yup, it works! The sun shone today so I was straight out into the garden after lunch to sort out the last bit of wiring work on the X-Air that I wasn’t able to finish last Friday, due to the thunderstorm. Because of the delay, I couldn’t remember how I’d connected up the two pairs of wires that I’d run down to the panel from the senders to the EGT gauge and had to cut some cable ties so I could find out. After replacing them and adding several more on the front down-tube to secure the cables etc running down to the back of the panel and then making the connections to the gauge, I was ready to go.

As usual, the engine started very easily and all of the gauges worked as they should except for the EGT gauge. I stopped the engine and switched the connections for one sender pair round and was pleased to see one of the needles jump up the gauge and start falling slowly as the engine cooled down. Obviously I’d connected the pair the wrong way round – just luck as there’s no way to know which way round they should go. When I went to switch the other pair round, one of the connectors pulled off and by the time I’d replaced it, the engine was too cool for either EGT sender to register. I started the engine up again and was then delighted to see both needles starting to climb, so both pairs had been connected the wrong way round – what’s the chance of that happening, as Harry Hill might say… But best of all, the fact that there were no obvious exhaust leaks and the gauge was working as it should showed that my arrangement for mounting the senders into the exhaust manifold stubs is effective. The fuel pressure gauge was also working fine, and when I revved the engine up to about 6000 RPM it showed a healthy pressure of around 0.3 bar or more, which is correct.

The plastic tube connecting MYRO’s ASI and pitot tube was run from the gauge under the panel, up the front down tube and into the wing, then out again and down inside one of the jury struts at the bottom of which it finally emerged to be connected to the pitot. It was a nice neat arrangement when done, but fiddly to connect up. I suppose the same thing could be done for the X-Air. In fact, because it was de-rigged more frequently than MYRO, the tube comes out from under the X-Air’s panel into the cabin, down a tube on the left hand side, straight out of the pilot’s door and up the front strut to a different sort of pitot entirely to what’s permitted for the X-Air in the UK. The arrangement is simple and as it works, I’ve decided to keep it, so the last job this afternoon was connecting the tube, running it down as far as the door and cable-tying it. And that was that! It means that I’ve finished the modifications that I wanted to make and if the wings were fitted and rigged, the X-Air could now be flow. It’s taken much longer than I expected it would, solely because of the weather we’ve had in recent months, and there are small things still to be done, like changing visually unattractive corroded nuts and bolts, but they can be ongoing while the aircraft is being flown. The last major thing I want to do before turning to the wings and re-rigging is re-varnish the wooden prop. I’ve had a can of clear varnish ready for several weeks and I’ll be very pleased when I’m able to do it, hopefully later this week.

One thing, however, has taken the shine off the day. I’ve just got my latest EDF bill, which is huge. One of the reasons for this is that they have applied quite a significant charge for converting the dangerous 400V 3-phase electrical supply in my home that almost resulted in the house burning down and could have proven fatal if I’d received a shock from a plug or an appliance that had been damaged, over to the usual safe 220V single phase. I’m not prepared to pay it so I foresee being locked in a dispute with them yet again. EDF is a dinosaur and is the worst example I’ve ever come across of what happens when a public sector monolith has no competition and thinks it can do what it likes. I came over to France for what I’d hoped would be a quiet and fulfilling retirement but EDF has been the single fly in the ointment. So yet again it appears that I have no choice but to waste more of my time doing battle with them. There’s a good side to France and the French people which I love, but there’s a negative side as well, and EDF in my view is one of the very worst examples of it 😐

May 19, 2013

Stir crazy

That’s what Toddie and I are beginning to feel like with the weather we’re getting. I don’t know if this is the worst Spring and early Summer ever in these parts because I haven’t been here long enough, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised! I’ve just come back in from having re-secured one of the X-Air’s engine covers which had been blown off by the gusting wind allowing the exhaust and part of the engine to be soaked by the falling rain and as I look out of my window now, another shower is passing through just as there was for the whole of yesterday. And it’s cold, at only 11 degrees Celsius, with a high of only 16 degrees expected. So we’re stuck indoors again, just as we were for the whole of yesterday and much of last week. And with little to amuse ourselves with, as after the EDF 400 volts debacle, I still don’t have a TV or DVD player or even a music system and am totally reliant on my PC to help me stay sane while the rain falls almost continuously outside and water steadily drips down my chimney. But sitting in front of a computer screen all day begins to pall after a while 😐

The sun came out briefly on Friday so I took the opportunity to get outside ASAP to try to finish off the X-Air panel work. I connected the fuel pressure gauge into the system and it worked nicely when I pumped up pressure with the hand primer bulb but I didn’t get a chance to start the engine and see what pressure it showed with the engine running. Instead I set about fitting the EGT senders. The first thing I found was that the stubs on the exhaust manifold do not after all, match the clamp-on senders that I bought recently. The stubs do not support them and they pass completely through them, right into the exhaust pipe. But I refused to give in and fitted the senders anyway by slipping a couple of washers over the sender bodies to prevent them going in too far and attaching the jubilee clip clamps very tightly so as to prevent any leakage between the faces of the washers and the ends of the stubs. I won’t know if the arrangement will be successful until I’m able to start the engine, which I was unable to do on Friday as I’ll go on to explain.

Then I needed to connect the EGT senders to the gauge using the connections that I made up at the gauge end what is now several weeks ago, a mark of how much wasted time this terrible weather is causing. I decided that I’d pop down to Les Briconautes in Montignac to see if they had any suitable cable and came back with some light-weight 2-pair telephone cable. On the way back I thought that the sky was looking a bit ‘unreal’ over the hills to the east and while I was running the new cable to make the EGT sender connections there was an ominous rumble of thunder. So just in case, I gathered up the tools that I wasn’t using and put them under cover and continued for several more minutes before the deluge hit! With the job only half-completed, I then had to rush around to get the X-Air covered up as quickly as possible, getting soaked in the process, and ended up back indoors looking out at the lashing rain and flashes of lightning that continued well into the evening. So that was that, and no more work has been possible since, because of the continuing downpours we’ve been experiencing.

On a different note, many weeks ago after we’d been out to the airfield at Castillonnes in it, I mentioned Victor’s beautiful restored Citroen 2CV, or Deuche as it’s known. We went out to the airfield in it again at the end of April and although I didn’t have my camera with me, I did have my mobile phone, which has a not very good camera in it. So this time I was able to get a few shots, and here are a couple.

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Victor has restored it with ‘no expense spared’ and it looks as though it’s just come out of the showroom. It also has a ‘tuned up’ engine, from a Visa I think, and nips along very smartly, much to the surprise of other motorists! I’d love one like it, and it looks as though you can pick up some very nice models with a current CT, meaning that they’re road-worthy and can be driven immediately, for under 2000€. But I think it’ll be some time before I’ve done everything I need to on my house and garden before I could even think about taking on a project like that. But I can dream, can’t I πŸ˜‰

May 12, 2013

Blast!

In the end, I decided against disturbing my neighbours with my lawnmower on Wednesday and Thursday, the two holidays, and as we all celebrated Victor’s birthday on Friday morning with coffee and chocolate cake – Many Happy Returns Victor! – I didn’t get around to mowing my grass until yesterday. My original intention was to do the back and leave the front until today, but as the forecast was for showers today, I decided to press on and do the lot. I’d finished but then noticed that I’d forgotten a small strip of rough ground along the front of my house and, unwisely as it turned out, thought I’d just trim off some long grass on a stony patch. In doing so, I was a bit careless and clobbered the mower blade on a lump of rock that was half-in and half-out of the ground. Now the end of the blade is badly bent and although I’ll try bending it back into some sort of shape when I get around to removing it, I think I’ll probably end up having to buy a new one. Stupid – and totally unnecessary πŸ™

Changing the subject, I’m amazed by how long the awful weather is going on for. We’re expecting a high of 22 degrees Celsius on Tuesday but it’ll be back as low as 11 degrees again on Thursday! And as well as the low temperatures, we’ll also be getting rain on and off throughout most of the week. There was no flying yet again this past week-end, just because of the weather. I have to say, I didn’t expect this at all. I’d thought that with the exception of two or three Winter months, we’d be getting a lot more nice, flyable days down here, and certainly many more than we have done. Wim has only managed to fly his aircraft on a very small number of days in recent weeks and the X-Air, which I’ve had since last September still looks no closer to coming out from under its covers now than when I first unloaded it off the trailer and put it in my back garden. Here we are half-way through May and I’ve not even managed a single flight towards getting my French licence, when at the time I first discussed it with the Instructor at Castillonnes, we said we’d leave it until the New Year and try to knock it off in January! Surely something has to give soon 😐

May 8, 2013

Only good news today

I was wrong about there still being a leak on my new toilet. I flushed it several times yesterday evening and it appeared to stay dry so I left it and went to bed. The water level hadn’t dropped this morning and it was still dry, so I flushed it again a few more times. Still dry, so that’s it. All I have to do now is complete the fixing of the plywood I’ve used in the boxing, make a top cover and give the whole lot a couple of coats of white emulsion. That’ll do it until I eventually get around to doing the bathroom and tiling it and the toilet. So that was very welcome news today.

Victor also kindly lent me a couple of those long pick-up tools, one with a magnet on the end and the other with the four little claws that are operated by a button on the top. All it needed was 30 seconds with the magnet version to recover my dropped spanner which I’d managed to knock sideways earlier on with a piece of wood to get it into a more accessible position. So that was another problem solved!

Today and tomorrow are holidays in France and although shops etc will be opening tomorrow, today things are closed. So now I really must get out into the garden and start attacking the grass and weeds with my mower before they get totally out of control and more difficult to chop down than they already are. Still, at least it’s good exercise πŸ˜‰

May 7, 2013

Good news, bad news

Good news – at last after waiting and arguing for over two weeks, I’ve received a label to return GrosBill’s wrong black microwave at their cost! The bad news though, is that I still haven’t got my money back from them and there’s no guarantee that even when they’ve got the ruddy thing back, they’ll then do a quick refund. I’ve given up hope of ever getting the right model from them, I have to say 😐

Good news – I’ve got my new toilet installed and flushing water just as it should! The bad news however, is that there’s a leak from somewhere underneath, where you can’t see, so I still can’t use it until I’ve located the problem and rectified it πŸ™

One of the things that I will be eternally grateful to my old Dad for is that while I was in the Sixth Form he refused to pay me any pocket money or any parental support either, to top up my grant while I was at University. What he said he’d do, though, was help me get jobs to earn good money in my holidays, and that’s exactly what he did. My Dad was a surveyor and a very good one too, working in the public sector, so he had some excellent contacts with lots of top contractors. And so there was I, a ‘college boy’, getting stuck in and getting my hands dirty with a plumbing contractor for almost three years and a building contractor for another three. And these were some of the best times of my life. Initially the guys I was working with were a bit suspicious of me because they knew who my father was, but when they saw that I was ready to muck in and do whatever I was asked to, that soon vanished and not only did I have some great times working with some really genuine and skilled people who I had great respect for, I also learnt skills of my own that have stood me in good stead for the rest of my life.

Over the years I’ve been able to do all my own plumbing and building work, with the help of my Dad while he was alive and my brother-in-law who was a skilled plumber until he went into the office. This has included some pretty complex projects, all of which I was able to work my way through to a successful conclusion. However, I have to say that fitting this ‘WC Suspendu’ has been one of the worst and least enjoyable that I’ve ever done. The kit itself came with no instructions other than a couple of flimsy sheets of paper with some hand-drawn illustrations on them. There were some rough dimensions shown on the box that it came in but no detailed measurements to work to, so everything had to be precisely measured by hand and/or calculated from two or more measurements. Despite that fact that holes for the water inlet and the support bolts are in fixed locations, there was no template to work with and again, the positions had to be measured as closely as possible, together with the hole for the outlet pipe, and adjusted a bit at a time until they were right, which was both tedious and time-consuming. And to top it all, a pre-welded support bracket and some pre-drilled holes were in the wrong places. Generally speaking, the overall quality of the kit left an awful lot to be desired.

Then we come to the plumbing fittings. I like to use capillary (soldered) connections on a job like this where access is impossible after the job is completed. The joints are permanent and there’s no chance of a leak developing that would end up ruining your whole day. However, you can’t get soldered fittings in France which have the solder pre-loaded inside the joint. What? Yes, amazing but true. That’s why all the soldered joints you see in France have great gobs of solder on them or solder running down the tube away from the joint, something guys were fired for by the old plumbing contractor I worked for all those years ago. So I’ve had to use screw/cone fittings which seem to be of very variable quality here in France. Only after buying a new stop-cock did I find that it didn’t even have proper cones, but instead had an even cheaper arrangement involving weird metal spring washers combined with rubber washers, which must eventually harden up and start leaking I’d have thought. And then, after I’d got the water inlet pipe plumbed in and turned the water supply on, I found that the gland nut on the top of the stop-cock hadn’t been tightened and was highly delighted to have water spraying out like a fountain before I heard the noise from the kitchen, dashed in to find what was causing it and switched the supply back off again. And then to top it off, because the gland nut was difficult to get a spanner on, I managed to drop it down into the now-boxed-in cavity behind the toilet, so I was very pleased with the overall outcome, as you can imagine 😐

Anyway, here are a couple of pics just taken showing the latter stages of the project. The wood boxing in the second shot has had a coat of white emulsion to match the walls and that’s how I intend to leave it until I can do the bathroom and re-tile the lot.

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So where am I now? Well, I’ve already removed and re-fitted the toilet once in the hope of fixing the leak and although the initial signs were encouraging, I think there’s still some slight dampness underneath the ‘cuvette’ (toilet pan). If so, I can’t leave it, because if it’s from the outlet, that’s what known in the trade as ‘foul water’. Why it should be leaking I don’t know – I can’t imagine that it’s because I’ve cut the outlet pipe half a centimetre too short, but it might be. If so, what a poor design it is, that it should depend on such a high level of accuracy. My next step will be to try the old tried-and-tested method that can only be used where it can’t be seen – get hold of some good quality waterproof mastic and smear both parts of the suspect joint with it after ensuring that they are perfectly dry and clean. Then make the joint and leave it for a day to allow the surfaces of the mastic to cure enough to make a waterproof seal – not difficult when the joint is not subjected to any pressure. And then I’ll have to just keep my fingers crossed, not using the toilet, of course, in the meantime. And that would be more bad news, although it’s something I’m getting quite used to after the last week or so πŸ˜•

Footnote – the final pic above was taken after I’d confirmed that the leak had been fixed and the job completed, prior to tiling at some time in the future.

May 3, 2013

Struggling on

And in more ways than one! I’ve moved on as quickly as I could, but I’m still without a toilet. I’ve had to go one step at a time with the work and have only lost a day due to the tile adhesive not drying as quickly as it should have done and having to leave it for a further 24 hours, but it’ll still be another few days before I’m finished. But I’ll come back to that in a moment. My main problems recently have been due to the hopeless attitude of French organisations, both private and public sector, towards customer service, which to them appears to be a totally alien notion. We’re not used to this nowadays in the UK, probably because of the way competition has been introduced into many aspects of British daily life. There’s still some way to go, but we take for granted that when a private individual or small company comes up against gross inefficiency, plain bad service or malpractice, then often the former will have the whip hand. However, this is far from the case in France and there are no signs that things are likely to change in the near future. When my financial adviser at my bank wrings her hands and says that this is the way things are here, then I have to say that I begin to rather despair. But maybe I ought to explain what has made me come round to this way of thinking.

I mentioned some time ago that I had a problem with EDF and my electricity meter not showing the correct breakdown of the units I’d used, between full rate (Heures Pleines) and cheap rate (Heures Creuses). I got into quite a lather when I failed to receive any response to the letters I wrote to EDF about the problem even when I knew they’d been received (recorded delivery) and customer service confirmed as such on the phone. Eventually I got a letter out of the blue saying that the ‘Moderateur’ agreed with my complaint and that EDF should agree a modified bill with me, which was done and the matter duly settled. What got my goat was that nobody in EDF could be bothered to let me know that the matter was being dealt with and to wait until the ‘Moderateur’ had come to a decision.

The same is now happening all over again with my new EDF problem, ie having 400 volts fed into my house, that has destroyed half of my electrical appliances. When I phoned customer services, they said that I should send them a list of the damaged items, which I did asking them to confirm when they had received it. I know that they have done, but once again, nothing. This is the manner in which a Government owned monopoly expects to treat its customers, who by paying their electricity bills keep those employed by it in jobs. Time for some competition? Come off it mate, not in France 😐

Anything else? Well yes, actually. A few weeks ago I bought a pair of walking boots off a French web site and when they arrived, they were too small. I returned them at MY expense even though it was the fault of the boots, not my foot size, and after several weeks of chasing the supplier, I was made to feel lucky that the amount I’d paid for them was credited back to my bank account. Good going? Hardly. By coincidence, I’d previously bought some boots off a well-known British web site and they were also too small when they arrived. The supplier also failed to acknowledge my correspondence, failed to make a prompt refund and then apparently lost the boots after I’d returned them by recorded delivery from France. However, the difference was that I was able to use the facility of the Small Claims Court to make a claim against them and ended up with my expenses and interest being paid, plus a free pair of boots.

So is that all? Unfortunately, no. I made what looks like another cardinal mistake of buying a replacement for my damaged microwave oven from the well-known French web site, Rue du Commerce. Unbeknownst to me, although you create an account with Rue du Commerce and place an order on their web site, they then offload it to a supplier, in this case GrosBill, who delivers the goods to you and supplies you with an invoice. Hmmmm…. I hear you say, so who is the ‘contract’ with? Well, if it was Britain, Rue du Commerce, of course as it was they who accepted your order, but it’s obviously a highly unsatisfactory arrangement with the potential for things to get very messy if the deal goes wrong. But what an earth could go wrong, I hear you say, it’s only a microwave in a box – all they have to do is check the box against the order, pick it up and ship it out? Ah, yesss…. but come on now, this is France.

I placed the order with Rue du Commerce on 15th April and my payment was immediately taken. On 16th April I received confirmation from GrosBill that the item had been despatched and a PDF invoice. So far so good. Unfortunately I wasn’t at home when it was delivered on 18th April (I was out on exploding soldering iron business readers may recall) so had to pick it up from Plazac post office on 19th April. When I got it home I only had to open the top of the box without even unpacking it to see that whereas I’d ordered a microwave in ‘Inox’ (stainless steel), the person who’d shipped it out who we must assume to be some way down the food chain, had picked up one in black. And that’s when my problems started. Put aside that the only way you can contact either Rue du Commerce to complain about their error and/or their lamentable lack of customer service is not just via one premium rate telephone number, but two, the second of which you are only told about after dialling the first one. Put aside the tortuous and highly inefficient communication chain via not one, but two ‘customer service’ departments with the potential for misplaced messages and misunderstandings. What I find totally infuriating is that after having eventually made contact and having received promises on several occasions that the matter will be rectified in ‘5’ days and then ‘3’ days and that ‘a prepaid label will be sent’ for me to return the item to them, here I am two weeks down the line and (a) the wrong microwave is still in its box on my kitchen floor, (b) they still have my money and (c) the last message that I received two days ago was, ‘Am I sure that the microwave I’ve received really is black?’

I asked my financial adviser at my bank yesterday if France has an equivalent to the UK Small Claims Court, which makes it so easy to deal with problems like this, inevitably resulting in the merchant losing and it costing them money. There is no equivalent in France – and in fact there seem to be few, if any consumer protection laws at all. One has to ask oneself what French politicians are doing besides having affairs with each other and/or each other’s partners that can be so important that putting proper consumer protection laws in place in this day and age can take such a back seat. It’s because nobody else is having problems, you say. Wrong! According to my financial adviser, everyone is having problems as a result of rogue traders and retailers who couldn’t give a damn, knowing that when they’ve got your money there’s precious little that you can do except mount a full legal claim against them. And as my financial adviser (who’s French, by the way) pointed out, everyone knows how the French legal system works (eg over a year to get the papers through to buy a house) and how slow and expensive that would be. So for that reason, everyone just shrugs their shoulders and takes out legal protection insurance at extra cost which they can then use to get such a case underway.

What a ridiculous system. Good for the lawyers but hardly the way to run a modern economy I’d have thought and I fear that if France fails to address it, there will be little chance of its making its economy more efficient in this, the internet age. I now understand why people here have told me that they don’t buy off the internet, preferring to go into Perigueux and pick up the goods themselves, and also why most of the French e-commerce web sites I’ve come across seem so ‘clunky’ and 1990s in style compared to what we’re used to in Britain. For my part, I’ll not be using either Rue du Commerce or Grosbill again and in fact as far as possible, I’ll return to my previous policy of buying as much as I can from UK web sites and having it shipped over. The shipping adds to the cost but in the long run it’s less financially risky and although it takes a few days longer, it frequently still works out cheaper overall than buying locally. And anyway, I can’t see why French traders should deserve my custom when they are prepared to treat me and my business in such an off-hand manner.

OK, now let’s get back to my toilet. As I mentioned previously, although still unfinished, work on installing my new WC has continued. Each step, putting down concrete, screeding the floor, laying the tiles etc, has needed a complete day and in fact, laying the tiles needed two because of the time it took the adhesive, that was left over from my fireplace work, to dry. Same thing with grouting the tiles in – the amount of grey grout that I had also left over from my fireplace, wasn’t quite enough to do the job, so today I had to go back to Les Briconautes to buy another small pack. But now the floor’s done so allowing for the grout I put in today to go off, tomorrow I’ll be able to start fitting in the ‘Kit WC Suspendu’ itself. Here are some pics showing the steps I’ve taken and the progress made since my last posting.

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I’m absolutely delighted with the way the new floor tiles have come out as an almost exact for match for the originals. I couldn’t get any more of the ‘terres cuites’ that I bought for my living room floor and in fact, although the originals in the above pictures are terra cotta tiles, the new ones are ceramics. They are slightly smaller in thickness and although unglazed, they had a coloured surface on them which was close in shade to the old floor tiles and also with some variability in colour. I gave them a go with my wet polishing machine and lo and behold, it not only gave them a nice smooth surface like the originals but also ‘distressed’ them a bit, modifying the colour slightly and making them almost indistinguishable from the originals, especially now they’re down and grouted in. That’s one bit of luck, anyway πŸ˜‰