October 31, 2013

Doh!

It appears that I’ve installed the flue pipes upside-down! When you burn any wood a certain amount of creosote is produced, as I’ve found, which should then funnel down the flue pipes and back into the stove. To do this, the ‘male’ end of the tube above needs to be inserted into the ‘female’ end of the tube below it, not the other way up as I’ve done it. Simple common sense when you know and an easy (but stupid) mistake to make when you don’t. The clue was which end of the tube packaging the labels were on ie the tops, but I was thrown because I thought the bottom tube fitted over the wood burner’s outlet whereas it doesn’t, it goes inside it.

So I’ve now got to allow the fire to go out and the flue pipes to cool before removing them all, cleaning off the mess on the top of the wood burner and replacing them the other way up. Fortunately I haven’t got to worry about the dried black mess on the outside of the tubes, except for removing the excess to prevent it melting and running downwards again, because when they’re back, nobody will ever see them. It’s just the top of the stove itself that’ll need most attention and hopefully that won’t need too much effort to clean up so long as I do it soon – like tomorrow maybe? Bummer, I want to go flying tomorrow – so maybe do that while everything’s cooling down, eh?

October 31, 2013

Yes and no

Yes, last night I closed both the upper and lower vents and the fire in my new stove did stay in, so I was pleased with that, this being a new thing for me. However, because I was using the old wood that the previous resident left behind, I seem to have been plagued with the same problem as they were, namely a surfeit of nasty black oily liquid that’s come dripping down the flue. Now I know where the black stains came from on the side wall of my fireplace – from the same liquid as I’ve got, oozing out of the flue tube that had been inserted in the wall, that I removed the other day. I was also a bit disappointed to find that much of the glass in the door already has a black coating on it when the stove was advertised as having ‘clean glass’ technology, but perhaps I was expecting too much, especially if I am burning ‘dirty’ wood.

Not knowing about these things, I don’t know if the nasty liquid that I’ve got is a general problem or is something to do with the quality of the wood that I’ve been burning, but in just one night it’s turned out to be very messy. The reason is that as well as emerging out of the bottom joint, where the flue pipe sits on the top of the stove (which quite frankly, is not a good joint because until I fit the securing bracket at the top of the chimney, the flue pipes are leaning back a bit), the liquid has also come running down the outside of the flue pipes and has then dried on the side of the pipe in large unsightly globs. It may be that the problem will solve itself when the whole job is completed and the flue insulated with Vermiculite so it is hot enough for the liquid to disperse out of the chimney without condensing inside it, I don’t know. I think this will help because when I added some more wood this morning and opened the vents a bit to get the fire going, there was a bit of a surge in the liquid flow which indicated to me that condensation in the cool flue is a problem until it begins to warm up again.

But in any case, I think I may have a little bit to learn about the art of running a ‘poele a bois’ πŸ™‚

October 30, 2013

We have ignition…

I went onto the internet today and and ordered a sheet of galvanised steel to make the sealing plate for my chimney out of. It’ll take 48 hours (it said on the web site) to be delivered, so I guess that probably means sometime early next week, as it’s coming from a French supplier πŸ™‚

Anyway, afterwards I found myself first looking at my waiting fireplace and then at the row of flue liner tubes standing in my kitchen and I thought, ‘to heck with it, get going’. The thin metal sheets that were currently being used to seal my chimney were dirty and rusty and in too poor a condition to be reused, so I needed to remove them together with as much of the rubbish that was lying on them as I could retain, take them outside and dispose of them. I tried moving them by hand and as I expected, bits of black muck fell down into the fireplace, so I decided that this was no time to pussy-foot around, grabbed my broom, stepped back and gave the larger of the two plates a good heave. It lifted up and then fell out completely, depositing most of the sh1te on the fireplace platform with a little falling out onto the floor, so it wasn’t too bad a result. In fact, most of the muck was dry clinker and although there was a little soot mixed in, it didn’t amount to much. As a result it was quite easy to clear it up, so after a short while my chimney was opened up again for the first time in several years and ready for business.

I moved my wood burner on its pallet round in front of the fireplace and then waited for my next door neighbour, Benjamin, to come home from work. He said previously that he would give me a hand and five minutes or so after coming over early this evening, my ‘poele a bois’ was in position on the platform I’d made for it back at the beginning of the year, for the first time.

null

When Benjamin was leaving he said to listen, and he said that what I could hear was the sound of the cranes resting in the fields surrounding our houses while on their winter migration from Scandinavia to Africa. He said that locally, when they arrive, it’s regarded as being the beginning of winter, so I guess my timing getting my wood burner installed this week is just about spot on. Ultimately, my intention is to have the flue reaching right up from the stove to the top of the chimney where it will be held in place away from the chimney surface by a metal bracket. The chimney will be sealed at the bottom by a 2mm thick galvanised steel plate and then the space around the flue pipe inside the chimney will be filled with Vermiculite. However, I decided that there’s no reason, now I’ve opened up the chimney, why the wood burner could not be used in the meantime. I had measured the distance from its top to the top of the chimney at around 5.3 metres, which is why I bought six 1 metre lengths of flue pipe. I decided that if I shoved five lengths up the chimney and connected them to the wood burner, it could be safely used and warming the house up in the meantime, while I’m waiting for the sealing plate sheet to arrive. So that’s what I did this evening.

All I had to do was put back the stove bits that I’d removed to make it lighter, shove the flue up the chimney, connect it to the stove and light up. It didn’t take long after I’d found enough paper and dry twigs to start it and some dry logs that had been left behind by the last resident and I’d taken out and put under cover. I used my blow-lamp to get things going and I have to admit to being very pleased with how it’s now all coming together and working. See the following pic to know what I mean.

null

I’ve had my little fan heater running for the past few evenings which have been quite chilly, but I don’t think that will be necessary any more. I’ve banked the stove up and will try to keep it in overnight tonight and I’ll be interested to see how warm the various parts of the house become as a result. And the best bit about it is that as I’m using old wood that’s been hanging around since I’ve been here, the heat that’s being generated is free – for the time being anyway πŸ˜‰

October 29, 2013

Brive today

I want to get my ‘poele a bois’ installed this week, simple as that. I just needed to buy six 1 metre lengths of 150mm diameter flue pipe and a bracket to hold it in position at roof level, inside the chimney that I just repaired, so I can make a start and an internet search showed that the place to go is Leroy Merlin, where I bought my kitchen worktops from. So yesterday I headed across to their depot at Chancelade, the other side of Perigueux. I could hardly believe my eyes when I turned into the car park, which was absolutely packed out, and when I went into the store it was manic. I’d checked the stock of the flue pipes I needed on their web site before I left and the quantity available was very small. When I found the right shelf, the cartons that had contained the ones I was looking for were empty and after trying to get hold of an assistant for several minutes, I decided that it was time to give up. So I came home and checked to see where the next nearest Leroy Merlin depot is and found that it’s at Brive la Gaillarde, about 35 miles or so away, a bit further but not too far, and the best thing was that the stock figure there was much higher than for Perigueux.

So that’s where I headed for today, after tapping the address into my trusty satnav. It turned out that just as for Perigueux, the Brive Leroy Merlin depot is a few kilometres outside the town, but after following my satnav and taking a rather circuitous route to the south, I duly ended up there. And it couldn’t have been more different compared to the day before. I think that the Brive depot must be newer than the one at Perigueux, not that that matters very much, but there was plenty of room in the car park and I was able to park almost outside the store entrance. And finding my way around inside was both a pleasure and a piece of cake compared to yesterday. It didn’t take long to find, pick up and pay for the stuff I wanted and pretty soon I was loaded up and heading for home.

Once again, I followed my satnav, which has never let me down on all my travels around France, and I was pleased when it told me to turn left towards the ‘centre ville’, as I’ve never been into Brive before. What I saw was charming and I made a mental note to go back there sometime and see some more. But at least I’ve now got what I need to get going properly on my wood burner install. The flue pipes are standing ready to go in my kitchen and this evening I’ve been researching suppliers for metal suitable for making a sealing plate for the flue above the wood burner in the fireplace. I’ve found one who can make and deliver what I want in 48 hours, so now at last I’m all ready to go πŸ˜‰

October 28, 2013

RIP Mouchou

My nextdoor neighbours, Aurelie and Benjamin, had two delightful little cats, Scratchie and Mouchou. Scratchie was their first. He’s quite small, black and white in colour and has a lovely friendly nature. We got to know each other quite early on because I was around a lot while Aurelie and Benjamin were both out at work, and he used to come across and see Toddie and me when he wanted a bit of company, the way that cats do, and still does.

Then Mouchou came on the scene and everything changed. Although he was younger than Scratchie, he was brash and full of confidence the way that juveniles are and seemed to take charge of things. Scratchie knows that Toddie won’t harm him, but is still a bit wary of him and doesn’t let him approach to closely. On the other hand, Mouchou seemed to know from the outset that they’d be friends and went out of his way to forge a relationship with Toddie almost as soon as they met.

null

null

Because Toddie is old now, he’s a little bit rough and awkward. It was as though Mouchou knew that and made allowances, because he would let him sniff and lick him all over before eventually deciding that enough was enough and scampering off to look for new sport. But he enjoyed it – Toddie’s eyesight isn’t what it was and when we plodded around our garden, it was easy for him not to notice Mouchou lying somewhere in the sun or curled up asleep in the shade. Then, if Mouchou saw us, he’d come flying across but, being a cat and never wanting to look over-keen about anything, when he was close enough he’d stop running and than saunter nonchalently up to Toddie to say hello.

I loved watching Scratchie and Mouchou hunting together on my front lawn, as though they were big cats on the African veldt. They’d both be crouched down in the grass and first one would move forward and then the other, crouching down again in turn as they did. Goodness knows what they were hunting because I never ever saw them catch anything. Mouchou also took a delight in hunting solo, creeping up on unsuspecting butterflies and other insects on my lawn only to see them leap into the air and fly or hop off when he made his final leap. I’d find him lying in the sun on the roof of my car with paw marks all over the bonnet, and when I said, ‘Oi, what d’you think you’re doing?’, he’d just ignore me. Then instead of jumping off, he’d roll over on his back to get me to rub his tummy for him.

But at times he was a bit too cocky and over-confident. He thought he was the master of all he surveyed and many’s the time I’ve driven up in my car, seen him sitting in the middle of the road and refusing to move until the last minute. I’ve made him get out of the road lots of times but you can’t always be there and in a way, it was an accident waiting to happen. Then yesterday evening I was in my garden with Toddie and a lady who was walking past asked if I was looking for my cat. I said that I wasn’t, but she pointed and said that there was the body of one at the edge of the road right outside my house. When I went to look I knew immediately that it was Mouchou. Later on I went to tell Aurelie and Benjamin and after Benjamin had seen the small, damaged body for himself, he said that he knew that Mouchou used to go in the road but that he couldn’t do anything about it. I said that of course he couldn’t, there was nothing that he could have done, because cats do what they want and you can’t make them do anything.

RIP Mouchou. It’s a very sad day, we’ll all miss him and maybe Toddie will too. I can hardly believe that we’ll never see him again, but I bet he’ll be making them laugh just as he did me, in that little heaven where all the good pussy cats go.

October 27, 2013

Man the lifeboats!

We had the most extraordinary storm yesterday evening, quite short but possibly the most extreme in the seventeen months since I’ve been here. It started off quietly enough, if any thunderstorm can be described as ‘quiet’, with lightening flashes and loud rumbles of thunder, but as I was watching it, the satellite TV system signal gradually weakened until it disappeared altogether. Then the rain really started pounding down with a vengeance. I’ve never seen so much rain falling in such a short period of time. I checked the chimney and was delighted to find that no rainwater was dripping down, so then I checked on my back lounge door against which the deluge was beating feeling pretty sure that at least some would be coming in, as it did once before a few months ago. But no, it was still dry.

I then went into my kitchen and was aghast to see a flood of rainwater rushing in under my door. I couldn’t just leave it so had to open the door to find out what the heck was going on. By this time the wind was whipping around outside and the rain was lashing down and I soon saw what was happening. As things are at present, my back door is only just above the level of the ground outside, which is itself below the level of my front lawn. The result is that whenever it rains very hard, the water drains off the lawn, runs down towards my back door and then drains away in a small river along the front of the house until it gets to a low point where I park my car, where it can drain away. But yesterday evening it couldn’t do that. The reason was that half of the leaves have now fallen off the old lime tree that stands on the lawn above my back door and they were so thick on the ground that they were creating an impenetrable barrier for the water that could therefore form a rapidly deepening pool outside my back door until it eventually rose above the level of both the door threshold and my floor tiles.

As soon as I realised what was going on, I had no choice but to dash outside in the howling wind and rain and use the broom that I’d been swooshing the water out with to clear away as many of the leaves as possible, to allow the water to escape. Luckily, while I was doing so the rain abated slightly and even though I was under the spread of the tree branches, I still got pretty soaked. But I was successful and even though the rain continued, when I’d done, the water was able to flow away without coming into my kitchen.

But it turned out that this was a false dawn! When I returned to my lounge, I found that its far end was now under water with more pouring in by the minute. This was a completely new experience as nothing similar had ever happened before. At that end of the house, there is a door into my lounge that is a bit superfluous being as there’s a door into the kitchen at the other end, and which a previous resident had nailed up. Just as laying a proper path outside my back door and along the front of my house is on my list of ‘jobs to do’, so is removing the lounge door, bricking it up and making it into a window to match the other one between my kitchen and lounge. But yesterday evening it was too late for that! Somehow an enormous stream of water was finding its way in under the door even though it’s some way above the ground level at that end in comparison with the door into the kitchen. There was only one thing for it – move the furniture that was in the affected area, which was not that much fortunately – and then grab a mop and bucket.

Although by this time the storm was beginning to abate, I then spent almost the next hour mopping up. I filled up the large plastic bucket that came with the mop and had started on the next one before I at last got the better of it, but that was still not the end of things. The water had run right along the joints of the tiles from the lounge end of the house into the kitchen and by that time had got under the cartons of the new kitchen cabinets that I haven’t yet installed, which I’d left leaning against the kitchen wall. This was a potential major disaster, because if they took up enough water for it to begin penetrating the material of the units they contained, the units themselves could be destroyed. There was only one thing for it – I had to stop mopping and move the units to somewhere dry, which ironically turned out to be the fireplace, which had previously been one of the dampest places when it had started to rain! But now it was a ‘life-saver’.

The storm eventually moved away into the distance to the south-east all the while still crashing, banging and flashing, leaving me to clear up behind it. ‘Thank goodness for having floor tiles all the way through downstairs’, was my main thought, because after mopping up, there was no harm done. When I got up this morning, the windows were a bit steamed up on the inside, but that soon cleared and it’s now clear and bright, albeit a bit windy. I have no idea where yesterday evening’s storm came from – it hadn’t figured in any weather forecasts, none that I’d seen anyway – and although that isn’t unusual, it’s ferocity was certainly a big surprise. At the time of writing, a deep low is forming out in the Atlantic which is forecast to bring extremely powerful, hurricane force winds into the south of England, on a par with, or even more powerful than those of the 1987 storm that I remember very vividly. I hope that that isn’t so for the sake of the many who will be affected tonight and tomorrow as the 1987 storm was a traumatic experience and the damage left in its wake was considerable and visible for many years afterwards. Whether our storm yesterday evening was a precursor for what’s to come I don’t know, but it was certainly a bit traumatic while it was in progress and I feel lucky today to have come out of it more or less totally unscathed. And even though the winds were whipping around quite viciously out there, I’m pleased to say that the slab I placed on top of my chimney doesn’t look as though it moved even a millimetre πŸ˜‰

October 23, 2013

Nearly there

I felt distinctly off the pace today. Part of the reason was last night’s thunderstorm which, although it was no way near as violent as we have had from time to time, still succeeded in disturbing my sleep. The other reason was that I had to get up twice in the night to apply cream to insect bites which are still plaguing me, and were keeping me awake. Because it’s still so warm I’m spraying the house every evening but I’m still getting caught with some nasty bites, and even as I type this I can feel another new one on the top of my left arm.

So although the day was fine enough, and especially so in the late afternoon, I once again put the idea of flying to one side. I decided that even though I didn’t feel much like it, I’d continue with the preparatory work for installing my wood burner. Going off on a bit of tangent for a brief moment, some friends who keep up regularly with ‘My Trike’ have told me that they enjoy reading about the work and projects that I’ve undertaken in the house, which is why I continue posting about them. I think that they reflect the kind of problems that anyone coming to France, especially to the kind of area and the kind of house that I’ve chosen, are likely to experience. Many people would, of course, have the kind of budget that would allow them to get professionals in and knock them all off in one go. I don’t enjoy that luxury, unfortunately, but even if I did, I’d probably still be doing much of the work myself anyway. I’m a hard task-master and when I do things myself, I get the kind of job that I want and that I’m happy with and in any case, as I’m retired and have the time available (and the skills), what would I be doing otherwise if someone else was doing all the work?

Anyway, getting back on track again, I’ve mentioned on previous occasions that although the previous resident had blocked off the chimney and had a wood burner of their own, they had installed it on the floor next to the fireplace and had tapped it into the flue via a tube through its side. Before I can install my own wood burner, this had to come out and the hole made good, and that’s what I decided to do today. Like many of my jobs, I didn’t take a ‘before’ picture – the main reason being that as I have done on many occasions, I start the job without realising it. What happened today was that I saw a small bit of the tube sticking out of the side of the chimney that I could grab onto with mole grips, so I did in order to see if it would budge. Before I knew it, I’d pulled half of it out of the stonework, so that was it. Here’s the only ‘before’ pic of the tube that I could find, which I took before I began work on the fireplace several months ago.

null

And here’s the tube after I’d pulled it right out and taken it outside – as you can see, it was almost a metre long and had been inserted into the flue through solid stonework.

null

So after I’d taken it out, I then had to make good the hole that was left behind in the side of the fireplace. I decided that I wouldn’t cheat and just make good the outside end that you could see but to make it solid again right through from end-to-end. That way I knew that I wouldn’t have any problems in the future with old stonework collapsing or whatever inside the fireplace, where it would then be difficult to get to. I used ordinary sand and cement mortar for the job and lumps of stone that matched the fireplace stonework that I just picked up around my garden. The main problem I had was having to work in a confined space and some mortar fell out of each end, into the flue (and thence onto the chimney sealing plate, which I’ll soon be having to remove) and onto the floor, but I was eventually successful in finishing the job off to my satisfaction. Here’s a pic showing how it ended up at the room end (chimney end not accessible!)

null

I used yellow sand and ordinary cement, which I now know will dry out to the wrong colour if used for the whole job including the pointing, so I’ve left plenty of room in the joints for me to finish off by pointing out the joints with mortar made using white cement. I might do that tomorrow, but then again, now the hole is sealed I can do that at any time. So I might take a drive over to Leroy Merlin where I got my kitchen worktops from, who I know stock all of the equipment and fittings that I will need for installing my wood burner ie flue liners, collars and brackets, sealers etc. So I’m just about ready to get my wood burner in, after all this time, and it’s beginning to get quite exciting πŸ™‚

October 23, 2013

Wa-hey!

Just a quick post this morning to say that we had a bit of a thunderstorm last night with quite heavy rain at one point. And for the first time since I’ve lived here in my house in France, the rain didn’t come dripping down my chimney.

Result πŸ˜€

October 22, 2013

A small consolation?

Curses, I knew that it had to happen. After I’d finished fitting the new carburettor rubbers on Sunday, I topped up 56NE’s tanks ready for an anticipated flight the following day, because at the time the forecast said that the weather would be similar. I was actually tempted to go late-ish on Sunday afternoon but after chatting for twenty minutes or so with Christian, I thought I ought to head for home, get Toddie’s dinner ready, stuff like that. At the time, I suspected I might regret not going, and in the event my fears were proven correct.

Although it was a warm day yesterday, the vis just didn’t pick up and it stayed hazy all day. Not too hazy to fly, but where’s the enjoyment if you want to go off into a new area, as I did, and take photographs? So I stayed grounded, hoping that things would improve today. But they haven’t. The weather chart indicates that we’re slap bang in the middle between a high of 1024 hP over central/eastern Europe and a low of 982 hP out in the central Atlantic, beyond the Bay of Biscay, and it’s the high that’s having the most influence, plunging us into a sort of anti-cyclonic gloom that’s changing only very slowly. So although the forecast is for air pressure to increase, with some unstable conditions (even thunderstorms in some forecasts) likely over the next couple of days, it looks as though I’ll be staying grounded for a little while longer.

There was a small consolation, however, yesterday evening. I glanced out of my lounge window and this is what I saw.

null

I thought that the sky had the look of an oil painting about it, so immediately nipped onto my neighbour’s property behind my house to take a few more shots, of which the following are a couple.

null

null

It was a real Old World, French sunset which I thought was very beautiful and well-worth spending some time admiring. While I did so, standing just beyond the southern-facing end of my house as the dusk began to fall, I was joined by a little Pipistrelle bat that kept swooping around and past me, sometimes only a foot or so from my head, as it flew in search of its evening meal. No worries about hazy vis there, then, and after a few minutes chatting to a couple of my French neighbours, Toddie and I decided to head indoors and see what we could make of the evening πŸ˜‰

October 19, 2013

Yer ‘tiz

As they’d say in the city where I went to university. As I type this, we’ve still got a lovely balmy evening of 21 degrees Celsius, but when the day began, it didn’t look as though we could ever get up to the forecast 24 degrees that we actually did hit during the afternoon. It was warm but dull and overcast, and when I started to get the tools and materials together that I would need to do the work on my chimney stack that I had planned for today, it even began to lightly spit with rain.

I’d got some little square paving blocks from Point P which I thought would be ideal for supporting the slab on the top of the chimney. I’d started with four and then increased that to eight but when I tried to use that many, there was very little space left for the smoke to come out! So I went back to my original idea of four, and lucky I did too. It was hard enough bedding just that few straight and level in mortar on the rim of the chimney while balancing on my roof ladder and the roof ridge, without having to do twice that number! I also wanted to step them back from the edges a bit, to give the chimney that ‘French look’ and also so rainwater running off the slab would drip off its edges and not run down the corner supports washing away the mortar over time, so that would mean that the blocks wouldn’t be fully supported by the rim of the chimney. A tall order maybe, so I faced what was really only quite a small job with a certain amount of trepidation.

The little blocks came with spacer bumps on their edges that were great if you were using them as they were intended, for paving, but a bit inconvenient for what I had in mind. So to start off with, I had to mount them in my Workmate two at a time and grind each edge flat with my angle grinder. Easy enough, and the whole time I was doing it, Scratchy, my next-door neighbour’s cat, was asleep next to me in the long grass at the end of my house. Cool or what… Then I was ready to start the job up-top, in earnest.

When I put my ladder up, two old ridge tiles shifted a bit and a large lump of mortar fell out from under one of them, so I had to make a mental note to knock up sufficient mortar to re-secure those before I finished. As I mentioned above, bedding the little blocks on edge, not fully supported by the rim of the chimney and so as to give a level platform for the slab that they were going to support, was challenging to say the least. But I did the best I could and was fairly happy with the final result. Anyway, as proclaimed in the title of this post, here it is – see what you think.

null

null

null

For the time being at least, the slab is only resting on the corner supports and isn’t yet secured in any way. This is for several reasons – obviously, it will keep the rain out when the inevitable happens in the next couple of days or so, and by placing it on the blocks while the mortar connecting them to the chimney is curing, I’ve ensured that they are are as true as possible to the underside of the slab and that the mortar joints will be better than if they’d been left with no pressure on them at all. However, I’ve also got something else in mind. All of the ‘damage’ to the chimney stack had been caused in the past by heat, smoke and caustic fumes rising from the fireplace below and attacking the joints between the blocks used in the construction of the chimney and, to some extent especially around the lip of the chimney, the blocks themselves. So if I could keep the ‘products of combustion’ away from the chimney itself, not only will that not continue to happen in the future, but the repairs that I’ve just done will surely last much longer than they might do otherwise. And the way to achieve that is by extending the flue pipe from my wood burner right up to the top of the chimney, as I’d originally intended, instead of just having a couple of lengths of tubing on top of the stove with the smoke etc then entering into the chimney at quite a low height. Sure, it’ll cost a bit more, but I’m coming round to the way of thinking that not to do so would be a false economy.

Having the flue pipe going right up the chimney will involve having a securing bracket right up at the top and to fit that, I’d need access to the inner rim to drill and plug it for fixings, ergo the slab can’t be permanently fixed, at least for now. And if I drill its four corners and plug each supporting block, it might be that using four large brass dome-head screws to hold it on will be the best way anyway. But whatever, I still have those options by not fixing it on for now – and I don’t think we will have winds strong enough to blow it off in the foreseeable future in any case.

Now to finish off, a couple more pics. The first shows the finished chimney, all ready for me to press on next week and install my wood burner (at last!!) The second shows what I started with yesterday. It was quite hard work, but I’m very happy with the improvement and think it was well worth all the effort πŸ˜‰

null

null

Ah yes, what else… After I’d finished the work on the chimney and cleared up, I couldn’t resist getting my new chain saw out, cutting down the other dead tree I have, and chopping it up for logs. Good fun! The tree wasn’t that big – diameter at the base around six or seven inches I’d say – but its wood was lovely, very dry and hard to cut, real quality stuff. I’m sure it’ll burn a treat. Then I thought, what the heck, before I collapse with exhaustion, get the mower out and cut the grass at the back, which was getting to the verge of being out of control again. So all in all a great day’s work! So I can take tomorrow as a rest day – might be nice to nip out to Galinat and fit my new carb rubbers that have been sitting all week on my kitchen table. Who knows, if it’s nice, might even get to fly πŸ˜€

October 18, 2013

Chim Chim Cheree…

It’s been a lovely day here today with a high of 24 degrees Celsius and clear blue skies. Not much wind either, so pretty much an ideal flying day. But I had to be single-minded! It’s highly likely that we’ll have another similar day tomorrow, but brilliant though the prospect of having two consecutive gorgeous flying days would have been, I had to stick to my original plan for installing my wood burner. In fact, two consecutive dry days is just what I need, to do the making good on my chimney and then to fit the slab I got yesterday from Point P to make it weatherproof. So that’s what I got on with today.

I faffed around a bit too much this morning and didn’t get going until after lunch, but it still left me with enough time to do what I needed to. After I’d put my ladders up and got up onto my roof, I checked out what needed to be done on my chimney. The first thing I did was remove and throw down what was left of the remaining two of the original four tiles that had once capped it off. I thought that if I did that, then I’d be committing myself to doing the job. The more I looked at what needed to be done the more I thought, ‘Dammit, there’s not that much to do, so why do a temporary job that would mean doing it all over again in the spring when I could give it a good shot today and tomorrow, that would last quite a bit longer?’ OK, pointing in the cracks and making good the chimney rim that has been eaten away by the smoke and fumes over many years may not be a permanent solution, but heck, if I do a reasonable job, it could last for four or five years at least after which the whole stack could be torn down to roof level or lower and rebuilt, possibly as part of a proper roof refurb.

So later on there I was sat astride the ridge of my roof, having clambered up there with a hammer and cold chisel, a bucket of mortar, two small trowels, a piece of ply to use as an edge to work against and my water spray jug. And by golly, as I worked was it hot, and didn’t the insects have a field day, amusing themselves at my expense. It started off with dozens of little wood wasps that were having a day out on the warm roof and then thought it would be good fun to start dive-bombing me. They were soon joined by flies, ladybirds and all kinds of little flying beetly things who thought that they’d get in on the action too. So there I was on my roof with arms flailing around me like a man possessed while I tried to complete the job.

I managed to despite everything, and here are a few pics of how it turned out. From the ground you can see how I’ve pointed in the two main cracks and the largest of the gaps in the joints between the blocks used in the construction of the chimney.

null

null

Only when you get up-top can you see how much more I’ve done, to make the rim good and level so I can mount the capping slab on its blocks and to replace rendering that has been completely weathered away over the years.

null

null

null

I used the yellow sand I had with white cement but I think that the repairs I’ve done will end up looking a bit too light against the existing old rendering. That isn’t just because what’s there is old – builders down here use a special external finish that naturally has a pinkish-orange colour to it, and that’s what’s been used on my chimney stack I think. If necessary, when I’ve finished, I’ll get around the colour difference by slapping on a bit of exterior paint of the right sort of colour.

So that’s it for today. I have to say, it’s left me feeling very tired so if I’m going to do a good job with fitting the slab on the top of my chimney stack tomorrow, I think I might just go off for a sit-down and, er… to rest my eyes for a few minutes πŸ˜‰

October 17, 2013

A super lady

In France, in this part anyway, most, if not all, of the chimneys open directly to the sky. This means that when it rains, water would usually just go straight in and find itself eventually in the fireplace at the bottom if it rains long and hard enough. To prevent this happening, the chimneys have either a stone slab placed on their tops mounted on blocks with gaps in, so the smoke can get out, or tiles in a tent-like shape, as you can see are fitted on my neighbour’s house in the first pic of my previous post. My chimney had tiles too, but they were blown away at some time by high winds, allowing the rain to get in, and for some time too by the look of the marks on the back and sides of my ‘cheminΓ©e’. I was originally going to get someone to sort the problem out last autumn by capping my chimney and doing some other work on the ridge of the roof, but after saying that they would, they never came back to do the work. So I’ve managed in the meantime by having old tins and plastic containers on the horizontal surface of the new fireplace I made to take my ‘poΓͺle Γ  bois’ to catch any rainwater coming down until such time as I could sort the problem out myself at the same time as installing my wood burner.

That moment came closer with the arrival of my new roof ladder at the beginning of this week, which allowed me to get up onto the roof for preliminary investigations. I now know that so long as I fit a temporary chimney cap that’s heavy enough not to be blown away by winter winds, I can go ahead at full speed and install my wood burner, which will make so much difference this winter compared to last. I’ve decided to ditch the idea of tiles and go for a nice solid stone slab and so I’ve been going to various places to see if I can find a suitable one. I started by going yesterday to Point P, the local builders’ merchants in Montignac where the lady who originally got my floor tiles for me has always been so helpful. There were a few slabs of the right dimensions (60 x 40 cm) from various suppliers but I thought I’d continue looking before making a final decision, so I then went to Brico Depot in Perigueux. That was a waste of time as they had nothing of the correct dimensions, so today I made a visit to PΓ©rigord Noir Bricolage to see what they had to offer. Again, the answer was nothing, so I decided to stop wasting time and go back to Point P.

My lady was there behind her desk in the showroom as usual and I explained to her what I was wanting to do. She came outside to view the samples I’d seen but explained that regrettably it isn’t possible to supply a single piece of such items, which are usually purchased in quantity, of course, to pave over fairly large areas. I said that no worry, I could make my own (with some light concrete and a wooden mould) but that it would have been so much easier if I could have just got my hands on a single slab.

She told me to wait a moment while she got her ‘jaunes’ (yellow hi viz jacket) so we could go into the yard, and as we walked together down one side she exclaimed ‘VoilΓ !’ There was a single slab of the right dimensions and colour lying with some other bits and pieces on a small pile of pallets and she told me I could have it if it was suitable. Naturally, I was delighted! As we walked back towards the office, she told me that she couldn’t charge for it and when I said that that wasn’t necessary, she assured me that it would be ‘un petit cadeau’ (a small gift). I said that I also needed a few small blocks to mount it on, so ended up with initially four, but finally eight small paving blocks that I thought would do the job. So then we went back into the office to total things up. As she said before, the slab was free but that she’d have to charge for the blocks, and the total sum owed came to 2.93€!

What a super lady and she gave me the loveliest smile as she took my cash. I told her, in French of course, that I’d have to add her to my Christmas card list, and she said that she’d prefer a box of chocolates. Ladies are the same everywhere, aren’t they πŸ™‚

Here are a couple of pics of what I got to make my chimney cap out of – all for 2.93€ and all thanks to the super lady at Point P builders’ merchants.

null

null

OK, so now where do I get a box of chocolates from? πŸ˜‰

October 15, 2013

When this old world…

You know what comes next… and where do you go? Up on the roof, of course. Well, the world’s not getting me down – far from it – but that’s where I went early this afternoon. I put it off all morning because the weather forecast was for ‘inescapable’ rain, but I waited and waited and nothing happened. So then I got my ladders out and, yup, you’ve guessed, it began to spit. I gave it a few minutes and the sun continued to weakly show its face through the thin high cloud. So I thought, ‘to heck with it’ and decided to put my climbing boots on, as I needed to take the measurements of the top of my chimney stack so I can make some sort of weather-proof cap for it. I also wanted to look down it with a torch so I could see what sort of tubage had been inserted by the previous resident, who as I’ve mentioned on previous occasions, had a free-standing ‘poele a bois’ on the floor next to the fireplace with its flue connected into the chimney from the side through a tube inserted into the stonework.

I managed to do both of those things and while I was at it, give the blockwork and rendering a closer inspection. The condition of both is not critical, but not that good. I think that I’ll be able to get away with just hacking bits of rendering off where it’s cracked, re-pointing the joints between the blocks and patching the rendering to make it good again. I’m pretty certain that that will be enough as although the blockwork is ‘live’ ie not solid, it’s not about to fall down. The only problem is, will I be able to do it (a) before I install my wood-burner and (b) before the winter? After mulling it over for a day or so, I think that I will end up having to make a temporary cap for the chimney, install the wood-burner and then return to the chimney stack problems in the spring when the weather improves again. That way I know that I’ll at least have the heat in the house that I’ll need during the winter.

This conclusion is further reinforced after looking down the chimney with my torch. After looking at ‘how to’ videos on the internet, my original intention was to insert a tube from the wood-burner flue in my fireplace right up to the top of the chimney, which would have meant fitting a securing bracket at the top and, most likely, a permanent cap. However, Wim said that this wasn’t necessary – all that I needed to do was place a couple of lengths of tubing on the top of the wood-burner to get the smoke well up into the chimney of the house and updraughts would do the rest.

After looking to see how it was done previously, I now think he’s right. The light of my torch showed that all the previous resident of my house did was shove a short length of tubing into the side of the chimney without having any up-turn at all, so at the end of the day the chimney was just being used in its original function. So that gives me the option of placing a (heavy) temporary cap on the top of the chimney, running a few lengths of tubing up the chimney from the bottom and installing my wood-burner with its flue connected to them. And that’s what I’ve now decided to do. The top of my chimney measures 60 x 40 cm so I need to make some kind of cap (probably out of light concrete with a bit of reinforcing added) just a bit bigger than that, with a block on each corner to raise it off the chimney itself so the smoke can escape. Now I just need to get cracking on it.

While I was aloft, this time I took a few pictures, and here they are. The first one is looking west over my neighbour’s house behind mine, in the direction of Rouffignac.

null

The next one, below, is looking in a southerly direction towards Plazac, which can’t be seen as it’s in the valley some way beyond the hill, and Fleurac, where Wim has his airfield.

null

And finally, this shot is taken looking north towards my neighbour Jean-Claude’s house

null

And here’s something with which to finish off. I thought I’d check out the lyrics of ‘Up On The Roof’, which is a Goffin/King song that I’ve always liked but haven’t listened to for some time. I found the following link, which has a video in it of a performance by James Taylor at what I think was a concert attended by relatives of firemen and policemen who were victims of the events of 9/11. I found it very touching and I hope that readers enjoy it too.

Fire and Rain & Up On The Roof

October 14, 2013

It’s all happening!

Isn’t it strange how when you’ve been waiting for several things to come together, they all do so at the same time! I decided that now I’m flying regularly again, it was time for me to upgrade my trusty little old Pentax Optio digital camera. It’s served me well for several years and is still working as well as it ever did even though it’s been bashed around, sat upon and goodness knows what. But with a resolution of only 7 Megapixels, it’s now some way behind the curve, for most smart phones let alone the current batch of small automatic cameras that are now available.

After searching around, I took the decision to replace it with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-SZ3. I like the specs of this little camera – 16.1 Megapixels resolution, 10x zoom that extends to 20x with the on-board electronic jiggery-pokery (that’s the technical term for it, by the way) and what is reputed to be one of the best image stabilising systems around, are what sold it for me. The last feature will hopefully help to transform my airborne shots compared to what I’ve been capable of up to know. Here’s a picture of it taken from Panasonic’s own web site.

null

I got it from Ebay UK and after being sent on to me, it arrived on Friday. I’ve done a few shots to test it out, no flying ones yet of course, because of the weather, and the initial results look very promising, so I can’t wait to get it up into the air.

With my wood burner hopefully soon to be installed, I need to turn my thoughts to how I’ll fuel it. I’ve been collecting suitable wood in a piecemeal way but I’ll have to start doing what everyone else does, which is buying it in in quantity, and that means that a chainsaw will be an essential item to have. Although my stove will take 50cm long logs, they are usually delivered in lengths longer than that and so will need cutting down, plus you always need smaller lengths anyway, to bank the fire up and to start it, of course. To cut a long story short, Brico Depot recently announced a special offer – a chainsaw with a 45.4cc 2-stroke engine, ‘Oregon’ blade and guard with a 42cm cut and a 2-year warranty, all for only 69.90€. The way I look at it, even if it only lasts for just a bit longer than the warranty period, it has to be a good buy compared to the ‘big-name-brands’ that start at around 3 times the price with shorter length cut, so I picked one up at the end of last week.

Like everything you buy nowadays, there was a certain amount of self-assembly necessary (OK, just fitting the guard and chain, actually, so no big deal I suppose) but then it just had to sit there with me unable to test it out as the rain fell down outside. For a couple of days – until yesterday. Then it stopped just long enough for me to go into my back garden and cut up an old fallen tree that up to now I’d had no idea what to do with. Well, what was originally a pain in the backside was soon turned into a useful resource – a nice little pile of chopped logs all ready to go onto my wood burner when the time comes. Before I’d finished, the rain started up again and I ended up getting drenched while I grabbed one of MYRO’s old covers to put over the pile to keep it dry, but it was worth it. I’ve never before either owned or even operated a chain saw, but I was amazed what a dream it was to use. It made mincemeat (or more accurately, logs…) of that tree in no time at all, and was out of sight compared to doing the job by hand. So I think my new ‘tronΓ§oneuse’ will turn out to be a good buy and a useful asset in the future. I doubt that I’ll be exactly over-working it as I’ll only be chopping logs and taking off the odd tree branch, so I doubt that it will fall to bits in the next two years, hope not anyway. After I’d finished, I found that the chain had slackened off a bit, but it only took a few moments to tension it up again today, so it’ll be interesting to see if it stretches again the next time I use it. ‘Oregon’ isn’t the top brand in the world by far, but it’s pretty well known so I hope that the chain and guard will give some reasonable service. Here are a few pics that I took of the saw this morning with my new Lumix camera after I’d re-tensioned the chain.

null

null

null

null

But hey, that’s not the end of it! Just after lunch today, the phone rang and it was a delivery driver asking for directions to my house. I knew immediately that it had to be my new ‘echelle de toit’, my roof ladder. Glory glory, so not another ‘microwave’ incident after all – they really did need two weeks to deliver it, according to the attached label (despatched on 2nd October). I can only surmise that they’d looked for the most economical form of shipment, and presumably if they’d found a bloke on a bike who’d have done it for less, I’d still be waiting. But no matter, it’s here at last. Here it is on my lawn with the ‘accrochement’ attachment that allows it to hang from the roof ridge next to it.

null

null

It took me half an hour or so to attach the ‘accrochement’ which fortunately was of exactly the correct dimensions, and then I was able to put it up onto the roof and try it out. To give you some idea of the scale, the ladder is 5.85 metres long.

null

And then, yes, I did nip up it to give it a go. OK, I did have some minor reservations to start off with as I’ve not done that kind of thing for a few years (ahem… quite a few actually) but in no time at all I was giving my chimney a close inspection for the first time. While I was doing so the sky was already beginning to cloud over again, so no time for any pictures, but I did manage to move what remains of the broken capping tiles in the hope of stopping the rain coming down my chimney. Then it was time to get down quickly and move the ladder under the eaves of the house to stop it getting (too) wet – there’s nowhere I have that’s completely under-cover that will take it. The rain is only falling quite lightly at the moment, but it’ll be nice if, when it does start up more heavily again, I don’t have it coming down my chimney any more until I can do the job properly. I’ll just have to wait and see – and now I think that after all today’s activities, I deserve another cup of tea. Or maybe something a little bit stronger as the sun, if it was out, would by now be well over the yard-arm πŸ˜‰

October 12, 2013

Beyond a joke

My roof ladder still hasn’t arrived – it will be two weeks this coming Monday – and I’m beginning to fear that this will develop into another ‘microwave’ incident with the supplier taking my money, it never turning up and me the having to battle to get my money back. I’ve already had the ‘smooth words’ in response to a message from me assuring me that it takes a long time to deliver a large object like a ladder across France, but I’m not convinced. Fortunately I used Amazon to process the order so hopefully it shouldn’t be too hard to get a refund.

I’m appalled that it should be such a tricky and uncertain business buying stuff on line and knowing that it will be delivered in a timely way in France. It seems positively medieval that the only way that you can guarantee getting your goods is to go to the shop and pick them up yourself and in my view it goes a long way to explaining why the French economy is in the state that it is. It would appear that on line merchants here can’t really be trusted, which comes as a shock to someone coming from the UK who is used to routinely buying almost anything and everything on line.

And what is really annoying is that having been let down once again, my plans have been put into total disarray. The weather was perfect this past week for me to have climbed up onto my roof and fitted a new rain-proof cap to my chimney and it would have only taken another day or so to have put my wood burner in place. As it is, as I write this we’ve entered a cold snap and the house is almost as cold as it became by the end of last winter. And still I have no heating apart from a small fan heater, which I’ve got running to warm the place up a bit, and the electric wall heaters that I fitted that are effectively unusable for any length of time because of their running cost. I’d been warned that they would be expensive, but it came as a massive shock when I got an electricity bill of over 700€ after last winter, mainly due to running the electric wall heaters, which were not that efficient in warming the place up either.

So you can see why I need to get the wood burner installed. But before doing so I have to cap the chimney and to do that I need the roof ladder. Last year I was let down by a contractor who said he would do the roof work for me and then disappeared off the face of the earth, it being made worse by the fact that he was a fairly close neighbour. That was why I left it too long before it became too late to have the work done and I must prevent the same thing happening again. I now have to decide how to tackle the problem which, as the rain steadily drips down my chimney as I type this, is really now way beyond a joke, let me tell you 😑

October 7, 2013

Marking time for a few days

I don’t want to push my luck by flying since I found that my carburettor inlet rubbers are a bit perished, and as I’m still waiting for a new pair that I ordered from JBM Industries in the US on 29th September to arrive, I’m effectively grounded. We’ve had a few stormy days (and nights) in the meantime while the X-Air has been tied down at Galinat, but on the way back from the supermarket the other day, I dropped in and checked to make sure that everything was OK and was reassured by how effectively 56NE’s new outdoor covers are performing.

I’ve also been marking time in the house. On the same day that I ordered the carburettor rubbers, I also ordered a roof ladder and the attachment that lets you suspend it from the pitch of the roof, so you can climb up it without it sliding down. I used two different French suppliers for the items and to give credit to the one from whom I purchased the hook attachment, that arrived after three or four days. Even so, considering that it only had to come from Bordeaux and that they had charged a massive 40€ for delivery, I was hardly impressed. I am still waiting, a week later, for the roof ladder to be delivered. I don’t know what it is about French businesses. The French are lovely people but for them, customer service is a totally alien concept. Once they have taken your money, they think that their actually supplying the product that you’ve purchased is a bit of an inconvenience and that you should think yourself lucky to receive it a week or so after handing over your cash. From my experience having run my own small business, they are so out of touch with the modern internet age. In the UK, two or three days delivery for items held in stock is the norm. I routinely buy items from UK Ebay because for one, the same item, if it’s available in France, is almost always more expensive, and for another, I can invariably get it delivered to my home more quickly from the UK.

Here’s another example from the last few days. My car insurance expired at the end of September and as the quote I’d received from my existing provider was much too high (after a claim-free year, I’d expected it to go down but in fact it increased by over 20%!) I decided I’d look around for an alternative provider. Ignore the fact that legally you have to give your existing provider at least 20 days notice of termination, otherwise like it or not you are stuck with them – what a weird idea, so ‘quaintly administrative’ and so French. So where do I look? On the internet, naturally. I find a provider who appears to be offering what I’m looking for at a much reduced price compared to my existing one’s quotation. After a tortuous on-line process of clicking buttons, making a wealth of multi-choices and agreeing to conditions, I expect finally to end up on the last page of the system with a button labelled ‘click to buy’, or something like that. No. I get a button saying ‘click to receive a call from our customer service agent’, which I do and eventually give up on after waiting for an hour or so beside a stubbornly silent telephone πŸ™

So I then have another go, find another on-line provider and repeat the whole process all over again, only to find on this occasion that I end up with no button at all and instead a request to now ‘call their customer service department’ on a toll-free number to complete the purchase.

I’m gullible, so I do. I get the usual cheery music and a hearty voice telling me how much they appreciate my call and that I will be dealt with in … four minutes. So I wait and after a while I get the same hearty voice again, reiterating their appreciation and telling me that I’ll be dealt with in … six minutes! OK, I’m not paying, so I decide to hang on. When the voice next comes on and tells me that I’ll be dealt with in … eight minutes, I decide that life is too short and hang up. On Youtube, it’s what’s called ‘a FAIL’ πŸ˜•

Third time lucky, this time I find a provider who does the whole thing seamlessly on-line and even gives you a choice of payment profiles, single, quarterly or monthly, and although this is absolutely the norm and how it’s routinely done in the UK, for some reason I end up feeling grateful, even though the list of paperwork that they say I must send by mail is as long as your arm. Unfortunately they rather spoilt it by calling me up early the next morning just as I was getting out of bed and rattling off a whole stream of questions to me in French that, understandably, I found hard to follow. So they told me that I must therefore go to an agent. Naturally, as the reason for completing the tortuous process on-line was precisely because I didn’t want to go to an agent, I told them what they could do with such a request. I subsequently sent all the papers off that they requested and have received confirmation of interim cover, so I’m holding my breath to find out what the next phase of the process will be 😯

STOP PRESS: La Poste just came while I was writing this. I’ve been out to collect the delivery from my post box and it turns out to be my carburettor rubbers from the USA. Good lord, it’s taken less time for a parcel to be delivered to my home from the USA than for my roof ladder to be sent a few kilometres across France. Doesn’t it just go to show what I’ve been saying 😐

Where was I? Oh yes, so what exactly have I been doing during these past days of enforced idleness? Not fixing my lawnmower – again – that’s for sure, which is something I need to do before my grass overwhelms me again. Nope, I’ve been turning my hand back to something that I used to do several years ago, but have since lost the skills and know-how for, namely flight simulator scenery design. I won’t go into it in too much detail, but anyone who runs flight simulator software on their PC knows that it comes with ‘default’ scenery consisting of airports and airfields with buildings and features on that resemble, but are not actually close copies of, their real-life counterparts. Indeed, many smaller airports and airfields are not even included, and to ‘improve’ the default ones and add the ones that are missing, it’s up to independent designers to create the sceneries and upload them to web sites where flight simulator enthusiasts can go to download them.

This is something I used to turn my hand to, and the first couple of videos in the My Trike video gallery were recorded at flight simulator locations I made the sceneries for. With the winter approaching and with the desire not to just be slumped in front of the TV during the long evenings to come, I had a hankering to use the time more productively, by getting back to scenery design. It was sparked when I had the idea to make local ‘sceneries’ for Galinat, where I keep 56NE, and Cavarc, where I went to get my French brevet. I carried out some experimental work, which was successful, but I knew that I needed to brush up on my skills before I tried to go any further, as I would need to create detailed models of the buildings etc at the locations to give them a more ‘realistic’ feel. So in order to do so, I thought I’d see if I could make a model of my house, which over the past few days, I’ve now done. See what you think of the results.

null

null

null

I think I’m just about back where I used to be with levels of skills and know-how similar to what I used to have. So I’m now ready to press on with my new Galinat and Cavarc sceneries and I’ll have to see how I get on. I’ll maybe post some updates on progress from time to time.

We’ve got a lovely day here today – almost pure blue sky, very little, if any, wind and a temperature of just over 21 degrees Celsius. An almost perfect flying day and I wish that now I’ve got them, I could nip across to Galinat, fit my new carburettor rubbers and get airborne. But I can’t because I’m still waiting for my roof ladder to arrive … 😐

Back at 6.30 pm to say that I’m really annoyed – the ladder didn’t arrive so I could have fitted the new carburettor rubbers and had a flight on what has been the best day for more than a week. It’s too late now because of the time it would take to remove 56NE’s covers and fit the rubbers, and I guess I’ll now waste another day too waiting for the ladder to be delivered tomorrow 😑