March 31, 2014

Très chic!

I’ve been having some fun the last couple of days messing around with the old furniture that I bought the other day. What I’ve been up to I’ve had in mind ever since I bought the last lot, which I’ve now got in my bedroom. It’s unashamed reproduction, but I like it and its style goes well in my house because of the amount of exposed wood that there is; ceiling beams throughout the downstairs and large, solid roof trusses in the bedrooms. Here’s a shot of the ‘armoire’ and the smaller of the two ‘commodes’ to give an idea of what I’m talking about.

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It may not actually be that old, but it looks the part and comes with none of the problems that you can get with old French wooden furniture. That’s not to say that it all comes with problems, but a lot of it does, with bits broken off or missing or some other kind of damage. There is quite a lot of really beautiful old stuff around, although some of the prices are just plain silly (in the thousands of euros!), but you can still pick up a lot of bargains. I’ve seen some beautiful 3-door wardrobes with matching ‘commodes’ at very reasonable prices, but there’s just one problem. I couldn’t get them up my stairs, and even if the ‘armoire’ was ‘démontable’ so I could take it up in bits, my bedrooms are just too small to take one with three doors.

So I’ve been scouring the ads for a 2-door ‘armoire’ together with a matching ‘commode’, but I also wanted them to come at the right price (ie cheap!). The reason was that I wanted to see if I could make them look like the stuff I bought previously ie a bit older than its years! And that’s just what I found last week and drove north to Niort in the Deux Sèvres, to pick up. After leaving home at about 11.15 am, I got back home again at around 8.00 pm, just after it had got dark, so I left the wardrobe on my trailer overnight and Wim and I unloaded it and the chest of drawers on Saturday.

After umming-and-ahhing to myself about how I would go about the ‘ageing’ process, I actually jumped in with both feet and got going yesterday. I’ll say at the outset, that I’m not a great fan of ‘shabby chic’, or at least that branch of it in which items are painted and then attacked with sandpaper to make bare wood and undercoat appear in various places, to give them a worn appearance. I just don’t find it appealing to the eye. That’s not to say that the effect that I’m trying to emulate isn’t ‘shabby chic’ because it is, by definition. ‘Shabby chic’ is to a great extent, all about making the ‘new’ appear ‘old’ and that, of course, is exactly what I’m trying to do here.

I’ve now finished with the chest of drawers all bar giving it a coat of satin varnish to seal in the effect that I’ve achieved. I’ve also ordered some vintage style, hanging-ring handles from China via Ebay which will eventually replace the knobs that I’ve removed and thrown away, and here are a couple of pics of the job so far.

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As with the first shot, I used only ambient light to make it easier to compare my results with the original furniture that I bought. I’m very pleased with the job so far and I think that I’m well on the way to turning a rather undistinguished pine chest of drawers into something a little bit different. I’m looking forward to giving it its coat of varnish tomorrow and that should give a much better indication of whether I’ve managed to achieve my aim, or not. Chic? Well, I don’t know. People will have to make up their own minds 😉

March 27, 2014

I don’t believe it…

Yep, it’s another one of those Victor Meldrew moments…

My little ‘Ramoneur’s’ kit just isn’t up to the job. I pop riveted the joint pieces to the ends of the rods so they can’t separate and then made a metal disc from an off-cut left over from when I made my chimney sealing plate, to go on the end of one. I thought that if I pushed that down the flue from the top, adding rods as I went, that would eventually meet the stuck brush and push it back down again. Easy. But I couldn’t believe what actually happened yesterday when I did it 😐

When I pushed it down from the top it eventually hit something hard – very hard. OK I thought, if I just did the same from the bottom, whatever it was, which stopped the brush in the first place, would surely be dislodged allowing it and the stuck rod with the brush on its end, to be pushed up to the top. Not so. It was like hitting a rock. It just wouldn’t budge. I have no idea what can possibly have got into the flue and blocked it like it has, but it explains why my stove hasn’t been working properly. Looking down from the top, although there’s clinker on the sides, it’s not thick enough I wouldn’t have thought to have caused a total blockage. Also, I’ve taken the flue right up to only 10cm or so below the capping slab that I put on the top of the chimney so access in from the top is quite limited. So at the moment I’m flummoxed.

Nothing for it, I put the flue in myself and now I’ll have to take it out again. I took out my chimney sealing plate yesterday without making too much mess and now I’ve just got to lift the flue off the top of the wood burner and bring it down in sections the way I did before. Then when it’s on the ground outside I’ll be able to deal with the problem, whatever it is. It’s a ruddy nuisance because I hate having to re-do jobs that I’ve done once already but there’s no choice. Someone suggested getting a local sweep in, but I think that would be more hassle than doing it myself – and I’d just be paying someone else to do what I can do myself. But it’s just so annoying 😡

Tomorrow I’m heading up north into the Deux Sèvres to pick up some more old furniture for my spare bedroom that I spotted on Le Bon Coin, so it’ll probably be at least Sunday or maybe even next week before I can take the flue out. But I’ll have to get to the bottom of it. As we say in France, ‘Merde, c’est chiant!’ – look it up, it’s both slang and a bit rude 😉

March 24, 2014

Sitting duck!

Funny, isn’t it, how we often line ourselves up to be easy targets for life to give us a good kick up the backside. I do, anyway, and it happened again today. And the cause of it was that old enemy, procrastination, that has caught me out so many times in the past.

I haven’t tried to use my wood burner ever since I had the problems about two weeks ago with smoke coming out of the air inlets. It hasn’t been much of a hardship because we’ve been enjoying some pleasantly warm days, and during the evenings when the temperature has dropped a bit, I’ve been making do with my little fan heater. Trouble is, though, that we’ve suddenly entered a bit of a cold snap. The same thing happened this time last year and although the forecast is for the temperature to start getting back into the 20’s Celsius in a week or so’s time, in the meantime the temperature is going to stay low and the wood burner will be more or less essential.

I haven’t sat on my hands and done nothing, though, in the meantime. The signs are that my flue is blocked by ash and clinker, which I need to clear out before I attempt to light the stove again. I came across a handy little chimney-sweep’s kit while perusing the weekly wad of ‘promos’ that arrive in my post box every Monday, which I ordered and which has been standing leaning against the wall in my kitchen waiting for me to make use of it. The trouble was that I wanted to do it from the top down, as if I shoved the brush upwards, I’d have needed to remove my capping slab anyway so as not to knock it off when the brush emerged from the top of my chimney, potentially causing damage to my roof. Also, a ‘top-down’ approach would have allowed me to wrap the stove in an old dust-sheet, thereby preventing any soot and clinker that was dislodged from being able to enter the room. The trouble was, though, that I just hadn’t got around to doing it 🙁

I’ve started every day with a firm resolve that ‘today will be the day to go up onto the roof’. But something else a bit more appealing always seemed to crop up, which was fine all the time it looked as though the weather was on a ‘warming up’ curve. But today things came to a head, with a forecast of chilly days for the next week or so and with rain too, starting later on today. So I knew that I had to get cracking while I had a final opportunity to do so while it was dry, but still I was distracted by ‘this’, then by ‘that’ and then it was lunch time. And afterwards I had to make a pot of tea and check my emails and then, of course, catch up with the news. Oh, and don’t forget the ‘small ads’, just in case there’s the odd bargain or two to be had that might come in handy. And then, goodness, look at the time. It’s gone 4 o’ clock, soon be time to think about this evening’s dinner…

But wait a minute! The forecast said that it would start raining this evening, so now I REALLY DID need to make the effort. So I did just that and got my working togs on to go up onto the roof, and went outside. It had already started raining, so I was too late. By procrastinating, I’d missed my opportunity, and it wouldn’t come again for a while. So what to do? I refused to be beaten (even though the circumstances were wholly my own fault) and resolved to at least do something and try carefully pushing my sweep’s brush upwards from the bottom, taking extreme care not to push too many rods up, causing the brush to pop out at the top. So that’s what I did, never realising where my laziness in not starting when I should have was leading me.

I pushed the brush into the flue inside the roof of my wood burner and shoved the first metre of rod up, moving it up and down in the process. I was gratified to see a large amount of clinker and ash fall down into the grate and, pleasingly, very little soot. So having got the first length of rod in, I attached a second and repeated the process. It got a bit stiffer and yet more clinker and ash fell down. So I attached another and repeated the process yet again. Then … everything went smooth and quiet. I withdrew the rods that I’d shoved up unscrewing them as I did so, and found out the reason why. The connector into which I’d screwed the second rod had pulled out of the end of the first one leaving it and the brush on its top up inside the flue.

I’ve asked myself many times why it was that the Western World should have decided to shut down much of its manufacturing, making millions of its workers redundant in the process, so it could buy in container loads of badly designed, poorly manufactured rubbish that doesn’t work, from China. And I did so yet again today, but those weren’t the words that I actually used when I found out what had happened. OK, it won’t be a disaster, but now I will have to go up onto the roof and shove something down my wood burner flue from the top – not to clean it, but to get my chimney sweep’s brush out again. When will I be able to do that? Heaven knows, if it rains as frequently as the weather forecast has said it will.

Would things have turned out differently if I hadn’t wasted my time and climbed onto my roof when I should have done? I think they might have, because the main pressure on the joints between the rods would have been pushing, downwards, in the direction that the clinker and ash would have been falling. But I’ll probably never know, as I’ll probably have to modify the rods before I use them again and securely attach the end connectors, by eg small pop rivets. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not kicking myself for procrastinating for so long. Have I learnt my lesson? Maybe … 😉

March 17, 2014

Even better than I’d hoped!

Well, we got our high of 22 degrees Celsius later in the afternoon as had been forecast. When I looked out of my window this morning, the sun still hadn’t had a chance to burn the mist off, although the vis wasn’t actually that bad, especially compared to what we’ve been used to just lately. So I decided to bide my time. I took things easy, enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, re-planned my flight to make it a bit longer than I’d originally intended and put 400 ml of 2-stroke oil into one of my empty 20 litre jerry cans. Then I went off to Intermarché to pick up some petrol and a few other things and returned home for lunch. In the meantime the vis had improved considerably, to well over 15 miles (24 kms) so when I eventually left for Galinat at about 2.20 pm, I knew that all being well, I’d be in for an excellent first flight of 2014.

I thought that I might be able to get off by 3.30 pm but it wasn’t to be. I spent longer than usual giving 56NE a thorough pre-flight check as the last time I’d flown it was on 31 December, but aside from needing to add a small quantity of water to the rad, nothing was amiss. I’d taken my little Canon camcorder with me with the aim of recording the flight but I wasted quite a bit of time trying to get yet another crappy Chinese-made camera mount to work that I bought on Ebay some months ago. Why I keep wasting time on such rubbish I do not know, the only point in their favour is that at least they are so cheap that you lose hardly any money when they end up not working. They never do seem to work, and this one was no different. When it was clamped onto a tube, the head still rotated quite freely (OK, with just a little bit of pressure) and so would have been totally useless for its intended purpose of firmly mounting any form of camera while in motion. Oh well… 😐

While I was dodging around under the wing, I also managed to bob up right into my pitot. Now 56NE’s pitot tube is nothing like the overly complex, namby-pamby arrangement that you have on X-Airs in the UK which bend and/or break as soon as you walk into them, as did the one on my friend Ken’s aircraft when the BMAA inspector did exactly that at permit time. No sir, 56NE’s one fights back, and that’s just what it did taking a nice slice out of the top of my head!

But I eventually did get off at exactly 4.00 pm and as I climbed away from Galinat, I turned left to get straight onto my planned route, which I’ve shown a pic of below.

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My general intention was to head off to the north-west in the general direction of Périgueux, which was the last sector that I still had to cover. My first heading took me to Fleurac and Wim and Sophie’s house, and Wim phoned me later to say that he’d seen me fly over. Then I planned to turn right a bit to take me towards Boulazac, which is on the eastern outskirts of Périgueux and not that far from Périgueux Bassillac airport which I did not wish to get too close to today. So I then intended to turn right towards Fossemagne, which I’ve flown over previously, and then head south to fly over my house, before returning to Galinat via the overhead of Thonac.

As I headed north, the sun was on my left and it therefore wasn’t worthwhile taking any pictures, but I enjoyed seeing places like Les Versannes below me which I now know well, as it’s on the main road that I take from Rouffignac to Périgueux. However, after I’d turned right having reached my planned northern-most limit, it was a different story, and here’s a shot I took heading east towards Fossemagne.

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With the small town of Thenon in the distance, I then turned right again to head for my house. I was quite surprised to find that I could see where it was from quite a distance away, the reason being that the farmer has just ploughed a field at the end of my road on the side of the hill and the newly turned earth was clearly visible. Here’s a shot approaching Lieu dit Le Bousquet, where I live, from the north.

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The next two pics show my and my neighbours’ houses more or less in centre frame. I circled right round before heading off to Thonac and on the second circuit, I spotted my neighbour Michel waving to me from his garden. It’s a bit different here compared to the UK, where when you fly over your and your neighbours’ houses, they come out and shake their fists at you 🙂

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I was soon back in familiar territory above Thonac, but as I’d returned quite a bit sooner than I’d anticipated, I decided that I’d fly a wide circle around the village. While doing so, I grabbed a couple of shots of the Chateau de Losse on the north bank of the river Vézère to the east of Thonac, between the village and Montignac, and here’s one of them.

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I flew my usual long final approach into Galinat starting from over Thonac, a distance of nearly 2.5 miles (4 kms). As Galinat is half-way up a hillside, there’s a pronounced dip in front of the runway threshold. As you approach it, you usually experience lift followed by sink, but today I only got lift. So I ended up just closing the throttle and sticking the nose down, and although this increased my airspeed for landing, this didn’t matter because the runway has plenty of length. As a result, I flared and floated for quite a distance, eventually touching down with a ‘greaser’ about half way along, which I was very pleased with having not flown for nearly 3 months 😀

My flight had lasted for 50 minutes. The conditions were actually better than I’d hoped for, with good vis and fairly smooth air. The next two days will probably be a bit different as we’re expecting lower temperatures, around 15/16 degrees Celsius, as a cold front passes through from the north. But I topped 56NE’s tanks up before I tied it down and put its covers on, so I’m all ready to go for the next time. It can’t come soon enough 😉

March 16, 2014

Flying tomorrow?

I’m optimistic! As soon as I woke up this morning, I could see from my bedroom window that there was mist hanging around the tops of the trees in Bejamin and Aurelie’s garden. So I wasn’t surprised when I looked out of the front of my house to find that I couldn’t even see beyond the end of the field opposite, let alone the hillside on the opposite side of the valley around 5 miles (8 kms) away. In fact, it was a dull, damp miserable morning and it looked as though there might even have been an unforecast shower of rain during the early hours from the look of the water on my car and garden furniture. We’ve been spoilt recently with temperatures as high as 21 and 22 degrees Celsius but whereas today’s forecast was for a high of only a more modest 15 or 16 degrees, it didn’t look as though even that was going to be reached from the way the day started out.

But blow me down, just as the morning was coming to an end, there was a sudden burst of bright sunlight, and when I looked out, I was surprised to see another virtually cloudless blue sky. I thought that this was quite an encouraging sign because whereas recent mornings have started out bright with a mist over the ground, they’ve stayed that way all day and the mist has hung around reducing the visibility to a level not low enough in itself to make flying unsafe but still bad enough to reduce the level of enjoyment so much as to make it not worth it. But today the sun had been enough to burn away what more or less amounted to a light fog, so maybe it might end up being able to clear it completely? Well, we did end up with our promised 16 degrees and although a tiny bit of mist did linger, it was nothing like as bad as we’ve experienced lately. I went out for a drive later on in the afternoon and the day was so nice that I took a few pics.

The first couple of shots are of views from the end of my road. As the signpost says, you turn right for Plazac and left for Thonac and Montignac (and Galinat too if you’re heading that way).

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Looking straight ahead down the track towards the chateau on the far hill, you’d usually see the TV mast at Le Bugue many miles off in the distance. No chance of that with the mist today, though, even though the visibility was much better than in recent days.

I turned left towards Thonac and then right a mile or so down the road to head for the Cote de Jord. The road there runs along the wooded ridge of the hillside and at one point there’s a short stretch with signposts in both directions with the warning ‘Parapentes’. That’s because paraglider and paramotor pilots run from a gap on one side of the road across the road itself and take off by hurling themselves off the hillside and into the valley below. They don’t then plummet down to the valley floor, of course, but instead soar skyward in the ridge lift afforded by the wind when it blows from a southerly direction. Nobody there today, though, because the airflow was northerly and presumably the lift was non-existent.

However, the view from near to where they take off from was spectacular, as the following images show.

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Galinat is not visible, but is situated over on the far hillside, and as well as taking in a sweeping loop of the Vézère river, the view also includes the villages of St Léon sur Vézère and Sergeac. My new little Panasonic camera has a ‘panorama’ setting and I’ve shown below the shot I took of the same view using it. To make the most of it, you need to click on the image to take it up to its full magnification.

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It’s dark now as I type this, but when I looked out earlier, not only could I see the hillside that has Galinat on it, at a distance of 5 miles (8 kms) but also the rock quarry near Terrasson that’s about 13 miles (22 kms) away. The latter hasn’t been visible for quite a few days because of the poor visibility but if it’s still visible tomorrow, then things will have improved quite a bit. I’m optimistic that it will be, so with a bit of luck I’ll be flying in 56NE 😉

March 14, 2014

Bathtime

I’ve just taken a bath. I can’t remember the last time I had one, but please don’t misunderstand me. I haven’t, in the meantime, allowed myself to become a greasy, festering ball of grime – at least, not so as anyone has commented on, anyway 🙂 It’s just that I’ve been taking showers instead for at least the last 15 years. I know that because my last house had just a shower, no bath, and I moved into it in 1998, since when I’ve never enjoyed the experience of lying down in a large volume of hot water. Until this evening.

My house here, like many others in France, has a bath with a mixer-type shower. The latter works very well compared to a similar one in the UK, because the water here is pumped around the system at quite high pressure, and a humble mixer shower here works better, in my view, than an electric power shower back home. So it’s always been easier and more convenient just to jump in the bath and take a shower. But darn it, this evening I felt like a bath instead.

The reason was that I’d had another quite busy day and I felt a bit achy after having been relatively inactive over the winter. While I was mowing the front lawn yesterday, with my ‘new’ mower, I hit yet another stone. This dislodged the plastic cover that encloses the ‘autotracter’ (self propelled mechanism) belt so I had to tip the mower onto its side to fix it. For some reason, during the process oil managed to spill out somehow from the sump and when I restarted it, the engine just wouldn’t run properly. So this morning, I had to strip off the carburettor, which is built into the fuel tank, and clean it out. Amazingly, after an hour or two’s work, it started immediately once I’d got it all back together and after half-an-hour’s mowing, it was actually running better than before. So after that I had to plod up and down for a couple more hours mowing the front grass. This was the second time after only a few days and I was amazed at the volume of grass that I’ve now taken off. I haven’t taken it off actually, because I left the grass box off, and the whole lawn is now covered in small heaps of grass cuttings that are about 4-5″ high!

After a quick lunch (hurray, back to salads again!) and a trip down to Montignac to post my aircraft insurance papers off and grab a few things in Intermarché, I thought that as it was still about 20 degrees Celsius when I got back, it’d be a good time to go through the house with a bucket and mop to get rid of all the sooty dust from the winter. With that done and with my evening meal out of the way, it was time to think about the night’s ablutions.

Usually as I said earlier, I’d have just jumped under a hot shower in the bath, but after today’s exertions that left me with a few achy muscles, I thought that I’d give a bit of total immersion a try. I still had some garishly coloured bath salts in my bathroom cabinet, so while the water was rushing in, I chucked a couple of measures in. The water turned blue and foamy and I confess to having second thoughts, having visions of eventually emerging from the water with a blue plimsoll line along the length of my body showing the depth of water that I’d been lying in. However, I surmised that they had probably thought of that and that the colour most likely wasn’t a permanent dye. After a few minutes waiting for the bath to fill up (OK, I’m not made of money, it was about a third full…) I gingerly stepped in and submerged like a hippo entering its favourite watering hole. Well not quite, because a hippo gets totally submerged and even if I’d not been so tight and had filled the bath to the brim with hot water, I’d never have been able to do that. Now I’m no towering giant (ahem… far from it actually), but the bath is so short that with my knees sticking up from the surface like a pair of pallid breakwaters, I could still not lie flat enough to get my head anywhere near underwater 🙂

But I made the most of it and sloshed around rolling from side-to-side like an ostrich in a giant birdbath, until I adjudged that I was clean all over. I have to confess, I’d forgotten about the delights of washing your feet lying down instead of trying to keep your balance without falling over, teetering dangerously on one foot while trying to wash the other, but I’m not sure that this was enough to swing me away from being a shower-man. I remember reading a quote from someone many years ago that compared to taking a shower, having a bath is just ‘wallowing in your own effluvia’ and although I certainly don’t feel as strongly about it as they obviously did, I suppose to a certain degree they were right. I must say though, that when I washed and rinsed my hair, feeling the hot water cascading under pressure over my head and shoulders was a more exhilarating experience for me than lying there half-submerged in a bath of warm water.

But that’s not to say that I didn’t eke as much enjoyment out of the experience as I could. I did have the obligatory fart while I was lying there 😉

March 12, 2014

Lovely day, but…

The temperature got up to 20 degrees Celsius again today but once again the visibility, especially early on, was awful. Nevertheless, after giving the grass at the back of my house a quick cut, I thought that I’d run over to Galinat and see how the airfield is progressing. There was still plenty of water running off the hill lower down as I approached but as I turned onto the lane that runs along the top edge of the airfield, I could see immediately that it looked great.

The reason was that the local farmer had just finished mowing the runway and apron and he was still there with his tractor parked over on the top corner of the field, so after I’d given 56NE a quick once over, I went over to greet him and have a chat. The people here are so friendly and it doesn’t matter if you don’t speak perfect French because they are always pleased to have a conversation with you and you always manage to communicate together OK. We agreed that the airfield surface is much firmer now and I said that I wouldn’t want to start using it just yet, but that probably it would be fine to start doing so from next week. Then we bade our ‘au revoirs’ and I began to make my way back home.

On the way I took a couple of pictures of the Chateau de Belcayre on the north side of the river Vézère, which is only clearly visible from the road at this time of year while the trees in front of it are clear of leaves.

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You can just catch a hint in the above pics, I think, of the ground-hugging haze that was once again pulling down the visibility, so still not much good for flying. When I got home again, rather than mow the front grass, I thought that I’d repair the pull start on my generator. I shouldn’t need it again for quite a while, unless we get any extended power cuts during the summer (unlikely), but I bust the pull cord several weeks ago when I was trying to give the machine a test and hadn’t up to now fitted the replacement that I bought recently at Les Briconautes. The job went well even though the recoil spring jumped out, as usual, and I had to gingerly rewind it, and the machine then started immediately after a couple of pulls. So I then just cleaned the grime off that it had collected from being stood out for the best part of a couple of years and replaced it with a cover over it under the wooden stairs up to my ‘grenier’ at the end of my house.

Tomorrow I think I’ll cut the front grass and make a start on digging out for the concrete base for my planned garden tool shelter. The forecast is for it to be a bit warmer than today, so it could be a hot one 😉

March 11, 2014

All sorted

Following on from my earlier post, in the end a taxi driven by a lady ‘chauffeuse’ came down from Thenon, a few miles to the north of where I live, to whisk me back to the garage in the Gironde to pick up my car. It was good practise for me chatting with her in French for the whole journey and we got there in under 1 3/4 hours using yet another completely different route, which I thought was pretty good going. On the way I noticed that despite thinking earlier on that it was an excellent flying day, in fact the vis was pants with high humidity and a thick layer of ground-hugging mist everywhere and I’m worried that this will become a feature as the now quite warm sunshine (21 degrees Celsius today) evaporates the considerable volume of water that the ground now contains. And when we arrived at the garage it was, of course, closed for lunch 🙂

My taxi left immediately to return to Thenon and I walked the few hundred metres up the road from the garage to the previously mentioned LeClerc supermarket to grab something for my lunch. I consumed it sitting in the sun outside the garage on some kind of electricity box and just as I finished, the proprietor returned and opened up again. After I’d handed over a cheque for just under 70€ for supplying and fitting the fan belt, we removed my car and trailer, still loaded up, from his workshop and I started the journey home. I didn’t go above 50 mph the whole way because of the load I was carrying and the drive was a pleasure worth enjoying in the warm, sunny weather.

Approaching one small village in the Gironde, I was impressed again by a notable feature of driving in this part of France which results from the more or less universal hatred of ‘les flics’ (the cops). When drivers coming in the opposite direction flash and point to one side of the road or the other, you know that ‘les flics’ are lying in wait somewhere just up the road, so if necessary you should take action accordingly. This didn’t make a lot of difference for me with the speed at which I was travelling, but even so I made sure until I’d spotted and passed the trap set by ‘les flics’ that I followed the speed limits assiduously and was especially careful to make sure that I was doing no more than 50 kmh as I passed each village sign. And sure enough, there they were, a group of four in hi-viz yellow jackets behind a large bush at the side of the road. Not that they seemed too interested in catching errant drivers, and why should they be on a day like today? Everyone was behaving themselves because they’d all been warned by the flashers going in the other direction, and I’m sure ‘les flics’ knew that. But it just gave them the chance to be outside having a laugh with their mates on a lovely spring day, so why would they want to spoil that by having to stop and check drivers? Contrast that with the attitude of the police in the UK who seem hell-bent on crawling out of every bit of woodwork to prosecute motorists for even the most minor motoring infraction. I know which I prefer 😉

I arrived home just after 4.00 pm after an uneventful drive and managed to get all of my furniture unloaded myself and into my living room, where it can stay until I get a hand to move it up into my spare bedroom. I have to say that I’m very pleased with my purchase and think that it actually looks better in my house than in Robert’s, who I bought it off. I then zipped off down to the Intermarché to get a few things which was a relief after the week-end when I had no car and had to carefully eke out things like milk so as not to run out before I could buy some more. I’d have liked to check out Galinat but I didn’t have time because some of the items I had bought were frozen, so that’s for tomorrow. If the vis looks more promising tomorrow, I’ll do that and also see about arranging the new insurance for 56NE and then I’ll be all set to get back up in the air again. And not before time is what I’m thinking.

March 11, 2014

Good, but not quite Carling…

MAAF Assistance have been very good at sorting things out since my fan belt snapped. The recovery vehicle arrived in less than an hour and after my vehicle had been dropped off for repair at the garage in Saint Magne de Castillon, they arranged a taxi to drive me all the way back to Plazac at ridiculous cost. But that’s the way they do it as an alternative to providing road-side repair assistance as the RAC and AA do in the UK.

I received a call from the garage this morning at about 9.15 am telling me that my car was ready and that I should now phone MAAF Assistance myself with my ‘numero de dossier’ to arrange a taxi to get me back there to pick it up. So far, so good and the young lady at the other end of the phone when I did so was very jolly and kind. Shortly afterwards, I received a SMS on my mobile saying that the taxi would be with me in about 15 minutes and just after that, the phone rang. It was the taxi driver asking as usual, how to find my house. We had a bit of difficulty pin-pointing any local landmarks so eventually I asked him exactly where he was. ‘Opposite LeClerc’, was the reply. The only LeClerc supermarket in this area is near Perigueux, so I asked him which town he was in. ‘Saint Magne de Castillon’, was the reply 🙂

Oh dear, it’d be a long 15 minutes from there – more like 2 hours. Unfortunately, MAAF Assistance had booked a taxi at the wrong end! OK, not much difference for the taxi driver, but a big difference for me. But to give them their due, I’ve just received another call from them. It appears that the original taxi driver went back to them and told them what he’d found out and I’m now expecting a local taxi to arrive in about 20 minutes time. That’s a bit more like it, so well done MAAF Assistance 😉

March 9, 2014

Driven to distraction

My wood burner is driving me crazy. In fact I’m now beginning to thoroughly dislike it. I know that a big part of the problem is the wood that I’ve been burning, but I’ve reached the stage when I now approach every evening with a sense of foreboding. It has a ‘stay clean’ glass door that is taking me 30-40 minutes to clean every day, a job that I now detest doing, and that’s not the worst of it. It’s filling my house with smoke every time I use it and not only does the place now smell strongly of soot whenever you come back in after going outside for any length of time, but everything in the house also has a thin film of the stuff covering it. The floors in particular are impossible to keep clean and whereas I originally looked forward to having a wood burner burning brightly and throwing out its heat during the winter evenings, the reality has become an ongoing nightmare.

I noticed several weeks ago that shortly after I’d got the stove going, a small amount of smoke was being emitted from the top air inlet slots. However, it seemed to stop after a short while, but as time has progressed, the problem appears to have got worse. I also began to notice that the atmosphere in my living room seemed to become increasingly more ‘smoky’, although I put that down to the fact that whenever I opened up the stove door to add more wood to it, smoke gushed out of it into the room. Since then things have got progressively worse, culminating in last night’s experience when I had to open doors and windows to clear the smoke from my room without ever getting the stove up to temperature and working properly. Here are a couple of shots that I took last night just after I’d lit it that show what’s happening.

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I always start the stove using paper, dry oak kindling and two or three fire-lighters, so the quality of the wood shouldn’t come into it. The first shot was taken soon after I’d lit up with the top inlet slots closed and the bottom ones open to encourage a good draught, while the paper and kindling were beginning to catch alight. It shows how so little of the smoke generated was being sucked up into the flue that large clouds were finding their way out into the room through the top air inlets even though they were fully closed. In the second shot, even though the kindling had caught light and was generating enough heat to take some of the smoke away up the flue, some was still able to escape through the top air inlets. The second shot also shows that even at this early stage, the door glass was already beginning to turn brown.

Things became so bad that I actually abandoned trying to run the stove last night. Luckily the evenings are now becoming a bit warmer and I was able to use my small electric fan heater instead, although this rather defeats the object of having the wood burner in the first place. It looks as though I have a problem with either my flue or the stove itself or both. Even though I’ve been using poor quality wood, I can hardly believe that in the short space of a few months, the flue can be so sooted up that it has effectively ceased to work. But in any event, I can’t leave things as they are and like it or not, I’ll have to resolve the problems before next winter, whatever they are. I don’t however, relish the prospect of having to do so at all 😐

March 7, 2014

What a day!

I left home this morning at just after 11.00 am to drive south-west into La Gironde, towing my little trailer. My destination was a small town called Lamothe Montravel and my reason for going there was to pick up some bedroom furniture that I had agreed to buy from Robert, a UK ex-pat who is selling up to return to the UK. Although it’s only just over 50 miles there from Plazac as the crow flies, the distance actually travelled was almost twice that and it took me about 2 hours to get there. Nevertheless, the journey was totally uneventful and the drive was an absolute pleasure as the day was warm and spring-like with a cloudless blue sky.

I’d checked out Robert’s house on Google Street View and as I drove up the road towards it, he was out checking his postbox. Realising that it was me coming up the road, he gave me a wave and showed me where to enter his sloping drive-way to make the short climb up to his house. Once there I stopped my car and we shook hands and said our ‘hellos’ – so so far, so good.

After a welcome cup of coffee, we loaded up the furniture. There was a wooden wardrobe, two chests of drawers and a small bed-side cabinet, and I decided to put the wardrobe on my car’s roof, the larger of the chests of drawers inside my car and the smaller one in my trailer. I started my car to turn it and face down the slope from Robert’s house, again without problem, and reversed back to hitch the trailer back up. Then it was time to go, so having bade our farewells, I started the car up again to leave. Uh oh, this time the charging light on my car stayed on, but I thought that it was maybe the electronics playing up a bit, which they occasionally do, so I decided to continue, stop a short way down the road and restart the engine, when hopefully everything would be back to normal.

But unfortunately that didn’t happen. The red warning light stayed on and when I checked under the bonnet, I could see that the fan belt had snapped. I thought that this would be just a minor inconvenience because I have break-down cover as part of my car insurance over here and I surmised that as in the UK with the RAC or the AA, a van would eventually come to my assistance and the mechanic would fit a new belt while I waited at the road-side. Er…. no, this is France, and they don’t do that. As we know from bitter experience, nobody keeps anything ‘in stock’ – shops and road-side assistance mechanics always live from hand-to-mouth. The recovery truck driver said that it would be impossible to get hold of a fan belt today, and as tomorrow is Saturday and everything would be closed by mid-day at the latest, they in fact wouldn’t be able to get hold of a replacement belt until Monday at the earliest!

I suppose that I shouldn’t really have been surprised, but this presented me with something of a problem because there was my car with a wooden wardrobe tied to its roof and open to the elements with a trailer on the back containing a wooden chest of drawers also with just light fabric covers over it. But I had no choice – the driver’s job was to place my car with its load onto his truck, hitch my little trailer onto the back of it and transport this load and me back to his garage about 15 kms further down the road in the direction of Bordeaux. So that’s what had to happen.

In the process I overlooked picking up the brand-new warning triangle that I’d put out on the bend approaching my immobilised car and trailer and when I remembered and phoned Robert up a bit later to ask him to recover it for me, he told me afterwards that it had already been pinched. So that was annoying. But that wasn’t all. On the way back to his garage, the recovery truck driver decided that he would call them up on his mobile phone. As he did so, he took his eyes off the road and began veering to the right towards the road-side ditch. I thought that he would eventually look up and notice, but he didn’t, and just as we were about to leave the road, I shouted! He looked up, swung the wheel back just in time and I breathed a sigh of relief. I have to say, that this is the only really scary moment that I’ve had driving in France, and I dread to think what the outcome would have been if we had left the road with the my loaded car and trailer on the back of his truck 😯

After we’d arrived at his garage and unloaded my car and trailer from his truck, I went into the office to discuss with the lady in there what was going to happen. It seemed that most likely both my car and trailer will have to stay outside in their compound over the week-end, but that shouldn’t be a problem as no rain is forecast for anywhere in south-west France until at least the end of next week. However, after my experience with my warning triangle, I have to say that I am rather concerned about the security of the furniture that I’ve just bought and I just hope that it won’t go the same way, because that will complicate things a bit, I’m quite sure.

The lady said that I didn’t have to do anything from then on until they let me know when my car was ready to be picked up. In the meantime, she would arrange for a taxi to take me home, paid for by my insurance, and when my car was ready, they’d arrange for another to bring me back at no cost to myself (all this for the sake of a £10 fan belt that could have been fitted in less than half-an-hour, if they’d had one).

While this had been going on, the recovery truck had been despatched to bring in another driver in a similar predicament to me, except, of course, he didn’t have a car and trailer loaded up with furniture. He was due to receive the same treatment ie leave his car there and be taken home by taxi – this way of working must be costing the insurance company an absolute fortune. Only one problem, as this was Friday afternoon, one taxi had already been despatched for me and they couldn’t get hold of another. Would you believe it! The other driver wanted to go to Bergerac, and although it would be taking me a bit out of my way, I said that I wouldn’t mind if he came with me and was dropped off on the way.

And so after dropping him off at the station in Bergerac in the middle of the rush-hour, we headed off for Plazac. We eventually turned into the entrance to my house some time after 7.00 pm, so the nightmare of a day that was originally planned to take around 5 hours eventually came to an end something like 9 hours after it had begun. And I still have a repeat to look forward to on Monday of next week, or more likely Tuesday I think. What a prospect to look forward to 😐

March 5, 2014

It’s happening

Just as I suspected it would, as the jetstream continues to track northwards, the better weather is coming in behind it. This morning I awoke to a lovely bright sunny day and we’ve been enjoying wall-to-wall blue skies all day with the temperature up at 13/14 degrees Celsius.

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I’m so glad that I managed to tidy my garden up a bit yesterday because compared to a few days ago, today it looks a picture. It really looks as though spring has now arrived.

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And that’s not all that’s arrived today. I got a phone call bright and early this morning while I was cleaning out my wood burner from a delivery driver asking how to find my house. Shortly afterwards, a large delivery ‘camion’ trundled up the road and after backing into my entrance, the driver off-loaded the ‘brouette’ (wheelbarrow) that I’d ordered. I was amazed to see what a meal the French supplier (Castorama) had made of it when they’d packed it up for shipment 🙂

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When I stripped the black plastic off, the wheelbarrow was standing on its nose inside the wooden frame propped up against the uprights and here’s a shot taken once I’d removed it from its packaging

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It’s very light and seems to be very well made. It has a carrying capacity of up to 150 kg, which is what I think I’ll be needing for concreting work. OK, there were other cheaper, lighter barrows on offer, but I don’t think that they would have been man-enough for the kind of work that I have planned. Here’s a shot of the barrow next to where I plan to put in a 3.5m x 2m concrete base for a shelter for my garden implements, including my mower(s), concrete mixer, brush cutter and rotavator. I’m thinking that it should also be large enough to take a ride-on mower when the time comes too 😉

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Before I unpacked the wheelbarrow, I did a quick trip to Intermarché for a few bits and pieces before nipping over to check Galinat on the way home. Sadly but not unexpectedly, both the apron and runway are still very soggy. Part of the reason is that they are on the north-facing side of the hill and therefore do not receive as much of the sun as one would like, especially at this time of the year. But all is not lost! The weather forecast is for bright sunny days with no rain at all and temperatures as high as 22/23 degrees Celsius, from now until at least the end of next week. So that should do the trick, and it shouldn’t be too long, therefore, before we’re up in the air for the first time this year, with the prospect of many more weeks of good flying weather to come. About time too, and I can’t wait 😀

March 4, 2014

Still no flying

After yesterday’s deluge, it would have been a total waste of time checking the condition of Galinat because it would obviously have been right back at square one with the apron and ‘piste’ just oozing water. So with all such thoughts put to one side, it was left to me to consider the possibility of tidying up the garden a bit. While I’ve been cutting down and taking out the larger dead wood, I’ve been amassing a quantity of smaller stuff that isn’t suitable for burning on my wood burner, and most of that I’ve just been leaving in heaps on my grass. So if I wanted to cut the grass, I needed to shift all of that to where I can burn it at some time in the future, but I needed a dry day to be able to do that.

Although it rained overnight, it had stopped by this morning, so although showers had been forecast, I set to during the morning to try and do as much as I could before the rains returned. In fact, they stayed away all day, so I was able to get quite a bit done, including mowing both the front and back lawns and getting all of the waste wood piled up where it won’t get in the way. All in all, I was very pleased with what I was able to get done, especially cutting the grass, because it was just about at the limit of what even the new mower could handle.

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But one thing didn’t happen as it should have today. I don’t know why, but as I’ve said on previous occasions, the French are totally hopeless at customer service and, to be truthful, organising almost anything, really. A week ago, I ordered a builder’s-type wheel barrow from Castorama so I can get cracking on the outside jobs I have lined up. I thought it was going to be delivered on Friday, which would have given them plenty of time from the despatch date that they had given me. But on Friday I got a call saying that it would be delivered on Monday, yesterday, but still no. This morning I got a call from the delivery company checking that I was home and saying that they would come with my parcel some time during today. But I’ve had too much experience of such things since I’ve been here to allow my hopes to rise, and sure enough, it was the same old story and my parcel didn’t arrive after all. Is it any wonder, I ask myself, that the French economy is in such dire straits when they seem to have so much trouble with the most simple of tasks that are a matter of routine in other countries. Answers on a postcard, please 😐

March 3, 2014

Rain, rain, rain

Yesterday I took advantage of a break in the seemingly never-ending rain that we’ve been on the receiving end of for the past week or so to take a look at my lawn mower in the hope that I could get it ready to go for when the rain eventually stops. Things are getting quite urgent now because the rain has done nothing to stop the grass growing – quite the opposite actually – and as soon as I get a chance, I need to give it a good cutting, especially around the back, before it becomes too long for a hand mower to manage.

Unfortunately, the news was not good. The front wheels became detached after hitting a large rock last year (in fact, the design was so shoddy that they’d never actually been properly fixed on, just relying on the plastic axle mounts being a push-fit into slots on each side of the metal deck) and although I’d devised a way of fixing them back on again, it wasn’t initially successful. However, the results proved that the method would work, so I then decided that as time was beginning to get a bit short, I’d clean out the fuel system and carburettor and then investigate the bad vibration that I was getting the last time that I used the mower. Whatever I did to the fuel system was successful because when I pulled the cord, the engine started immediately and ran at the correct speed with the throttle open, just as it should do. So then I turned the mower over to check the blade, which is what I thought was causing the vibration, and it was then that the scale of the problem became apparent. The blade was bent, but so too was the main shaft from the engine to which the blade is attached, and it was this that was throwing the blade out of balance and causing the vibration.

I bought the mower new, only two years ago, off Ebay, so although its 4-stroke engine is still only low hours and running perfectly, it looks as though the mower itself has come to the end of its useful life. Luckily, I got it for quite a low bid, so I’ll probably just advertise it on Le Bon Coin ‘pour pièces ou à réparer’ (for parts or to repair) as it would be too much of a waste of time for me to do it myself. I already have a string of jobs lined up and in any case, the grass needs cutting now. So what to do?

I need a good, solid mower but on the other hand, it will have a tough life just as the original one did, because of all the stones that keep getting thrown up here in the Dordogne. So I’m reluctant to buy another brand new one which will most likely go just the same way as my old one did. Because I was anticipating something like this happening (I know what my luck is like :-|) I’ve been checking what’s been coming up recently on Le Bon Coin. The answer is, not much, and what has looked interesting has, as usual, been miles and miles away. This morning I looked on one of the British ex-pat web sites, and lo and behold, a nice looking 46 cm cut mower with a Briggs and Stratton engine had just been put up for sale. So I decided to take the bull by the horns and contact the advertiser, which is how shortly afterwards I found myself heading northwards into the Charente in torrential rain.

For some reason, whenever I have driven anywhere in the last few months, it has always been in heavy rain and this morning was no exception. In fact, the rain was epic in both directions and at times visibility was so bad that I had to turn the wipers onto double speed to maintain visibility. Luckily, traffic levels were quite low but the rain spoilt what would have otherwise been a lovely drive through an area that I’ve not been to before. I ended up doing a quick deal to take the mower off the seller’s hands but now that I’m home again, for the time being it’s still out in the back of my car.

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When I got back, it appeared that my house had been subjected to a deluge while I was away and there was the usual river outside my back door. Also, the front grass had several pools of standing water on it, something I’ve not seen before, so I may as well leave it there for now as although as I type this, the sun is defiantly blazing away outside (for a few moments…) the grass is much too wet to test it out on. As we used to say when we were kids, rain, rain, go away. Please 🙁

March 1, 2014

Now we have to wait and see

We had a lovely day today with warm(ish) sunshine and a bit of wind to help dry out the wet ground. However, when I dropped into Galinat just after lunch it was wetter than the last time and very squelchy underfoot after the recent rain, so still unflyable.

I checked the jetstream forecast on the web site where I took the image from yesterday and it’s anticipated that it has more or less reached its southernmost limit and is now going to be heading back north again. The forecast is for it to be back ‘where it should be’ by about 6 March so it’ll be interesting to see if our weather gets back to some kind of normality by then. It certainly appears that although we can probably expect a few showers in the early part of the coming week, by its end we could well be seeing sunny days with temperatures as high as 19 degrees Celsius. If so, that should mean that we’ll soon be back up in the air. Hope so 😉