September 30, 2014

Some mixed news today

I was going to go anyway, but after being admonished in no uncertain terms by friends and family, I made a visit to my local doctor in Rouffignac this morning. He’s a very amusing chap and only speaks a little English, which is surprising for a professional. But we get by. He quoted with great relish some English he did know though, when he saw my ankle – ‘Don’t let the bed-bugs bite!’

He seems to think that it’s not a spider bite, but a tick bite instead. When I said that surely I’d have seen a tick because my old Toddie used to get them and I used to pull ’em off him, he said, ‘No!’ (searching for a small freckle on the back of his hand, and after finding one), ‘look, they are only that big’.

Anyway, he’s concerned about Lyme Disease because of the livid ‘bull’s eye’ look of it, especially when I said that I feel a bit sick as well, so he’s put me on a 14 day course of antibiotics. He checked my blood pressure and asked when I last had a blood test. When I said that I can’t remember because I’m never ill, he rolled his eyes and said how did I know I wasn’t ill if I never had a blood test and didn’t I think that it would be a good idea to have one now and again? Up against logic like that, what could I say, so he’s insisted that I go back again tomorrow morning when the nurse is there.

The whole thing here is much more relaxed than in the UK. When you phone you go straight through to the doctor himself, not some Gestapo-like receptionist whose sole aim in life is to minimise the number of patients coming into the surgery. It’s a lovely new health centre in Rouffignac and you all just turn up and sit in a nice bright, open waiting area awaiting your turn. There were only 5 or so people in front of me and it turned out 3 of those were for the dentist and the other 2 doctors, so waiting time was very reasonable. Anyway, I’m hoping that the antibios will do the trick – when I can get them.

It all began to unravel when I took my prescription to the adjoining ‘Pharmacie’ to pick them up. It turns out that today around ‘95% de pharmacies en Perigord’ are on strike in opposition to a proposal for the more wide-spread availability of medicines, eg in supermarkets, much as in the UK I guess. Some, like the one in Montignac, have been ‘requisitioned’ by the Directeur Général to force them to open for emergency purposes, for people desperately in need of medication. But if Montignac was anything to go by, the staff in those pharmacies just ignored the ‘avis’ stuck on their front doors and kept them closed, presumably without come-back. So ‘la système française’ always gets you in the end. ‘Plus ça change’ – this is the 21st century but it’s still the same old France 😉

When I got back from my abortive ‘Pharmacie’ trip, I Googled ‘Lyme Disease’. It definitely appears that I have got an infected tick bite because the pictures I found, the description and the symptoms all match my leg and my symptoms. The reports posted from those infected in the UK seem to be all doom and gloom, mainly because the treatment they received from the NHS was either negligible or non-existent. One lady, who was obviously more informed than her General Practitioner, was reduced to tears and asked why she wanted to be ill? That’s negligent and scandalous, especially as the lady in question now suffers from the long-tern effects of the untreated disease.

The more informed comments posted on US web sites paint a different picture entirely. So long as the disease is caught in its early stages (like mine has been) and the correct course of antibiotics prescribed (the ones prescribed by my French doctor are the standard treatment), people like me can expect a full and complete recovery. It’s a pity that I couldn’t get the tablets today as now I’ll waste yet more time tomorrow (although I do, admittedly, have to go back early to Rouffignac for my blood test) and every day lost means that finishing my wood store off becomes more urgent. Also, the sooner I start the sooner I’ll start feeling better as I am now experiencing some light flu-like symptoms that make doing heavy work more difficult than it necessarily need be.

These things are sent to try us 🙁

September 28, 2014

Something I really hate about France

Well, this part of it anyway. Insects. You can live with the little blighters if you’re just lying out in the sun because for some reason, maybe because you’re not moving around and creating a disturbance in the air, very few of them then notice you and the ones that do are just a minor nuisance. However, as soon as you go outdoors to do something heavier, gardening, or building something as I have been doing this week, they are on you from the moment that you start. And we’re not just talking five or six here, we’re talking about dozens. And they all seem to have one mission in life, especially if it’s a bit hot and humid and you have worked up a bit of a sweat, and that’s to bite or sting you.

There are lots down here that want to do that, ranging from midges, mosquitoes, wood wasps, mites (or jiggers as some call them) horse flies and so on. Even the little black flies that look quite harmless, like small house-flies, and you think are just being an awful pest swarming around your eyes, ears and mouth, give you a nasty little bite if you don’t notice when they land on you, and when you’re heaving and straining laying concrete, moving stone around or cutting wood, it’s impossible to spot every one.

The result has been that as I’ve been working outside on my new wood store, I started off being bitten all over the lower parts of my legs and every evening after my shower I’ve been frantically rubbing Cortisone ointment over all the little red raised bumps and welts in an attempt to derive some relief. However, for some reason, as the week has worn on, they seem to have transferred their attentions a bit higher and I now have insect bites all over my upper torso. With one exception.

When I was getting ready for my shower right at the beginning of the week, I noticed a small pink patch on my left ankle. It wasn’t like a normal insect bite and I couldn’t see any obvious puncture wounds and as it wasn’t causing me any pain or irritation I thought nothing more of it. As the week progressed, however, the patch began to expand day by day, becoming much more livid in colour and although it still isn’t causing me any pain or discomfort, this is how it looked this morning before I started work on the wood store.

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I know of no insect here that could cause such a wound and I suspect that I’ve been bitten by a spider. Just as there are so-called False Widows in the UK, I’m sure that France also has its share and I’m wondering if one of those was responsible. One of the things I did right at the start of last week was remove two long oak planks from my ‘grenier’ to use as scaffold boards. They can’t have been moved for at least four years since the previous resident of my house put them up there and I wonder if when I pulled them out, I disturbed a spider that had been enjoying a blissful life in the darkness of my loft and demonstrated its displeasure in the only way it knew. The good news is that they don’t kill you but they can cause you to feel a bit unwell, depending on how big a slug of venom they inject into you.

As it happens, I have been feeling a bit off-colour for the past couple of days – a slight heaviness as though I’ve got a minor dose of flu – and I’ve put that down to the venom still going around my system as my body tries to get rid of it. I started work outside today with the hope that I’d get a goodly portion of the wood store’s wooden frame under my belt but there was no chance of that happening. I got a fair bit done but I called it a day at around 5.00 pm when I started to make silly mistakes, like picking things up that I’d forgotten were plugged in, or picking up a drill bit only to find that in fact I had my pencil in my hand instead. That was time to call it a day, I think, before I did damage to the job or, indeed, myself.

The only practical thing I did yesterday was finish off and make good the new concrete base after removing the wooden shuttering from around it. I made good any small bits of the edge that broke away when I removed the shuttering as well as any obvious holes in the exposed faces where the wet concrete hadn’t been able to pack down. I needed to do that in case any water subsequently found its way into them and then froze because that could potentially cause a bit of serious damage. I also had to cut back the stones on a section of the house wall in order to fix an upright of the new timber frame vertically to it and made that good afterwards as well, as shown in the second of the following two pics.

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So today was supposed to have been the day of the big leap forward with much of the shelter’s wooden frame being completed by the end of the day. However, for the reason given above, that didn’t happen, but some useful progress was made nevertheless.

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Tomorrow I’ll be going to Brico Depot to get some more wood, some long screws and some large plugs to fix the frame to the house wall and base with and possibly the plywood for the roof, although that can come a bit later in the week. Fixing the frame to the house wall and the concrete base will be more tedious than tricky because of the number of holes that I’ll have to drill into hard stone. But the upside is that once it’s done, then the job really will begin to move along quite a bit faster. At least I hope so, anyway 😉

September 24, 2014

And relaaaax…

I finished off the last small section of concrete this morning, as I intended to. I then went around with a sand/cement mixture making good the several small areas and holes where stones came to the surface or where there was a bad join between adjoining bays and I’m pleased with the results as it came out as least as well as I’d expected, if not better, as shown below.

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It was satisfying cleaning up all my tools afterwards and getting them ready to be put away again until the next time. I think that putting down the base will be the worst part of building the wood store and I hope that it’ll only take a couple of days or so to get the basic framework up. I then went off for a good wash and a late lunch at around 2.30 pm, gave myself the rest of the day off and awarded myself a well-earned rest.

What about flying? Well, quite honestly, building my new wood store has to take precedence while the weather is as dry and settled as it is, so I can’t see myself getting airborne again until next week at the earliest. In any case, Victor’s not around as he and Madeleine are in Belgium and Wim is off grape picking in the Gironde, so it would be a solo experience anyway. All the more reason to press on while they’re away so we can fly together when they return.

September 23, 2014

Well, would you believe it!

I single-handedly mixed, barrowed and laid about a ton of concrete today and still it wasn’t quite enough 😕 Today was the first day that I got to use the cement mixer that I bought about two years ago for the very first time. And I was very pleased with it too, especially when I only paid 60€ for it! Here’s how I set myself up for the day’s work.

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As planned, I started laying the concrete base of my new wood store from the back left hand corner, working across to the right and then moving forward and repeating the process. And don’t forget, that I’d banged little wooden pegs in regularly spaced across the whole area to give me a guide for the level to work to. I always thought that the first two bays were going to be the worst, mainly because of access and interference from the two vertical wooden supports for the stairs and landing of my ‘grenier’ and here’s a shot after I’d done them.

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It was then just a matter of plodding steadily on. I didn’t bother stopping for any lunch, just a few drinks when I needed them, but it was tiring work and I didn’t get finished until around 5.30 pm. In fact, the two 400 kg ‘big bags’ of the ‘mélange’ of stone and sand that I’d bought from Brico Depot weren’t quite enough to finish the job off, as the next shot shows.

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An accurate estimate was always going to be difficult due to the unevenness of the base itself and the fact that the concrete is thicker on the right hand side and I always suspected that it would be touch and go. So nothing for it, I had to clean the mixer, my wheel-barrow and my tools before the concrete in and on them got too hard and then I had to decide what to do. In the event, I thought it best to drive to Brico Depot this evening to get another bag so I can make an early start tomorrow and get finished off. Another ‘big bag’ is more than I need for the base but I’ll use what’s left and more when I come to lay my new path along the front of my house and round to the new wood store, which I might as well crack on with when I’ve finished the latter. By the time I got back from Brico Depot it was too late to do anything except park the car with the trailer still attached and then it was time for a well-deserved hot shower and meal.

September 22, 2014

All ready to rock-and-roll

When Wim saw my idea of placing three lengths of old metal in the ‘built-up’ end of the concrete of my new wood store (and workshop) with the aim of hopefully preventing it dropping in the future and cracking, he said that it would be better to put some proper reinforcing steel in. And I had to agree with him. So having fitted my old roof bars on the Kia over the week-end, today I went dashing off to Brico Depot to get a suitable piece. I had to rush over there as I thought that I might be too late to get there before Brico Depot closed for lunch at mid-day. In the event, I was wrong on both counts. The ‘old’ lunch-time closing time was 12.30 pm to 2.00 pm, but Brico Depot have now applied a new policy of remaining open ‘non-stop’, all day from 7.30 am to 7.30 pm, as they have been doing for some time on Saturdays.

So have the management of a French company (OK, owned by the UK’s Kingfisher who also owns B & Q) at last seen the light about how to sell more product and boost profits? Is this perhaps the beginning of the revolution that will drag France kicking and screaming into the 21st century and at the same time start to re-vitalise its sagging economy? We don’t know, it’s too early to say, but I for one hope so. And I commend Brico Depot for being the first to take the step that challenges a key issue at the heart of French working tradition and practices. Someone had to and I hope that it works for them and other major companies decide to follow their lead.

The reinforcing sheet was only just over 16 euros so I think that it will be an investment. I only needed to put it in the built-up end and here’s how it looked after I’d done it. It was a perfect fit with no cutting needed.

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So then all I needed to do to get me all ready to start concreting tomorrow was put a couple of boards in place for me to run the wheel-barrow on. I found a couple of what I thought were scaffold boards in my ‘grenier’ when I first moved in so I went upstairs and dug them out. It turned out that they are actually two cut oak planks but they’ll be OK for what I want to do. I’ll be starting up in the back top left of the new base, laying the concrete from left to right and then moving forward until I’ve completed the whole job. Here’s how I set the two oak planks up.

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So now I’m all set to go. The weather should be almost perfect tomorrow with no rain forecast (for the whole week, actually) and a temperature starting at around 13 degrees Celsius and rising to about 20 degrees by mid-day. I don’t know how long the job will take but I’m now all ready to go and can’t wait to get started at last 😉

September 20, 2014

Shpot the differensh, Moneypenny

After the Scottish independence ‘No’ vote on Thursday, that’s my best Sean Connery accent. Take a look at the two pictures shown below. Here’s the first one, showing the front of my Kia.

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And here’s the second showing the back.

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Differences not too hard to spot, eh? Every French ‘département’ has a code and old-style number plates had them incorporated within the vehicle registrations themselves. So from before I first started coming to France up until quite recently, cars from Paris used to have registrations ending in 75, those from the Charente 16 and so on. But as in the UK, the old-style numbers eventually began to run out and a new format had to be devised. This was done, but in the process the automatic indication of département was lost, because it consisted of two letters followed by three numbers followed by two more letters.

Anywhere else but France, this probably would not have presented too much of a problem, but here it touched a nerve. It turned out that French drivers liked to display their départements on their number plates, so a compromise was worked out whereby drivers were given the option of displaying not only their département on their new number plates but also the region of which it is a part, by way of a flag-style motif on the right of their plates counterbalancing the ‘F’ for France that appears on the left under the multi-starred EU flag.

Unlike in England, before a vehicle with old-style number plates changes hands, it has to be re-registered with a new-style number and this is what happened with my Kia Sportage. So when I acquired it, it had plates that ended in 09 for the Ariège because the previous owner lived there in the commune of Verniolle, which is in the greater region Midi-Pyrénées. So when I bought it, it had new-style plates with ’09’ and ‘Midi-Pyrénées’ on the right of them. There’s no need to change this nowadays when you buy a vehicle from outside your region but as an indication of how entrenched attitudes are here, here’s a little story.

During last week I went up to the ‘poubelles’ to dispose of some rubbish that included… ahem… quite a few empty beer bottles. As it happened, there was an elderly gent there who was also disposing of a few himself and as we were chucking our bottles into the waste glass container, I made a comment that ‘this was evidently the end of the summer holidays’. He picked up on this and asked if I was up on holiday from the Ariège, having spotted the Kia’s registration. I replied that no, this was merely where I had bought the car from and he grumpily said that in that case, I should change the number. Apart from showing that not everyone in France is full of sweetness and light, it shows just how ingrained this number plate thing is.

Well, I had to buy a third plate for my trailer, so I thought that I might as well go the whole hog and buy matching new ones for the Kia too. They arrived today so after sorting out the trailer, I thought I might as well finish the job off and replace the ones on the vehicle as well.

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So that should keep France’s Victor Meldrew happy if I bump into him again up at the poubelles. The new plates now show ‘Aquitaine’ and ’24’ for the département of Dordogne and while I was at it, I thought that I might also see if the old roof bars that I had for the Astra, which were supposed to be ‘universal’, actually are. And surprise, surprise, they fitted very nicely, so at the end of the day, everyone was happy. Result!

September 18, 2014

Kia tow-bar day 2

We had thunderstorms that woke me up just before dawn. Not a lot of rain fortunately, so at least the ground wasn’t made soft and muddy, which would have made installing the tow-bar electrics a rather nasty job. As it was, just as I’d got everything all ready to start work, we had another heavy shower accompanied by a few rumblings of thunder, so it was after mid-day by the time I really got going.

The first job was to mount the trailer socket and this was easy enough. However, I found that I had to angle it slightly downwards (see pic below) which meant that the cable sleeve passing through the rubber shield into the back of the socket is a high point. I just hope that this doesn’t encourage ingress of water if the socket is in the path of spray while driving over wet roads.

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Then it was time to make all of the necessary electrical connections. The main problem with many vehicles, including my old Astra, is finding a convenient route for the bunch of cables from the tow hitch up to each of the rear lights, but I’d already looked on the internet and was encouraged to see that apparently as the rear lamp clusters are accessed, eg for bulb changes, from the outside of the Kia and not from the inside, the cables can all be easily run to either rear light along the inside of the bumper. When I checked by removing the left rear lamp, this is what I saw looking down behind the bumper.

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So the videos on the internet were dead right, and from then on it was a piece of cake and I didn’t bother taking any more pictures. I ran an extension from the right rear lamp (driving light and flasher) over to the left where I made all my connections, including an indicator buzzer that I had left over from when I fitted the Astra tow-bar. This tells you that the trailer indicators are working and is required in the UK but not in France. However, I think it’s handy to have, although I found that because it had to be fitted on the outside under the bumper, I couldn’t actually hear it from the driving seat with the engine running. Nevertheless, it’ll mean that I can check the trailer indicators with the engine off without having to get out and physically check them.

I was worried at one point that the length of harness supplied was going to be too short. In fact, it was just long enough, but a little bit too close for comfort in my book. At the end of the job, I’m pleased to say that when I tested the set up, everything worked exactly as it should do immediately, so that was a relief. The fog lamp didn’t work, but as I recall I had the same problem with the Astra, so I think it may not be connected in the trailer plug. I also found that when I looked underneath it, my trailer had a bit of spare cable coiled up to ‘shorten’ it, and when I released it, it easily reached the power socket on the vehicle. So taken all round, another good day’s work.

But what about flying? Well, depending on which forecast you believe, either Saturday or Sunday will be the best for flying in the next few days, so I’ll have to wait and see and make my choice accordingly. I’m now well overdue for another flight in 56NE, but in the meantime it’s back to the wood store!

September 17, 2014

Another very useful day

The weather forecast is very problematic going towards the end of the week. The reason is that we’re getting high temperatures – today we had 30 degrees Celsius – and they often turn into thunderstorms if the air is also a bit unstable. So with that possibility in mind, I wanted to get across to Brico Depot as son as possible now that the Kia has its tow-bar fitted, even without trailer electrics, to pick up the ballast I need. It also gave me the opportunity to drop my last few rubbish bags off, which were a bot mucky from having stood outside for a while, in the ‘poubelles’ as I drove past. I took the following two pictures with the trailer hitched up before I drove off.

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I was a bit worried that the Kia tow-bar might be a bit high for my relatively quite small trailer and that its nose might be slightly raised, but in the event I needn’t have worried, because it sat level, especially with a weight in. The ‘big bags’ of ballast that I wanted to fetch each weighed 400 kg, which happens to be the maximum rating of my trailer, so I had to make two trips this afternoon over to Trélissac. In fact I also loaded two 35 kg bags of cement as well on the first trip and one on the second, so my trailer did very well as it was pretty much loaded down.

I had to un-hitch the trailer and tip it up backwards to get each bag off, but now they’re standing side-by-side outside where I plan to run the cement mixer. I don’t think I’ll do that straight away tomorrow as I think that I’ll finish the tow-bar installation first and run the trailer electrics. I don’t like leaving too many things half-done and hopefully it won’t take more than a couple of hours. In any event, the new tow-bar did its job well and today ended up being very useful.

September 16, 2014

Kia tow-bar day 1

It was a bit windier than on recent days but the weather forecast said that despite the small possibility of thunderstorms later in the day, this would be a good day to fit the Kia tow-bar. I got myself organised by identifying, labelling and laying out all the parts according to the assembly instruction diagrams, on my kitchen floor.

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Then I set the Kia up on a slope at the side of my front lawn for easy access to its rear end with some nice clean plastic sheets to lie on in the hope of keeping the ‘Aoûtats’ at bay.

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Following the assembly instruction diagrams was a lot easier than I’d thought it would be. The main reason was that whereas the Astra tow-bar was a ‘custom’ design that needed the boot to be drilled as there were no built-in tow-bar mounting points, the Kia tow-bar uses mounting points that were designed in by the manufacturer. Some of these already had bolts in that were discarded as the kit came with a complete set of bolts and others were covered by small round plastic stickers that I had to remove and throw away. All went pretty well until I got to the main mounting plates for the right-hand end of the tow-bar which used bolt holes that were already being used for the original towing eye. The diagrams were far from explicit about how to deal with this but luckily in my researches before selecting a tow-bar to buy, I’d read ‘how to’ instructions on various manufacturers’ web sites. Some of these had mentioned removing and cutting a chunk off the towing eye, which I hadn’t understood at the time, but as soon as I saw it for real, I did. Out came my trusty ‘meuleuse’ and off came the top part of the towing eye mounting bracket.

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Both end mounting plates went on much easier than I’d thought they would do. In fact, one of the most difficult bits was removing the rear exhaust rubber hangers which were pigs to get off even using silicone lubricant spray that I luckily had in my ‘atelier’. Here’s how they looked when fitted.

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According to the instructions, I then had to cut a notch in the bottom edge of my plastic bumper measuring 5 cm x 4.5 cm. I found afterwards that the 4.5 cm dimension was a bit excessive and it could have been up to 2 cm less, making for a neater final job. However, with the tow hitch fitted you can’t see it unless you get right down and look for it, so it isn’t too important. Then came the most tricky bit of the whole job – fitting the main bar that holds the swan-neck with the tow-ball on it. Each end had a hole in that was tapped for a large bolt and I took the precaution of running a bolt into each one before offering the bar up to the vehicle for fitting. And lucky I did, because one must have had some over-spray in it because it was very tight and would probably have been impossible to fit if I hadn’t, lying on my back under the car taking the weight of the bar with my legs. It was a pig anyway and the air around Le Bousquet was blue for a while until I’d got the bolts tightened.

Here’s a final shot taken under the car with the main bar and tow hitch in place. You can see the bracket for the electrics socket on the rear securing bolt of the tow hitch swan neck and fitting those will be the final part of the job.

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Here’s a ‘selfie’ that I took when I’d finished and had caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror!

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The final job (OK, without electrics) looks pretty good I think. There were a couple of scratches on the swan-neck that I had to splash a bit of smooth black Hammerite on but I don’t think that that will be too important in the whole scheme of things.

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So what were my conclusions? Overall, very positive. The sheets that came with the kit gave an installation time of 3 hours and I guess that that would be possible for an experienced installer who’d done a few of these before. The instructions could have been more explicit about how to deal with the existing towing eye ie the necessity to cut the bracket, but luckily I’d read about this elsewhere before. I also found that the number of large flat and locking washers was incorrect – there were too many small ones and an equal number too few of the large ones. I worked around it, but it would have been nice if the quantities had been correct.

The main weakness, that I haven’t come onto yet, seems to be the kit’s electrics. Nothing is assembled. I don’t mind connecting the wiring to the electrical socket but the wires themselves have just been supplied in a bundle and not fed through a long plastic sleeve, which is separate. Feeding them all through together is proving to be tricky and it looks as though I shall have to find a length of stiff wire to attach to one end of the bundle and then pass through the plastic sleeve bringing the wires with it.

I’m also a bit concerned that by fitting the car socket to the rear of the hitch under the car, the wiring to my trailer plug might be a bit too short to reach and could require lengthening. But that’s for another day. At least as it is without electrics I can now get across to Brico Depot and pick up some ballast and cement in my trailer and then get on with laying the base for my new wood store. So at the end of the day, I’m a happy bunny 🙂

September 15, 2014

Boring kind of day

After missing the delivery of my new tow-bar for the Kia on Friday, I had to wait around for it to be delivered today. As it was very warm, dry and sunny, I thought I might as well make the most of the weather by doing my washing (it has to be done…) and the two loads that I put through the machine were both dry minutes after I’d hung them out. So that was good. The delivery lady eventually arrived mid-afternoon as she’d promised on Friday and said that she’d found my address easily after I’d given her directions. She then zoomed off again in her little van after we’d yanked my parcel, which was very heavy, off it and I’d signed her delivery docket. Here’s what I found when I unpacked it – the box was mostly full of plastic ‘filler’, which I removed before taking them.

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So now I’m ready to go ahead and fit it. I’m not looking forward to it very much, for three reasons. Firstly, there are no ‘written’ fitting instructions – all you get are a few sheets of pictures and diagrams and I think that it’s going to be a bit challenging as a result. Secondly, I ordered a tow-bar that will take a good size caravan and not just my tiddly little trailer, so it’s ruddy heavy. And thirdly, it was this time of year when I fitted the tow-bar on the Astra and after rolling around on the ground doing it, I got covered in bites from the horrible little mites that are called ‘Aoûtats‘ in this part of the world. They are so called because they are particularly prevalent during the month of August (Août) and people who walk their dogs in the grass or walk around in flip-flops are particularly susceptible to them. I’ve got bites from them already just from working outside in my flip-flops on my new wood store, so I’m not looking forward at all to getting ‘down and dirty’ on my back on the ground again, which will bring me in even closer proximity to the little blighters. Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so I’ll have to find something to lay on the ground for me to roll around on. But in any case, I don’t have a choice 🙁

September 12, 2014

Yesterday, today

Yesterday – meet-up, English friends, St Emilion. Today – back to the wood store. St Emilion is one of the principal wine centres in the Gironde giving its name to one of the most important Bordeaux wine ‘appellations’ and although the meet-up was arranged at the last minute, it’s only two hours away from my house and the visit was well worth the drive.

It’s surrounded by a sea of vineyards, as well as by some of the region’s principal chateaux, which come right up to its edge in some cases. The roads around the town to the north (I can’t speak for the roads to the south but I imagine they’re the same) are bordered on both sides by high grey stone walls, all the more to protect the valuable produce behind them from the hordes of tourists who visit the town every year. The feeling driving on them in your car, even in the Kia which has a high view-point, must be like being a horse with blinkers on. Driving through the region and approaching the town, it’s obvious from the state of the vineyards, chateaux and other buildings involved in wine production that wine has brought great wealth to the region. This is even more evident in St Emilion itself, which is very beautiful, very chic, chock-a-block with wine shops and rather pricey for the most part.

St Emilion is built on the side of a steep hill and although vehicles can get right into the centre of the town, they are discouraged by no-entry signs on all sides. Those in the know just ignore them but I didn’t know that and found a parking spot just outside the city wall high up on the northern side that was quite fortuitously not far from where we were meeting-up. My approach down into the town was on foot down a precipitous cobbled road which must be lethal for pedestrians (and vehicles too, probably) in the wet. But that didn’t apply yesterday as the weather was glorious, at least as good as, or even better than, the very best days that we had over the summer.

St Emilion itself was still alive with tourists even though the end of the season is almost upon us. The ones who are there at this time of year, though, are predominantly older, without children, with a high proportion of retired folk. I took quite a few pictures and show one or two below to give a flavour of the place. When I eventually get around to putting up a ‘scenery and places’ gallery here on My Trike to show all the pics I’ve still got from when I was down south, I’ll also include the remainder that I took yesterday in St Emilion.

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Today it was back to more mundane things – the concrete base for my new wood store. The only thing I could do while waiting for my new tow-bar to arrive from Poland was to fill it with hardcore ready for concreting. I’ve been talking about it for several days now, but today was the day when I finally did it. It took me longer and required more effort than I’d anticipated, but eventually it was done, as you can see below.

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I’m pleased with how it turned out. It took longer than I’d thought because it needed a bit of care to keep the hardcore uniform across the base at the right level. I don’t need, or want, to lay too thick a concrete base as the thicker it is the more effort it’ll require to lay and the more it’ll cost. I think it’s now about right. Because I’m a bit worried about the right-hand end, which I’ve built up, dropping a bit over time, I’ve also chucked in three lengths of metal that I hope might help prevent the base sagging and cracking.

Only problem was, as usual, the driver delivering my new tow-bar phoned to find out where my house is and unfortunately I missed the call. She (because indeed it was a ‘she’) phoned again – while I was in the shower. When we eventually got to speak she was over in La Douze, which is too far away for her to have come back from, so she’ll be doing the delivery on Monday. Pity, as I’d like to have fitted the tow-bar over the week-end. It also looks as though the weather could be on the change and we might even have storms for much of the week as from Monday. It never rains but it pours, eh 😕

September 9, 2014

Now back to the wood store!

With all the disruption and toing-and-froing to do with my phone and internet problems, work on the new wood store took a back-seat last week. That’s not to say that there wasn’t a bit of progress, but not that much I have to confess. Since I last wrote about it on August 31, I have only got as far as finishing off the shuttering and getting the surface pegged out ready for concreting.

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Anyone who doesn’t know might wonder what all the pegs are for. My dad was an expert and I learnt almost everything I know about doing DIY and building work from him and I watched him do this on many occasions. The pegs are banged into the ground in regular intervals to exactly the height that you want the surface of the concrete to be. The area between each set of four pegs then becomes a ‘bay’ and this is useful if, like me, you are working alone, can only mix the concrete in small quantities (ie one mixer load at a time) and can’t lay it very quickly. Then you can mix and lay a bay at a time working to the level of the pegs, knowing that the finished surface will end up level. As you reach each set of pegs you can either remove them, using the new concrete edge as your level, or leave them in even depending on how the base will be used in the future. I’ll be removing mine as I go.

I only need to add hardcore before concreting and I mentioned in a previous post that as I don’t yet have a tow bar on my Kia, I investigated having some ballast delivered from my local builders’ merchants, as you routinely would in the UK. It would cost me 29.60€ to pick up a 400 kg bag of ballast in my own trailer from Brico Depot. However, Point P at Montignac wanted over 60€ for the same quantity of ballast and over 90€ to run it the four or five miles up the road to my house. Clearly I have to get a tow bar fitted and I now have one on order. In the meantime, work on the wood shelter has come to a halt while it is being delivered from… Poland. As usual, it’s much cheaper to buy one in from hundreds and hundreds of miles away than to source one locally from France. Will they ever learn?

September 9, 2014

Flight 7 September

We had some pretty nice weather last week while my life was being disrupted by my telephone and internet problems, so I was bent on getting at least one decent flight in by way of compensation. However, when it gets hot down here during the day it also gets very thermic, which can make for some very uncomfortable flying as I’d found out when I flew out to Vergt on 18 August. That’s why lots of pilots fly early in the morning or in the early evening, when conditions can be almost perfect. I left it too late on Saturday because at this time of the year you need to be back on the ground by 7.45 pm to give enough time to put the aircraft to bed before it gets too dark, so I decided that Sunday it would be and gave myself plenty of time to fuel up 56NE and get airborne. Lucky that, as I had to return home after starting out having forgotten to bring some sticky-backed dacron that I’d recently purchased and needed to put over a small slit that I’d carelessly put into an aileron skin with my thumbnail while re-fitting the covers a few weeks ago.

I had a flight already loaded into my satnav, as shown below, that was planned to take about 52 minutes. The dark green line shows my planned route and the red one the track I actually flew.

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I planned to fly north-west up towards Périgueux flying close enough to get a view of Bassillac airport and taking in Boulazac and Trélissac where all the big stores and warehouse outlets are to the east of the city and Périgueux itself, before turning south over the motorway to Bordeaux and heading back south-east to return to Galinat. I got away at 6.37 pm and immediately knew that my timing was perfect. I was only wearing shorts and a tee shirt and after the heat of the day, the air felt warm against my arm. But despite the heat, the air was perfectly smooth, and so it remained for the whole of the flight. Unfortunately, I knew that at that time of the day the sun wasn’t going to be very sympathetic to any photographs that I took and also that most of the main ‘sights’ would be on the other side of the aircraft from where I was seated, but I hoped to get a few decent ones nevertheless.

As I headed off to the north-west I saw my house pass under my starboard wing and 20 minutes or so later was approaching Périgueux Bassillac airport. It isn’t as grand as the name might suggest and that’s it in the large ‘clearing’ behind the wing strut in the shot below.

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And then on to the adjacent commercial area of Boulazac/Trélissac.

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I didn’t really expect to get any decent pictures of Périgueux itself but took a few pointing my camera out of the other side of the aircraft, of which the following two were the best.

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Four or five minutes after leaving Bassillac behind me, I turned over the motorway interchange to the south of Périgueux to begin my return journey to Galinat. It was a surprisingly uninteresting sight with very little to see but I took a shot nevertheless 😉

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The short southerly leg took me to my final waypoint, Eglise-Nueve-de-Vergt, where I turned to the south-east to head back towards Thonac. There was hardly anything to see there either, but I decided to take a photograph anyway.

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Twenty minutes later, I was turning final for a landing back at Galinat and a touch-down that was the closest you could ever get to a ‘greaser’ on Galinat’s rather bumpy, it has to be said, grass surface. The whole flight took 53 minutes and averaged exactly 60 mph in conditions that were as near perfect as they could ever be. I went home well satisfied with a broad grin on my face after my trials and tribulations with Orange and a feeling that the world isn’t such a bad place after all 🙂

September 9, 2014

Cut off – yet again

Except for the roads, for the most part the infrastructure in rural France especially, such as telephone, water and electricity is crumbling. And when you combine that with the fact that there is no real competition, since the state-owned monopolies still exercise almost complete control, and the general French attitude towards customer service, which is to fob the customer off and get rid of them for as long as possible, when things go wrong you have a recipe for disaster and intense frustration for the consumer. And this especially applies for anyone from northern Europe (eg UK, Germany, Holland) who are used to things being done rather differently.

This week I’ve been on the receiving end once more because yet again my telephone and internet went down for no apparent reason. This would not be an issue in northern Europe because after reporting it, a technician would have checked to see if it was a system problem and an engineer then despatched if all was found to be well technically, to check if there was a local problem. But in any case, telephone systems aren’t regarded nowadays in most advanced countries as being that complex and the problem would almost always have been resolved within a day or so.

But not so in France. As of yesterday, my service had been down for over a week and due to Orange (France Telecom) customer service spewing out a web of fantasy as to the cause, nothing had been done in practical terms to deal with or rectify the problem. The local Orange shop (which at over 25 kms I had to visit two or three times in order to try and get any kind of action) eventually just exchanged my modem, which turned out not to be faulty and I subsequently hit the roof after a friend insisted that Orange technical service (an oxymoron if ever there was one) who I could not call myself, called me and then, after a week they just asked me if I’d tried unplugging my modem and plugging it back in again. I ask you!

After I’d insisted, they eventually arranged for an engineer to call at my house despite my saying that nothing had changed here and that from my (long) experience both here and in the UK, it was obviously once again an internal Orange system problem as no signal was being received and that they should look within their system for the source of the problem. They told me that this is the ‘system’ and, monsieur, the way things are done in France.

Sadly the French can apparently see no connection with all of the above and why their economy is such a basket case. The stupid politicians will not break up the state monopolies, sell them off and encourage competition and hence greater efficiency as Mrs Thatcher did in the UK because such a notion is ideologically unacceptable to them. And the French just shrug their shoulders when you tell them about your problems, agree that the situation is awful and say that the same things happen to them too, so what hope is there that things will ever improve? I fear that unless there is a sea-change in attitude there never will be any improvement and France will continue to languish down the field or fall even further behind the other more competent nations. How sad if France is eventually viewed as just a beautiful country in which to live so long as you can put up with the down side that holds it back – short-sighted politicians, poor planning, bad management and ineffective administration. It’s a certainty in my view that France will never recover from the slump that it is in until these issues are addressed – and sooner rather than later I think.

A properly qualified telephone engineer arrived outside my home yesterday morning and was soon checking my line at the top of the pole on his elevating platform. He disappeared down the road a couple of times, presumably to the connection box about a kilometre or so away, and eventually had things back up and running in an hour or so. If only technology companies would stop having non-technical customer service departments who know nothing about the technology of their product and just end up wasting your time and theirs and irritating the customer big time. If the company had referred the problem to a real technician a week ago when they were first made aware of it a whole lot of time and aggravation could have been saved. And cost too, as a perfectly good modem was junked by the Orange shop – what kind of scale must that happen on if my case was anything to go by? But they never learn 😡

A footnote about attitude. As I do not currently have a tow bar on my Kia, I enquired at Point P, the local builders merchants, about delivering some ballast for concrete to my house. The cost for me to pick up a 400 kg bag from Brico Depot in my trailer would be 29.60 euros. The Point P depot is 7 or 8 kms from my house. They wanted over 60 euros for the same amount of ballast and over 90 euros to deliver it. I think that that says an awful lot. They had the last laugh though. I clearly have to get a tow bar for my car pretty quickly as otherwise work on my new wood shelter will come to a grinding halt with a change in the weather soon to be in sight. Only one problem. I couldn’t order one… because I had no internet. What a system, eh 😕