May 30, 2015

Two short Perigord pistes

On Monday at Malbec Wim bumped into Jean-Christophe who oversees the operation of a tiny airfield at Milhac just south-west of Fossemagne, which is 20 or so kilometres to the north of my house, and he invited Wim and me to visit at some time. Not ones to miss a chance to drop into a challenging new airfield, we decided to go this morning even though it was a bit dull and overcast.

The full name of the airfield is la Ferme Milhac-Oie en Périgord and it’s so named because ‘oies’ are geese and they raise geese in a totally natural way there, wandering around in a large flock in an open wooded area. They are ultimately destined for the table but they have an excellent life in the meantime, unlike many of the birds that are grown down here in intensive farm conditions. The main attraction of the airfield, if you like that sort of thing, is that the runway, although sloping, has a usable length of only 150 metres. This is quite short by any standards, so it’s quite a challenging one to get into, and the airfield’s literature emphasises that you must ensure that your ‘compétences’ are up to it!

I was supposed to call Wim up as I took off at Galinat but we weren’t able to make contact and missed each other. So we ended up flying into Milhac separately, me first after I’d spotted that Wim’s hangar was empty when I flew over his airfield on the way out, followed by Wim 20 minutes or so later. Both of us landed safely and Jean-Christophe, who was waiting next to the runway when I landed and I’d been chatting to, showed us around the place. It’s a splendid property with a gite and house to rent together with camping both in a couple of permanently sited mobile homes and for visiting tents and caravans, with full toilet facilities etc on site. It also has a couple of fishing lakes so all in all, it’s a really good spot to drop into either by air or road.

We eventually took leave of Jean-Christophe’s hospitality after an hour or so to head back home again and Wim suggested that if I followed him into his airfield at Plazac, we could pop into la Marjolaine for a coffee before I headed back to Galinat. It seemed like a good idea, so that’s what we did. It was the first time, actually, after all the time that I’ve been here, that I had landed at Wim’s piste and it was pure coincidence that it was today after going into Milhac, because the length of Wim’s runway is also only 170 metres. So it was a good chance to make a video showing both airfields and that’s what I did. You can view it by clicking on the following pic.

Two short Perigord pistes

It was a pity that we were dogged by yet another overcast morning with low, dull cloud. It did clear and warm up a bit later on, but it was a bit of a disappointing day for the time of year. But at least it didn’t stop us getting a good flight in, though 😉

May 29, 2015

Happy birthday Mum!

Today is my mum’s birthday, 96 years young and still going strong, I’m very glad to say. I sent her a card and a small gift (a box of her favourite chocolates) but unfortunately I couldn’t be there to see her open them, although I’d love to have been.

So all I can do is wish her a very happy birthday here and tell her that I love her lots. I know that she doesn’t read My Trike, but ….

May 27, 2015

Aaaargh!

When I switched on 56NE’s radio as I was about to leave Malbec on Monday, I noticed that a fault had developed and that the radio was in a permanent ‘transmit’ mode. I disconnected and reconnected the various leads but as soon as I reconnected the extension cable that I’d made up to connect the PTT button with the radio interface the red ‘transmit’ light came on, so all I could do was switch it off until I could get home and investigate the problem.

I already suspected what it might be down to – failure of the old Binder connector that I’d salvaged from the original PTT curly cord and re-used – and my suspicions were confirmed this morning when I stripped it off. In anticipation, I ordered two replacements yesterday from RS France and it was annoying to have to pay the higher French price for them and also for delivery, which is free in the UK. However, I didn’t have the time to go the UK route and then have them forwarded onto me and at least I had the satisfaction of their arriving this morning.

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It didn’t take long to remove the old connector, confirm the source of the problem and have the contacts of the new one soldered on. It was only then that I noticed that what I was fitting was slightly different to what I’d just taken off, but in a very important way. The old one had been a male connector whereas both of the replacements that I’d ordered were female! What a twerp for not checking – but as usual, I’d paid the price for not confirming what I actually needed.

So this morning I had to order two more male Binders from RS France, but at least I know that when they turn up tomorrow morning (a) the delivery driver will know where to come and (b) I’ll have the correct bits for the job. Duh 😐

May 26, 2015

Shots from yesterday

As promised, here are the best of the shots that I took that give an idea of what a great day was had by all. It’s only afterwards that you realise the shots that you missed 😉

First up, a visiting Hurricane from the club at Castillonnes. Francis with the red jumper is the instructor who cleared me for my French licence.

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A view along the flight line taken just after I’d parked 56NE. Didier with the bright red top is the Club Chairman at Cavarc.

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A view back in the other direction. The aircraft with its nose in the air is Wim’s Weedhopper. It was slightly tail heavy because he was trying it out loaded with the kit that he’ll be taking on our west coast trip in a few weeks time. He said that it flew just fine.

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Getting the tables, food and drink ready for the celebratory meal.

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A shot of the three gyrocopters that flew in for the opening.

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The second of the three gyrocopters, an open-top version.

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The third gyrocopter, another closed-cabin version.

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Just a Sky Ranger.

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Another Hurricane, this one a fully open ‘sans carénage’ version privately owned by Romain.

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A lovely little Guépy Club. This one has only a 582 Rotax and didn’t nip off the ground in the way that I’ve seen others with 912’s do, which are much more expensive, of course.

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Another Sky Ranger

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56NE sitting looking not too shabby in the flight line.

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The club’s Hurricane again.

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Looking back up the whole length of the flight line. It was only afterwards that I realised that I’d been distracted and not taken a shot of Phillippe’s Citius right up at the far end, which was one of the main stars of the whole day. It’s an all-aluminium Italian design that is stunning and also stunningly expensive. In many ways it proves that ULM design has now definitely overtaken the old Group A’s (Cessna 152’s and the like).

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A shot taken up at the top end of the flight line showing Phillippe’s Citius, but in nothing like the detail I’d have liked.

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The final shot would have to be captioned ‘Could Only be France!’ The club Hurricane was found to have a flat tyre after landing and Victor went home to fetch a compressor in his Mehari. This shot is of all the ‘helpers’ getting ready to reinflate the tyre.

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Sadly, as the photographs show, the day was a bit overcast but it was warm enough for tee shirts and shorts and it didn’t rain, which was a godsend given the weather forecast the previous day. All in all, the day was a great success and everyone there enjoyed themselves. Apart from the owner of the chateau and her son, I was the only English person there but ULMistes down here are a sociable lot and it gave me a chance to catch up with old acquaintances from Cavarc who I hadn’t seen for some time and too soon it seemed aircraft were taking off one after another and heading off in their different directions. Definitely a day to remember.

May 25, 2015

Aerodrome Chateau de Malbec, Fleurac

Today was the day of the grand opening of the airfield at Chateau de Malbec that Victor has been working tirelessly to establish over the past few weeks. Pilots were invited to fly in from around the local area and aircraft, mainly ULMs but including three gyrocopters, flew in from Castillonnes, Bergerac and elsewhere to celebrate the opening. I made a video of 56NE’s arrival and later departure which you can see by clicking on the image below.

Malbec Ouverture

Victor and Philippe, who will be joining him there when there’s room for their aircraft under cover, laid on a superb meal and barbecue for all the visitors and an excellent time was had by all, especially those who had arrived by car and could indulge themselves a bit more than those like me who had flown in. The weather, although rather overcast, was even kind enough not to rain on the party and all of the visiting aircraft got away before it had time to change. It was only a 10 minute flight for me so I left quite late on in the afternoon and even I was lucky enough to just be putting 56NE’s last cover on at Galinat before a passing shower moved in.

I took quite a few photographs of the visiting aircraft and will put those up in a separate post tomorrow. Well done Victor for a successful project!

May 24, 2015

Final tasks

Today I put to bed the last of the maintenance jobs that I had on my list prior to our west coast flight in a couple of weeks time. They only comprised changing the gearbox oil and re-wire locking afterwards and re-wire locking an aileron cable adjuster that also needed doing, so they didn’t take too long. The only outstanding job will be to fit the new rev counter that I ordered yesterday when it arrives.

I decided that I might as well bite the bullet and order a new one even though the tatty old one that I refitted with the dead fly in it is working perfectly, as confirmed by a flight I did today – more later. The new one is an Aviasport, the same make as the one that’s gone wrong. I’d have preferred to buy a VLD, the make of the old one that’s working so well, but I just couldn’t find one. Here’s something that tells you everything about the efficiency of the French economy that you need to know. When you search the internet, you find 582 Aviasport rev counters ranging in price from under 100€ to over 150€ and some suppliers even expect you to contact them to find out what their price is and place an order over the phone. I ended up buying a unit on the internet for 80€ plus 6€ delivery, so how on earth the firms advertising the same unit for twice the price expect to pick up sales I really do not know.

The weather had been warm, a bit overcast and with a gusting northerly wind while I’d been working but as the wind wasn’t beyond limits, I though that I’d go for a short flight. In fact, by the time I’d got everything ready and pre-flighted 56NE, the sky had clouded over and it had become a bit more chilly, but I decided to go anyway. I had my little Sportcam mounted under the wing and recorded the whole flight (at last!) but for now, all I’ve done is put together a sequence that includes the take off and landing. You can see it by clicking on the image below.

Gusty Take Off and Landing

As well as there being more cloud, I think that the wind had also picked up a little bit. Take a look at the windsock as it passes by below during the take off and you can see how gusty and variable the wind had become. I actually had a flight of exactly one hour but for now, as I mentioned above, have only put together a sequence comprising the take off and landing. The second half of the video starts during the left turn I made from downwind to final. Usually, when I return to Galinat, I head a bit north of the field, towards Thonac, and then approach on a very long final (about 151 degrees) that allows plenty of time to get set up and comfortable. Even then, though, you can still get caught out by the wind, especially if it’s from the north forcing you into a tail wind landing and whipping across the little valley ahead of the runway, as today.

But today I didn’t do that. Approaching Galinat from the south-west, I decided to fly around the airfield to the north, avoiding the village and joining ‘downwind’ for a left hand circuit. The only thing was that ‘downwind’ was actually upwind because of the wind direction, and the wind was also playing lots of little tricks. On reviewing the video, I think that I turned in too soon and should have allowed myself a much longer final approach. The reason is that although my height on final was OK, my groundspeed due to the tail wind was much higher than usual, meaning that in order to get down in time, I had to shove the nose down and pick up even more speed. You can hear that happening in the video. I knew from experience that it would all work out OK, though, because of the length of Galinat’s runway, and the video shows that even though I touched down nearly half-way up it, I still had to put on plenty of power to get up to the apron.

Take a look at the nose wheel movement on final – it’s directly coupled to the rudder and shows the amount of work that was needed to keep 56NE lined up with the runway and with wings level at touch-down. Not everyone’s cuppa tea, but great fun in my book 😉

Tomorrow is a ‘jour férié’ here in France just as it’s a Bank Holiday in the UK, and it’s also the day of the grand opening of the airfield Victor has established at Chateau Malbec. The weather forecast, unfortunately, is looking similar to today but with the possibility of light rain in the afternoon. I hope that it holds off long enough for the airfield to get the christening that it deserves 🙂

May 22, 2015

Can’t count on my compte tours

A ‘compte tours’, by the way, is a rev counter. I breathed a small sigh of relief this afternoon. 56NE’s rev counter has been playing up ever since the flight I did last winter when I thought that I had carb icing (unlikely I know). At the time, I couldn’t get the indicated engine revs over 5500 rpm and I was worried that the engine was losing power and that I might not be able to make it back to Galinat from overhead Le Bugue.

It turned out that the engine was developing the required power and revs but that for some reason, the rev counter was under-reading. I naturally assumed that it was a rev counter problem, until Victor told me a few days ago about the similar problems he’s been having with his Rans S12’s engine. This is also showing an under-reading on its rev counter while still, apparently, developing full power when the throttle is fully opened.

I lent him my old rev counter (that I discarded because it has a dead fly under its glass) over the week-end and he said that that was also under-reading, and as a result he’s been advised that his engine has a stator plate problem. Put simply, there’s a fault in the circuits that generate electricity when the engine’s running. This, of course, caused me some concern, because although I’ve been flying 56NE ‘by ear’ and airspeed ever since the problem started, a replacement stator is well over 300€. And we have our west coast flight coming up…

I picked up my old rev counter yesterday from Victor and went across to Galinat this afternoon to see how it compared to the Avia unit that’s currently in 56NE. It took me quite a while to swap them over and ended up having to remove the whole panel front, but eventually the switch-over had been made and it was time to fire up the engine. I’m glad to say that although I could only do a static engine run (it was too windy to fly today), when I opened the throttle fully the rev counter reading rose to just under 6000 rpm. This was way better than the Avia had been showing, and bearing in mind the age and condition of the old unit, I think it showed that my problem is only with the rev counter and that I’ll be able to solve it merely by purchasing a replacement.

This then left me in a bit of a quandary – did I leave the old unit in place, which meant completely refitting the panel front, or did I wait until I’d received a new one? My mind was made up for me, really, because the new airfield at Malbec is having its official opening on Monday and as I’d never be able to get a new one by then, it would mean that I’d have to drive in by car and not fly in. So back went the panel and I ended up not getting back home again until about 7.00 pm.

A brief footnote to end with. Although I caught a mouse a few days ago, I’d left two traps set ‘just in case’, one outside next to a wheel and one inside 56NE’s cabin. I was slightly saddened when I removed the covers before starting work today to find that I’d caught another mouse, this time inside the cabin. So it looks as though I can’t relax my vigilance after all, and that I have no alternative other than to keep both traps in place. Pity really, as I take no pleasure in killing mice for the sake of it, but I can’t have a repeat of the seat-chewing episode if I can avoid it 🙁

May 18, 2015

Congratulations Captain Victor!

Got a phone call from Victor last night during which he confirmed that after a protracted period of training that was constantly interrupted by bad weather and having to keep returning to Belgium whenever the weather was good, it seemed, he was at last signed off yesterday for his French Brevet d’ULM!

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So congratulations are in order and now the real learning can begin. Victor has been working tirelessly in recent weeks getting a new airfield organised and set up at the Chateau de Malbec at Fleurac, just down the road from his house, where he’ll soon be moving his Rans S12 that he has had waiting for this moment for some time down at Cavarc. Now all the effort will be worth it and I and I’m sure Wim too, will be looking forward to flying with him in the skies over the Dordogne and further afield.

Congratulations once again, Victor!

May 17, 2015

Busy day

The weather wasn’t perfect for flying today but I wanted to fit the radio in 56NE and then have a flight to see how it worked. I don’t want to check transmission until I’ve got a ‘friendly’ radio at the other end eg Victor with his Icom, but I thought there’d be enough pilots flying around and using the general frequency, 123.50, for me to hear how it sounded on receive. I had a bit to do but plenty of time to do it in and after sorting out the tools I’d need over on the airfield, I headed off to Intermarché to pick up 20 litres of fuel. After removing 56NE’s covers (and checking that I hadn’t caught any more mice – negative) the first job was to fit the PTT system that I fabricated yesterday.

The interface for my Vertex VXA-220 radio was originally designed and made by Paul in South Africa who really knows what he’s about because his company there mainly manufactures very high quality equipment for the military. It originally came to me with a PTT button intended for mounting on a flexwing control bar with a curly cord connecting lead and velcro straps to attach it to the bar. It had stood me in good stead during loads of flights in MYRO before I left the UK and also for my flight down to the Dordogne in MYRO when I moved here, but now that I wanted to adapt it for 56NE, I wanted to have a proper PTT button mounted in the top of the stick.

Paul had used 710 series Binder connections in his original design, so-called because they are made by a company named Binder in Germany, so it made sense to use the same for any additions or modifications that I made up myself. Here’s a shot showing what Binder connections look like – above are two existing connections on the interface and below is a connector as it’s delivered before you put it together. As you can see, they are quite small and need pretty accurate soldering but their beauty is that a male and female pair not only positively plug together but the two halves then lock to each other by a simple twist mechanism, an example of very clever design.

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There was already a hole in the top of 56NE’s stick and I happened to have a button that fitted it, so my idea was to drop a wire down inside the stick and have it emerge to one side with a Binder connector on it. I then wanted to cut Paul’s curly cord off the original PTT button, leave the existing connection on one end to attach to the interface and fit a new one on the cut end to connect to the cable coming out of 56NE’s stick. In fact, I couldn’t do that because I found, as I had done once before, that once you cut curly cords, they are unsolderable. The reason is that when they are made, they have little metal crimped pieces on the wires and those are what you have to solder, not the wires themselves. Obviously, by ‘salvaging’ an old cord by cutting an end off, you lose the crimped pieces on the cut end rendering it pretty useless.

But all was not lost because by using the two Binders that I’d bought and salvaging the old one left on the curly cord, I was able to make up a non-curly extension cable that I could drop under 56NE’s floor through the hole at the base of the stick and have emerge again under the panel at the same place that I brought up the antenna. So that’s what I made up yesterday and apart from going a bit crazy and making it about three times as long as it needed to be, I fitted it today and it worked exactly as planned. Here’s a shot showing the stick and extension cable before I fitted them.

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The next shot shows the complete radio installation in place with everything connected up. It also shows my 7″ Asus tablet on the panel and ready to go.

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This final shot is also of the complete radio fit but from the other side of the cabin.

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So that was it – all I then needed was a flight and here’s a shot of one I prepared earlier 😉

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My plan was to fly over Montignac, head up to the autoroute in the north-east and then turn left for St Rabier. Then I aimed to fly a long leg ending up to the south of Périgueux and find an ULM field that is marked on the chart, after which I’d turn south-east to head for La Douze. My original plan was then to head up to fly over my house before turning back to overfly Thonac and land at Galinat. In fact, after La Douze I made a detour as shown in the pic to overfly the new airfield that Victor has been working hard to put together at Chateau Malbec, near Fleurac. More of this in another post.

I certainly had no shortage of radio traffic on the way. I had no way of telling where it was originating from as 123.5 is a common frequency used by airfields all over France. Some transmissions came through loud and clear but others were distorted through interference, which I suspect had more to do with the distances involved and the quality of the transmitting equipment than my radio. The fact that so many were clear was very encouraging since it indicated that my kit didn’t itself appear to be introducing interference into received calls. I also think that some of the distances over which I was receiving calls were quite big – I overheard one caller saying that he was approaching the field in question ‘via la Gironde’, which could have put him 100km or more away, over near Bordeaux. Another referred to ‘Limoges’, so could also have been some way to the north of my position. When I carry out further tests, I’ll have to experiment by changing the squelch, which I couldn’t do today because it was just a bit too wild and bumpy.

The whole flight was originally planned to take about 1 hr 5 mins but in fact went out to about 1 hr 20 mins because of my detour over Chateau Malbec and the circuit I did over my house. I set my little Sport Cam up mounted on 56NE’s left wing but was very frustrated that I lost a full 10 minutes because for some reason, my tablet just wouldn’t connect to the GPS system. Usually I start it up before I start the engine but today I didn’t and paid the price. I also found that in its new position, the little Sport Cam could see the prop and when there was interference between the prop speed and the camera’s shutter it distorted the recorded image quite badly. So the recorded footage wasn’t usable but another useful lesson was learned. Such is life 😉

May 16, 2015

Galinat today

I didn’t fly today because the weather was a bit ‘iffy’ and the wind was gusting a bit, but I had to go to Galinat anyway to take out 56NE’s left-hand joystick and bring it home. The reason was that the Binder connectors that I recently ordered for my PTT button wiring arrived yesterday and because of the soldering involved, it’s easier for me to fabricate the cable at home rather than on the airfield. While I was there, I took a few shots to show just how great the field is now looking, now that the grass has been cut.

First, a general shot towards the top of the runway from in front of the hangar, showing how good the apron and parking area are now looking.

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Now a further similar shot that shows how the return taxi loop has been enlarged and extended and now enters the apron on the opposite side of where 56NE is parked.

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The next shot was taken from next to 56NE showing where the return taxi loop branches off the upper end of the runway.

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Next, a shot taken looking straight down the runway.

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The next shot was taken from the top of the runway looking back towards where 56NE is parked.

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Now a shot looking back up the runway showing the revised return taxi loop and the old one that it replaces.

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Finally, a general shot showing the position of 56NE.

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Before I removed the joystick I checked the mouse traps that I left the other day. In a way, I’m sorry to say that the outside one had collared a hapless mouse, although the one inside had still not been sprung, so at least that indicated that nothing had been inside peeing on my seats. The reason I express regret about catching a mouse in the other trap is that the wretched little thing was only obeying its instinct and I still have no guarantee that the one I caught is the one responsible for the damage. I’d hate to think that by setting traps with juicy lumps of cheese in that I’m enticing random passing mice to an early (and unnecessary) death. However, if no more are caught and 56NE suffers no further rodent damage, at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that I most likely did catch the varmint responsible.

I completed the work on the radio PTT this evening but I’ll say no more about that until I install it tomorrow, together with the small piece of yellow dacron trim that also arrived today. I have tested it, though, so at least I do know that it works as intended 😉

May 14, 2015

24 hours

What a difference a day makes! I nipped across to Galinat today to check on a couple of things and found that since my efforts of yesterday, someone had been all around with a tractor and a mower of truly agricultural proportions. It was a lovely job that made the place look a real picture, but in doing so they’d rendered most of the work I did yesterday, making little taxiways to and from 56NE’s parking spot, redundant. Never mind though, I did need the exercise 😐

The runway itself is now beautifully trimmed together with a lovely wide return taxi loop, which has been extended down the runway a bit further than before. But not only that, there is now an enormous mowed area across the top of the field from the top of the runway, across in front of 56NE to the hangar and beyond, making what I had done extremely puny in comparison. That’s mechanisation for you, and it will make for a great parking area for visiting aircraft as well as giving me plenty of space to park my car on 🙂

What I didn’t mention yesterday was that after cutting the grass all around 56NE, although there were no signs that the mouse had been back inside the cabin, before I left for home I set a couple of mouse traps, one inside the cabin and the other outside near a wheel. I didn’t check the one inside, but the outside one hadn’t been sprung, which I was quite pleased about. It would be nice if our face-to-face confrontation when I turned the concrete block over the other day was enough to discourage the mouse from ever returning to do its shenanigans on 56NE’s seats. But it would be even better if in the meantime he has met an attractive young lady mouse who wants to move closer to her mother and mouse girlfriends before starting a family, thus taking him away from the area for good. Here’s hoping anyway 😉

May 13, 2015

Two pleasant surprises today

As the picture I posted on Monday after landing back at Galinat showed, I really needed to do something about the long grass surrounding 56NE’s parking place. As well as being inconvenient and looking unsightly, I thought it could also help to encourage the mouse back as it brought its habitat right up to the aircraft! I couldn’t expect Christian to do it, and in any case, the grass overall is so long that he’s probably arranged for a local farmer to come and cut it to take it away for hay. No, what I ideally needed to do was fire up my ‘débroussailleuse’ (brush cutter) and get stuck in to get it down to a reasonable length myself.

There was only one problem with that idea, though. My débroussailleuse has been problematic almost ever since I bought it. Sure, I worked it hard for several weeks shortly after I got here, clearing long grass, weeds and undergrowth in my garden. I even took it across to Galinat in the early days and cleared an area around 56NE’s old parking place, but even then problems were beginning to show themselves. Starting it had become such a problem that on one occasion I managed to snap the starter cord, so then I had to dismantle the recoil starter and despite all the care I took, the spring popped out and unwound itself. After several attempts, I managed to get a new cord fitted and everything back in place, but it was a very trying episode.

And starting steadily became even worse, so much so that when I next got the machine out to try and use it, I couldn’t get it to go at all. I then put it back in my ‘atelier’ where it has stood against the wall for the best part of two years, and the weeds and undergrowth around my borders have got thicker and longer. So something had to eventually be done about it. The machine still looks brand new (apart from the cutting blade) so although I’ve been cursing it, I was reluctant to just take it to the ‘déchèterie’ and with the grass at Galinat in mind, decided to give it one more try.

The first thing I found was that the fuel tank had a split in it and was leaking fuel, but as that wouldn’t matter if I couldn’t get the ruddy thing to go, I thought that I’d jump that hurdle when I came to it. I gave it a few pulls yesterday but there didn’t seem to be a spark of life in it, so I removed the spark plug and cleaned and re-gapped it. The plug also still looked brand new, but after my experience of a few weeks ago when a new spark plug transformed my ‘motobineuse’ (rotavator) from a non-starter to a runner. I thought that I’d have nothing to lose by trying the same with this. I picked up a new one at Pôle Vert this lunch time and felt vaguely optimistic when I gapped it and put it in. And rightly so, because two or three pulls, and the machine roared into life.

So beware anyone buying Chinese built machinery (and who doesn’t from time to time – it’s hard not to nowadays). One of the ways that they get their prices down is by using components that in some cases are so cheap and nasty that in actual fact they don’t even work! That was obviously the case with my machine and I’m sure that the problems I’ve experienced with it can be traced right back to the nasty little spark plug that was fitted when the machine was manufactured. It was probably made on the table of a peasant’s back kitchen somewhere in the rural Chinese hinterland 😐

But at least I was back in business, despite the leaking fuel tank that I’d just have to live with for now. So early this afternoon, there I was smashing down the grass and weeds surrounding 56NE. The first thing I did was clear an area to park the car on because it’s very irritating getting out into knee-deep grass and having it standing above the door sills so when you close the doors, clumps of it are trapped in them. Then I cleared the area beneath the aircraft as much as I could do without moving it.

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I then moved the aircraft and finished clearing the area beneath it as well as cutting back all the horrible brambles that used to keep catching my legs as I moved around it putting the covers on after a flight, and that alone will make today’s work worth it. I also cleared an area in front of it and a taxiway from the parking spot to join up with one that Christian had already cut leading to the top of the runway. I also joined it to a return loop that Christian had also cut and you can just about see what I mean from the next few shots. The first shows 56NE standing with a now-cleared area in front of it.

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The next shot shows the taxiway I made from the parking place to join with the existing one heading towards the top of the runway and the following one shows the same looking back from the opposite direction.

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The final shot was taken from the return loop that Christian had already cut showing the junction where I’ll turn right to head for my parking spot.

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So if getting my débroussailleuse working was the first pleasant surprise of the day, what was the second? Well, it was to do with the damaged fuel tank. The split was probably caused by my planting my big hoof on the machine to hold it down during previous starting attempts and my initial thought was that as this was a low cost (relatively), Chinese machine, getting hold of a spare part would be impossible. But I could not have been more wrong!

So many different débroussailleuse brands use the same engine as mine, in fact there is a very healthy market for spare parts with several suppliers competing for your business. I managed to locate a complete new tank assembly for just over 25€ including delivery which came as my second pleasant surprise of the day. So allowing for the usual four or five days that French suppliers always need to get the goods that you’ve bought to you, pretty soon I’ll be back in business with a fully working weed smasher. The long grass, weeds and unwanted undergrowth in my borders are probably already quaking in their boots 😉

May 12, 2015

Dratted mouse

I did such a long post yesterday that I didn’t have time to mention what happened after flying back into Galinat from the cow field. When I left Galinat just over a month ago, although I took all of 56NE’s covers, I left behind the concrete blocks and ropes that I use for tying it down. The first block that I moved to allow me to push the aircraft into its parking spot was the one for the nose, and when I went to lift it, the rope just came away in my hand.

My first reaction was why on earth would anyone go to the length of cutting my rope and was thinking no more about it when I turned the block over to see if there were any ants under it. They tend to make very large and complex nests inside the blocks which you need to dispose of before you move them and make them all come running out as they can be quite aggressive! There were quite a few ants, but also looking up at me from a comfortable little nest consisting of a ball of chewed up green polypropylene fibres were two little brown eyes. It was a mouse and probably the little terror that had been chewing up my seats!

While I watched, it climbed up out of the block and legged it into the bushes, and that was the last I saw of it. I just hope that it wasn’t thinking, ‘Yippee, my nice house on wheels is back again!’ and that after I’d left, it hadn’t returned and climbed up into the cabin again. I placed a couple of large logs on the seats just in case, in an attempt to prevent it chewing them, but even if it doesn’t, after the work I did cleaning and repairing them, I can’t face the thought of the seats being soaked and stinking of mouse pee again. Having thought about it, now I’ve seen the little varmint in the flesh, I think that I’ll have to take one of the traps from my kitchen and place it in or near the aircraft. I don’t like the idea but I don’t think I have any choice 🙁

May 11, 2015

Perfect day and an idyllic flight

I checked the field before 8.00 am and there was no sign of the cows so I phoned Wim and told him that the day was a goer. By the time he arrived at around 9.00 am, I’d taken everything down to the field ready for the off except for the wings and 56NE’s fuselage, so we moved those down straight away, then opened up the wire that keeps the cows in and took everything inside.

It was a gorgeous morning, but not so hot as to make working uncomfortable, and 56NE’s reassembly went like clockwork. Both the owner of the field and the owner of the cows dropped in while we were working and were in excellent spirits, which is a good things because their being happy will make it easy to use the field again in the future if the need arises.

We finished the job off at about 12.30 pm and wouldn’t you know that having been off in far flung parts of the field the whole time up to then, the cows decided to come up to our end to see what was going on. Here’s a picture Wim took with 56NE ready to fly – the cows were standing just behind him.

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Wim’s had cows on his own airfield for the last 16 years so he had no problem shooing them away, so while he kept them towards the other end of the field, I started up, taxied up towards Christian and Marie-Hélène’s house and took off. I immediately found that I didn’t have an airspeed indicator which I found later was due to my having fitted the pitot the wrong way round, but that didn’t matter and I was soon comfortably flying straight and level in the direction of Galinat.

I am sure that 56NE flies much sweeter with this set of wing covers – I don’t know why, but it never seemed to fly as well with the yellow and blue ones that I’ve had fitted up to now as it did when I first flew it up in Brittany when I originally went to see it. Now it does again, so I’m happy and I think that the work I’ve just done was worth it. Wim followed me over to Galinat in my car and by the time he arrived, I had 56NE parked up and tied down. Here’s a shot that I then took – I’ll have to see about getting the grass cut I think, as I doubt it has been since I flew 56NE out just over a month ago.

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We then drove back to my place and Wim went home for a well-deserved lunch. I then sorted out the rest of the covers etc that I needed to transfer to Galinat and after buying some fuel and a few other things at Intermarché, I was able to look forward to heading back over there and getting back up in the air at last. The flying conditions turned out to be absolutely idyllic. It was about 6.40 pm by the time I got away so although it was still nearly 30 degrees Celsius, the main heat of the day had burnt away and the air conditions were perfect with hardly a bump to be felt. I took my camera and just enjoyed taking shots that took my fancy without worrying too much about where I was, so I’ve just included them below without captioning exactly where each one was taken.

I wanted to fly south towards Sarlat because on Saturday I’d visited someone who lives just to the east whose house is next door to a ruined chateau. The story is that like many others down here, it was destroyed by the Germans during WWII and the owner shot outside it because they had information that it was being used by the Resistance. The chateau has never been rebuilt since, and probably never will be, and it is quite spectacular as it stands above the surrounding land on the top of a low hill.

Having seen it from ground level, I wanted to see it from the air and I thought that today would be a perfect opportunity, if I could find it. The next two shots were taken while I was heading in what I hoped would be the right direction.

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As luck would have it, shortly afterwards I spotted scenery that I recognised to the south of Sarlat and was able to turn onto a heading that took me in the direction of the chateau. The next two shots show the approach to it and the chateau and its location in a bit more detail as I flew a circuit around it.

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I then turned onto more of a westerly heading, more or less in parallel with the River Dordogne, taking the the next few shots along the way. Notice the blue hot air balloon taking off in the middle distance in the second one, below.

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My route than took me past Les Eyzies and Fleurac and I took the opportunity to do a pass over Wim and Sophie’s house, although I don’t think they saw me as they were probably enjoying their evening meal. I then flew on past Plazac and took the last picture below before turning onto a heading to head back to Galinat.

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I couldn’t have asked for a better flight to get me reacquainted with 56NE after a break of just over a month. It flew beautifully with the replacement wing covers and looks much better for the change-over as well. After I’d landed back at Galinat and switched off, I could hardly believe how lovely an evening it still was, with the sun still giving off plenty of heat as it headed towards setting and the grass-hoppers all chirruping away. The edge was slightly taken off when I found that during the flight, a small section of cover next to the passenger seat had come off and disappeared, but hopefully that should be easy enough to replace. But it had been a splendid day taken all round and as I drove homewards at going on 9.00 pm, I noticed that my car temperature gauge was still showing around 25 degrees. Brilliant – makes living and flying down here absolute magic 😉

May 10, 2015

D-Day minus 1

That’s ‘D’ for ‘décollage’ (take off). Wim’s available tomorrow morning to give me a hand and it looks as though the cows either aren’t in the field or are in another part of it, so as the weather also looks as though it’ll be perfect, I gave M. Lajoie a ring this afternoon to make sure that a take off from his field would be OK. He said that it would be fine so long as there were no cows in the way – but to watch out for ‘la merde sur l’herbe’. I said that this was a problem with which ULMistes are well acquainted, and from sheep as well as cows, but he said, ‘Yes, but sheep’s are small and cows’ are much bigger!’

It was Victor’s birthday lunch today – thank you Victor for a really brilliant bash! – that started at about 10.30 am and went on until something like 4.30 pm and was a great opportunity to meet up with old and new friends. So apart from making the above phone call, I didn’t get anything else done, except while I was getting everything ready for tomorrow, I just gave the wing struts a bit of a wash down. Now the wings are back on the front grass, ready to be taken down the road to the field tomorrow, 56NE’s fuselage is ready to taxy down and my tools and other items are ready in the back of the car.

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I told Wim that I’ll take a walk down to the field first thing to check on the cow situation and hopefully we’ll be able to make a start on getting 56NE back together by 9.00 am and ready to go by around 10.30 am. I hope that there are no hold-ups because the grass in all of the fields around here is thick and lush, except in the one I want to take off from, which is much thinner with the occasional higher clump dotted here and there. But who knows what will happen if I don’t get away tomorrow or soon after – I’d hate to have to make arrangements to shift 56NE by car and trailer, even just to Galinat 😐

May 7, 2015

Just about finished

Not quite, because I still have to clean and where necessary, touch up the wing struts, but we had a lovely afternoon that gave me the chance to totally complete all of the work I had planned on 56NE’s fuselage and engine. All I had to do today was replace a few corroded nuts and finish touching up various spots, mainly on the undercarriage and wheels, where the white paintwork had been chipped and here’s a shot I took at the end of the afternoon.

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56NE could be ready to fly again in less than a day but that’s not going to happen because of yet more rain and unsettled weather being forecast for at least the next couple of days or so. It’s said that patience is a virtue but these weather patterns are now becoming very tedious for this time of the year. I’ve also decided to do something ASAP about the PTT button, which can’t be left as it is, Velcroed to the top of the left-hand stick, and I’ve ordered a pair of Binder connectors to fabricate a permanent arrangement. More about this when I’ve received them.

May 6, 2015

Spot of good fortune today

I had a little bit of luck today that I’ll come back to in a moment. I originally volunteered to help Victor with the preparatory work on the new airfield today but as he seemed to have no shortage of labour, I decided that my time would be better spent pressing on towards completion of the work on 56NE as I’ve now got the finishing line in sight. I’d hoped to get all of the work on the engine and fuselage knocked off today but I didn’t quite manage it, mainly because I had to spend a bit of time sorting out the fuselage rear cover.

X-Airs are fairly typical in that their fuselage cover is tied with cords to the fuselage frame behind the seats and to the rear of the pod underneath and the cover is then wrapped around the fuselage with an overlap at the top secured by Velcro. Now here’s a tip for anyone who isn’t too familiar with this arrangement. Because the fuselage section is very large at the cabin end and very small at the tail, if the cover is pulled too far forward eg by over-tensioning the securing cord, this drastically reduces the amount of overlap available along the top edge. And the smaller the overlap, the smaller the amount of Velcro holding the cover on. Even a difference of 1/2″-3/4″ of an inch can mean that there is practically no overlap on the Velcro at all, making for a very unsafe fastening.

Here’s an example of just how bad this can be. An X-Air that I went to view as a potential purchase in the UK after losing MYRO that had been inspected and approved for permit by a BMAA inspector, had so little overlap along the top of its fuselage cover that the owner had punched holes through the fabric either side of the join and inserted cable ties to keep the cover from flying open in flight. And the BMAA insists that the inspection regime must be maintained for the safety of pilots, to protect them from themselves. I ask you. I’m just glad that I’m out of it 😐

So what’s the answer? Here’s how to fit the fuselage cover. Wrap the cover around the fuselage and secure the full Velcro overlap BEFORE attaching the securing cord at the front end. I’ve now done it this way twice, with both MYRO and 56NE, and it works. You may wonder why I needed to do this with 56NE when it was apparently quite satisfactory before. Well, it wasn’t actually. The amount of Velcro overlap was only about 50%, which was less than I would have liked, and then to make things worse, as cord from natural material had been used to secure the cover’s front end (rather than something like polypropylene), it had shrunk when I’d washed the cover, thereby tightening and pulling the cover even further forward. So when I went to reattach it, there was hardly any overlap at all.

This was a good thing because it forced me to re-fit the cover, even though it cost me some time because of having to go off to Les Briconautes again to buy the cord that I needed. And that’s when I had my little bit of luck. I’d made a rough guesstimate of the length that I’d need, then added a bit on and bought 8 metres. After first fastening the cover with the full Velcro overlap, I then cut a 1 metre length to tie the bottom of the cover to the rear of the pod – and it took exactly that! Gulp… I then attached and tensioned both front sides of the cover to the fuselage frame behind the seats – and the amount of cord required was exactly the remainder of the 8 metres that I’d bought! I could hardly believe my luck, because if it’d been even a few centimetres short, it would have meant another time-consuming drive into Montignac to buy a little bit more 🙂

I was very happy with the finished job and 56NE must now be one of the few X-Airs with a proper, full Velcro fastening of its fuselage cover, as the following pics show.

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It’s not rocket science but from the X-Airs I’ve seen, it’s a trick that’s missed by an amazingly large number of X-Air owners (and other types too).

And not only do you end up with a nice, safe top fastening but the Velcro strips that secure the side and top cover pieces behind and above the seats also end up where they should be – which is to the rear of the fuselage tubes to which the fuselage cover is tied, making for a better appearance, even for an older aircraft like 56NE.

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The final job for today was completing 56NE’s clean up, by washing the pod, undercarriage, rear cover and tail assembly. It wasn’t a fantastic day for this today, with a high of only 18 degrees Celsius, but luckily the sun seemed to come out just when I needed it to, and afterwards the whole fuselage assembly was soon dry. Here’s a shot that I took at the end of the day.

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I also fitted some new plugs, topped up the rad and gave the engine a quick fire up before covering 56NE up for the night. It started on the button after the usual hand prime so all’s well in that department. All I have to do now is a bit of white touch-up and then I can start thinking about getting it ready to fly again. It’s taken a bit longer than I originally anticipated and a possible problem is that the cows are now in the field where I want to take off from. I’ll have to jump that hurdle in a few days’ time 😉

May 5, 2015

Radio in and working

The previous owners of 56NE had an Icom radio fitted with a separate weird intercom system, all run from a separate heavy lead-acid battery installed on the floor behind the front of the panel. What they did about charging the battery I have no idea because it was not connected into the electrical system, but that’s another story. When I acquired 56NE, the radio wasn’t included, of course, so I just took out the battery and intercom and as the antenna also corroded and broke, just left it at that because we have little need for radio down here.

But that will change with our planned flight up the west coast, so one of the jobs on my current list was to fit my little hand-held radio. I’ve still got all of the kit that I used in MYRO and this time I also needed to install the power supply to top up the radio’s battery as I’ll not be able to rely on having a mains supply handy wherever we stop for the night to plug a charger in. So that was today’s job.

I received a new antenna from the UK a few days ago but couldn’t fit it immediately because it needed a smaller hole than what was already in the existing bracket. So having acquired a nice strip of aluminium from Les Briconautes yesterday, the first task was to remove and discard the old bracket and fabricate a new one. I was quite happy to do that because the old bracket was a bit thin and flimsy and not exactly a masterpiece of the first order. Here are a couple of shots of the new one, which is a big improvement, with the antenna mounted on it.

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The old antenna cable had been run along the fuselage main tube, past the battery, overhead the cabin and down the front tube leading from the engine to under the panel. I didn’t much care for that because as it ran down to the panel, it was bunched up with all of the other cables from the engine and the electrical system. It seemed to me that although you could get away with it if you were lucky, if you weren’t, this could be a recipe for picking up feedback and interference that could ruin your radio transmissions and reception. I prefer to keep the antenna as far away from other ‘live’ electrical cables as possible and in MYRO I did this by running it down along the lower fuselage tubes, into the cabin under the floor and then popping up vertically under the panel close to where the radio was fitted. That way it was possible to totally avoid any other cables and I was rewarded by having a really clear radio signal in both directions.

This was helped by my not needing any connection to the aircraft’s electrical system whatsoever to power the radio on account of its battery life being far longer than any flight that I undertook and I even got away with it when I flew down from Stoke to the Dordogne because I was able to charge the radio’s battery when I stopped overnight at Wanafly. As mentioned above, this will not apply during our west coast trip and it could well be that the on-board power supply might also end up being a source of interference, but I’ll just have to wait and see.

So I ran the antenna cable in 56NE just as I did with MYRO and came up from under the floor just behind the panel. I mounted everything with Velcro as I did with MYRO so the equipment can be removed overnight if necessary or when 56NE is parked for longer at Galinat or elsewhere. It was tricky finding the ideal locations for everything and until I’ve flown and tried the system out, I’ll regard everything as ‘temporary’, especially the PTT button which is just a compromise for the time being. I have a suitable button to mount in the top of the stick but I need to get hold of a connector that will allow me to easily remove the cabling when the radio isn’t needed.

Here’s a shot showing the arrangement that I ended up with today, that will more than likely change once I’ve used the system in flight and found out how well, or otherwise, it performs.

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I placed the power supply on the panel over on the passenger side. I haven’t made a ‘hard’ connection into 56NE’s electrical system but instead opted for using a DIN plug that I put into the panel specifically for the purpose, should the need arise. Now it has, and it’s always nice when a plan comes together and even better if the system works well with a nice clear incoming and outgoing signal 😉

May 3, 2015

Here, kitty kitty…

I need a moggie. No, not really, but I was seriously considering getting hold of a good mouser just a few hours ago, I can tell you. I’ve spent hours today cleaning up after my two uninvited guests and I won’t be surprised if I keep coming across little reminders of their stay for some time yet 🙁

The trouble is, when they come into your house while you’re away for several days, they are able to roam absolutely everywhere and you have absolutely no idea where they’ve been. That’s until you come across their little trails, of course. I suspected that they’d been on my desk and on the shelf above it because when I first returned home, I found a poly bag containing SD memory cards on the floor that had obviously been knocked off the shelf. And the proof came a few minutes ago when I sat down to type this, moved some paper on the corner of my desk and came across a little pile of poo.

But the worst thing is when they’ve been in your kitchen cupboards among your food and cooking utensils and on the worktops themselves, and that’s what I’ve been dealing with today. Because I’m nowhere near finishing my kitchen just yet, I’ve got a gap along the backs of the worktops. After the other day when I cornered a little blighter, that I subsequently caught and disposed of, and it dived into the gap and disappeared into the space behind the cabinets, I blocked that all up with rolled up paper. But for the time being at least, if a mouse gets into my kitchen, there’s no way that I can stop it getting into that space from below.

Although I’m now ‘mouse hardened’ and store all foodstuffs in plastic containers so mice can’t get at them, this still gave the little buggers the chance to have a field day because of the openings that I had to cut in the backs of the cupboards for services. Mice explore everywhere and as soon as they find a hole they go through it, even when there’s nothing on the other side that might interest them, such as food. They still seem to take great pleasure in climbing all over everything in the cupboard searching just in case, and leaving their unhygienic little mousie trail behind them as they go.

Until today, that is. I’ve had to empty and thoroughly clean and disinfect four cupboards (if you include the double below the sink as two) and their contents as well as the worktops themselves to be on the safe side. And that’s after I gave them all a clean when I returned home a few days ago, before the second mouse went back in and wreaked its revenge. But today I decided that it was time to do something about preventing the mice getting into my cupboards at all, even if they could still get behind them, so that hopefully this would be the last time that I’d have to do it.

I’ve used old 2 litre ice cream tubs for storage of items such as biscuits and cereals and I’ve noticed that they’ve proven to be absolutely mouse proof, even though some containing biscuits have been standing in the open the whole time on the worktop. So today I’ve cut up an old lid to make plastic blanking pieces to fit around the services that come through into the cupboards and blank off the holes. It took quite a while to do because the holes needed to be carefully cut out to leave no gap for a mouse to get through afterwards, but in the end I was pretty certain that what I’ve done will be effective.

The holes that needed blocking included the main water stop-cock, the sink outlet, the hot and cold water supplies and the outlet for the washing machine/dishwasher and after carefully cutting them out, I secured the plastic blanking pieces to the cabinet backs with gaffer tape. Here’s the one on the water stop-cock to show what I mean.

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So that hopefully will be the last time that I’ll have to clean out my cupboards after a mouse invasion. However, the little blighters are a fact of life down here and they seem to be very enterprising, not to mention nosey. The three mousetraps that I put out when I was going after mouse number two last week have been down ever since and have remained empty, so it looks as though I only had the two and was lucky to get ’em before they made themselves even more at home and began breeding (phew!). But I guess only time will tell whether what I’ve done will be effective at repelling future mouse invaders – or at least keeping them out of my ruddy cupboards 😐

May 1, 2015

Back home again

I left late afternoon on 23rd April to head south to the Aude to give my lovely friend Val a hand moving house. I didn’t get anything done on 56NE before I left because it was raining more or less the whole time, so there was no point hanging around any longer. To be honest, I was glad to get away because I needed a change of scenery after what feels like a long winter and I was looking forward to having Val’s company even though I knew we had some hard work ahead of us to get everything done that we needed to, in the time available.

Whenever I’ve been to Val’s place, it always seems to have been raining and as we planned to be moving the furniture out of her house on the Monday, I hoped that things would be different this time. Whenever I’ve been involved in a house move, my own or anyone else’s, it has always rained and I hoped that we’d get away with it this time. However, my hopes were to be dashed (and some!) as I’ll explain later. Here’s a pic I took of Val’s house from in front of the café opposite after we’d been able to sit outside for a drink and a snack during one of the brighter, dry breaks between the showers and the torrential rainstorms 😉

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Val had booked a van for Monday 27th and our main job before then was to fill all the cardboard boxes that she’d managed to beg, borrow and steal, with all her things. By working like the clappers, we managed to get that done by the end of Saturday, which allowed us to go out for a leisurely Chinese meal at a new restaurant in Limoux on Saturday night and have Sunday off. After the meal, we decided to head to the square in Limoux for coffee and a couple of drinks and didn’t think too much about the odd flash of lightening that lit up the sky as we drove due to the proximity of the Pyrenées. However, once we were ensconced outside le Brasserie de Commerce, to say that the heavens opened is an understatement.

The rain started coming down in stair rods and bouncing back up off the stones in the square. The noise was incredible and the water poured down off the facade of the cloisters that we were seated under in sheets, although we remained sheltered and dry. However, the air became so chilled that we had to go indoors where, of course, we had to buy another drink (or two) before the rain eventually eased enough for us to make a dash back to the car.

Sunday dawned dry although a little bit overcast, so we decided to go off for a drive into le Pays du Sault, a mountainous area to the south of Limoux in the direction of Perpignan. While heading for les Gorges de Galamus we had a fantastic view of Mont Bugarach with its peak shrouded in cloud and I pulled up to take the next two pics of what was an incredibly impressive scene.

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What the shots cannot show is that the cloud was coming in from the right, curling over the peak of the mountain and then swirling on the other side in a full 360 degrees rotation. It occurred to me that anyone in a light aircraft entering such a weather system would find it a nightmare, and probably fatal, scenario, and even more so with what we found a few moments later when we climbed higher into the mist, as I’ll mention in a moment.

After taking the above pics we started up again and made our way through the tiny village of Bugarach, and as we left the village behind us and continued to slowly climb, I stopped the car again and took the next two shots looking back towards the village that we had not long ago left.

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We then continued our drive climbing slowly upwards into the mist whereupon I was struck by what appeared to me to be a weird weather phenomenon. Lower down on the flat land around the village of Bugarach the air was fairly calm with little wind to speak of. However, as we climbed higher, the wind became stronger and stronger, bending the tops of the trees and blowing clumps of mist past us at high speed. No wonder the cloud was swirling over the top of Mont Bugarach with winds like these, and pity any poor aviator who entered such a system, whether by poor judgement or accident, because I doubt that they’d ever have come out of it alive! A lesson well learnt 😐

After a few minutes we came to les Gorges de Galamus, one of the most impressive bits of natural scenery in the whole region. The road running through the gorge is about a kilometre in length, hugging the cliff face and passing through the mountain itself where it was impossible to build a road externally. It is for small vehicles only (eg NO camping cars) and almost completely single track but with the occasional passing place or emergency area. Val told me that in the summer when there are lots of tourists around, a man has to stand at each end with a radio and they only allow traffic to flow in one direction at a time, but during our visit, we had to take ‘pot luck’ as there was very little other traffic, mainly on account of the weather I would guess.

After exiting the gorge, we pulled up onto a small area at the side of the road where I was able to take the final two pictures that capture some of the character of the gorge’s wild and rugged scenery.

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We then headed for home via the small town if Quillan, a place much favoured for second and holiday homes by British ex-pats. We found our way to Le Palace, a brasserie next to the river which was once an art-deco cinema and is still painted in its original pastel colours, where we enjoyed some liquid refreshment and a large plate of ‘frites’. Delicious 😉

Later on we returned to Quillan for an evening meal at le Café de la Gare, which to say the least, was an enjoyable but bizarre experience. We were greeted on arrival by a Peter Griffin look-alike but without the glasses who led us to our places, which was not difficult as there was only one other couple seated having a meal.

The chairs and tables were a totally disparate mix but didn’t look too bad for all that and the decor was probably best described as ‘eclectic’. Seated in the middle of the counter off to one side of us was a large green frog that was not far short of a metre high and in the rear of the room was a large fish tank that looked as though it hadn’t been cleaned out for many a long month, so much so that from where we were, it was impossible to see if there were actually any fish in it. There were all sorts of artifacts hanging on the walls, ranging from two huge ornate mirrors to ancient photographs of (probably) long deceased family members and weird monochrome prints. And behind us, in front of the main window, there was a table covered with containers and pots containing the most exquisite orchids you could ever wish to see.

And that wasn’t all. While we were waiting, I noticed that there was a ventilation fan high up in the back wall but the only problem was that it couldn’t be used, because it was half covered by the suspended ceiling that had been installed some time later. I said to Val that I imagined that it had happened when the ‘new’ ceiling and modernised lighting had been fitted, probably from the look of it at some time just after WWII 🙂

‘Peter’ arrived to take our order and it was then that we noticed, somewhat disconcertingly, that he had some rather grubby fabric dressings on the index finger and thumb of his left hand, probably as a result of a slight misjudgement with a sharp knife earlier in the day. Val and I looked at each other but decided to risk it. ‘Peter’s’ equally large wife than arrived on the scene and as the kitchen looked hardly big enough to swing a cat in, they did much of the preparation in an open area towards the back of the room and to one side of the fish tank. We decided that it was best not to think about it and to let them get on with it and it was lucky that we did.

‘Peter’ himself delivered the dishes to our table and was by now sweating like a pig, which explained why he had a napkin kind of arrangement around his neck that he occasionally used to mop his face and brow. But what can we say? The food was beautifully cooked and absolutely delicious. But still our experiences were not yet over! We had earlier noticed an ironing board standing over to one side of the room but hadn’t given it much more thought until Madame sat herself behind it and started ironing a pile of table napkins while meantime chatting to us and the few other people who had by now joined us in the restaurant. So truly a ‘restaurant familial’ and an experience not to be missed. It could only be in la belle France!

Monday, the day of the move, arrived with cold, blustery wind and rain. And then it got worse. It may have stopped raining while we were driving but at each end it pelted down while we were either loading or unloading. Unloading was at a beautiful old chateau near Castelnaudray that Val sold a year or so before to John and Chris, a British couple who had taken up permanent residence there. The chateau has several ‘dépendances’ or annexes one of which will eventually be turned into an art gallery. For now Chris is just using a part of it and they kindly offered to allow Val to store her belongings in the other part until such time as she has completed the sale on her new house.

We made three trips there during the day and although it was raining so hard during the first one that we had to put a wooden board over the van’s rear doors to provide us with some protection, Chris was kind enough to be on hand each time to give us a hand to get the stuff off and indoors under cover. This was a real godsend. Eventually the job was done, but not before the van hire company had kindly agreed for us to keep the van overnight at no extra charge as they didn’t have a customer for it the next day. Finally we found ourselves sitting in John and Chris’s nice warm kitchen, chatting and enjoying their hospitality while we downed a glass or two of Blanquette de Limoux, and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect end to the days’ work.

Val left early the next morning to return the van and I left after a quick breakfast to head back to Plazac. I returned to find a house and garden that had been battered by a thunderstorm which had cut the electricity for about six hours, according to a timer that I had running, but that hadn’t been soaked half as badly as Limoux had. But shortly after I found when I opened a couple of cupboard doors that an unwelcome guest had taken up residence while I’d been gone in the form of a mouse who’d found nothing suitable to eat but had made quite a mess while searching.

So on Wednesday I reluctantly put a trap out while going outside to cut the grass, which had grown pretty long in the meantime. When I returned, or shortly after, the trap did its dastardly work and I found it with a small, lifeless brown body in its jaw. I don’t like taking life, even that of a little mouse who was, after all, just following its instinct and foraging for food, but from my experience the last time, I felt that I didn’t have any choice because of the messy trail it leaves behind while doing so. But then things got worse.

All was quiet and calm yesterday but earlier on today I spotted a little brown form scuttling across the worktop when I entered my kitchen. Then when I opened the cupboards that I’d already cleaned out the day before, I found yet more mess strewn around inside. So there were two of them. After I’d spotted it on my worktop, the second mouse had popped into the gap I’d left between the worktop and wall and disappeared so I then spent several minutes blocking it off with pieces of paper, after which I placed three traps on the floor. But later on I entered the kitchen again and there was the mouse once more on the worktop. This time it couldn’t disappear down the same gap so when it hid behind the washing up liquid, I thought I had it cornered.

But no! This time it managed to squeeze into an even smaller gap and disappear behind the cabinets. So I got busy again with the rolled up paper and blocked off every bit of gap that I thought it might be able to use, and when I went off earlier for a meal with Victor, left the three traps primed on ‘hair trigger’ setting. And when I came back, the poor little creature had met its end in one of them. I’m not happy about that because I don’t think the world is any better for having lost two little mice. I believe in ‘live and let live’ but I just wish the little blighters would do more of their living outside of my house where they can do all the foraging they want to, to their hearts’ content. If they keep a good look-out for the local moggies, that is 😉