August 30, 2015

Not much doing

Just about everything I have to do means working outside and quite honestly, with temperatures back in the low-30s Celsius, it’s just too hot for outdoor physical work. Which means that starting on digging out for and shuttering the concrete base of my new tool store will have to wait for a few days yet. We’re expecting to get back into the mid-20s from about Tuesday of the coming week, which will be much more bearable.

The other thing is that as soon as you work up a bit of a sweat, you’re plagued by attacks from multiple stinging and biting insects. I think that these have been the biggest downside for me of living here in the Dordogne and they came as a total surprise after moving here. To give you an idea – after spending a couple of hours riding up and down the runway at Galinat cutting the grass on Thursday wearing shorts, my legs were covered in bites between knees and ankles to the extent that I’ve even had to get up several times during the nights to apply more soothing cream in order to get back to sleep. And even today, three days later, I’m still being plagued by several large red itchy bumps on both legs.

Mind you, I’ve mentioned several times how even while I’ve been removing 56NE’s covers and getting it ready to fly in the warm, sunny weather I’ve had to be constantly swatting away stinging and biting flies and insects, so it should have come as no surprise that the same would happen, but many times worse, as soon as I began driving the mower up and down and stirring the grass up.

I also need to get across to Galinat to adjust 56NE’s brake cables now that the new ones that I fitted a few weeks ago have bedded in. However, that would simply be inviting yet more stings and bites in these temperatures, so that’s a job that can also wait until next week when it’s a bit cooler. But nothing to stop me getting the two builders I’ve got lined up so far to come in and look at the work I’ve got planned on my house. In fact, that for me will be the highlight of the coming week ๐Ÿ™‚

August 28, 2015

Brilliant evening flight!

I was planning all week to fly today because the weather forecast always said that the modest winds that we’ve been experiencing for the last few days would drop today, on top of which we would also have a perfect warm and sunny summer evening. It didn’t look that way, though, this morning because the cloud was low (almost a Scotch mist where I live) and the vis was poor. In the event, it turned out exactly as per the forecast and I was able do the flight that I’d already planned and loaded into my little Asus tablet.

null

In preparation, as Christian had not been able to arrange for a tractor with a large mower to cut the grass at Galinat, yesterday I took my new ride-on over there to do the job myself. It did pretty well but as Christian pointed out when I bumped into him today at Intermarchรฉ, when the grass is long, you can’t go too fast with a smaller machine. I told him that I’d already found that out by burning out the belt on my machine after only mowing half the width that I’d wanted to, but it was wide enough for me and 56NE, so off I went as planned at just after 6.30pm.

The route was similar to a flight I did before leaving for England on 2 August, except this time I went round clockwise, the opposite direction to previously. Funnily enough, just as before, I came across a bunch of ‘montgolfiers’ (hot air balloons) presumably carrying tourists in the southern-most section and gave them a wide berth like I did last time that fortunately did not mean going too far off my planned route. I didn’t take my camera and although I set up my little sports cam and started it up, it decided to turn itself off after 4 minutes, just as I was taking off. For some reason, although I used it lots of times during our west coast trip, I haven’t been successful in getting it to work properly since.

So what I’ve done is show below the pics that I took on 2 August, but in the reverse order to which I took them.

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

See, if I hadn’t mentioned it, you’d never have known as the only difference was that today there were a few more clouds to start off with than on 2 August. I’ll not bother trying to remember exactly where each shot was taken – I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves ๐Ÿ˜‰

August 26, 2015

Projects are like buses

You have none and then a bunch of them come along all at the same time. I’ve got to get cracking on my new tool store but at the same time I’ve got another much bigger one up my sleeve that I’ve also got to progress, as I’ll explain in a moment.

I already had work lined up on the bigger one today but I couldn’t resist going out first thing to peg out the spot that I’ve earmarked for the new tool store just so I could satisfy myself that it will work as I envisage it. Here’s a shot taken from further forward in my garden to show what will be its general position. You can just see the pegs that I banged into the ground at what will be each of its corners.

null

And here’s a shot taken from much closer to what will be its position. Although it looks as though it’s a bit on the skew, in fact it’s parallel to the rear boundary of my garden and it’s only the trees that I’ll need to cut back a bit that give that impression, I think.

null

And finally, here’s a shot from what will be the new tool store’s left-hand front corner.

null

But my priority today was the other project so that was as far as I could get to today on the tool store. When I bought my house here in France, one of the reasons why I chose it was because of the enormous amount of potential that it had for improvement and development. The French are not much into that sort of thing but the expats who buy property in France, mainly Brits, Dutch and German, spend a great deal of time and money on renovating, extending and improving old property and mostly do a fantastic job. When I bought my house it was ‘vide’, empty, and had very little in it except for an awful old toilet and bathroom and an ancient chipped earthenware sink in the kitchen. But what it has got is a spacious ‘grenier’ on the first floor which has always cried out to be developed into extra living space.

Up to now I’ve not been in a position to proceed but at last I have the resources to hand to do so. It’s too late to do anything this year because my plans will involve stripping and replacing the roof after installing some decent insulation, but because of the need to get pricing and a suitable contractor sorted out for the spring of next year (it’s too big a project for me to do single-handedly myself), I need to get some rough sketches and plans together to discuss with the builders that I ask to quote. So that’s what I had to do today.

Here’s what I came up with after toiling away for several hours on my PC.

Plan front elevation

Plan rear elevation

I’ve also turned out an initial floorplan for the first floor, but at present everything’s only at concept stage and I’m sure that as time passes it will all be modified. Being a ‘DIYer’ but not a builder, I’m pretty certain that what I’m proposing is achievable but my early discussions with the professionals, two of whom I’ve already got lined up to talk to through contacts, will be very illuminating. My main concern, of course, is that my vision doesn’t exceed my budget but time will tell and I can’t wait to get those discussions underway ๐Ÿ˜‰

August 25, 2015

Here we go again!

My goodness, how time flies. Almost the end of August and I remember saying to someone at about this time last year, ‘You wait, before you know it, it’ll be Christmas’, and it was. And somehow I think it’ll be the same this year too. And it was about this time last year that I ordered in my first load of wood for my wood burner and had to turn my thoughts to building my new wood store to keep it in.

Now, strangely enough I’m doing almost the same thing all over again, but for slightly different reasons. Now that I’ve got hold of a decent ride on mower, I need a good weather-proof store to keep it in if I’m going to be able to maintain it in the same condition that it’s in at the moment. I’d already been having idle thoughts about building another store of some kind because with my cement mixer, wheelbarrow and rotavator (which fair enough, I expect to be getting rid of) plus sundry garden furniture when the weather gets really bad, there just isn’t enough room in the existing one for the amount of wood that I’d ideally like be storing in it. So now that I need one anyway for my new mower, that clinches it.

I’ve got the perfect spot earmarked for it, under the trees in the rear right-hand corner of my garden. It’s out of the way there and won’t be noticeable for me or my neighbours (not that it won’t be a thing of beauty…) and as the ground there is shaded and under the trees, I doubt that it’ll ever be much good for anything else anyway. And the piece of ground that’s available is also exactly the right size for what I have in mind, which is a shelter of about the same ground area as my wood store but with a slightly higher roofline to make it a bit more comfortable to spend time in, as it could also double up as a very nice little workshop if I design the interior properly. Here’s a quick sketch that I knocked up on my PC to show what I have in mind.

null

I’ll build it in a similar way to the wood store except this time it’ll need a back on it, of course. It’ll be mounted as before on a good concrete slab and I’ll also put a small concreted area topped with stone slabs in front of it so things can be stood there without just being on the grass where they might dig in. It should be a quicker build than the wood store partly because of what I learnt building that but also because there’s nothing there already that will have to be dismantled and cleared away and also because the ground is flatter and easier to prepare than before.

As I’m eager to get going, I drove over to Brico Depot this afternoon to pick up a bit more sand/ballast mix for concrete, another bag of cement to add to what I’ve already got and four good boards to use as shuttering for the base. So I’m all set and intend to get cracking ASAP while the weather forecast is pretty good. I’m rather looking forward to it, actually, and to be honest with the weight I’ve put on following my UK visit, I can really do with the exercise. And the next thing I must do is get on the phone and order up my first load of wood for this winter ๐Ÿ˜‰

August 23, 2015

Eventful week

I’ve had a very busy time since my return from the UK. I’ve been especially busy this week having taken Sophie’s son, Jean-Pierre, and his lovely little daughter for flights from Galinat in 56NE on Thursday but my time has mainly been taken up with other things, namely the acquisition of a new (to me) trailer and ride-on mower. I think that I was especially lucky with both, as I’ll explain.

I’ve mentioned many times previously that there’s a well-known web site in France called Le Bon Coin on which you can advertise anything for sale for free and which is therefore a magnet for buyers because on it you can find almost anything that you want. It’s divided up into regions (remember, France is a very big country geographically compared to the UK) and the main problem that I’ve found is that whenever I’ve been searching for anything, I’ve never been able to find it in the Dordogne, or if so, it’s always for some reason been more expensive than in other parts of France. You can search your ‘dรฉpartement’ and the neighbouring ones, but in the case of the Dordogne, this means that your search will extend as far south as the Spanish border, as far west as the Atlantic and as far north as Brittany, all of which involve many hours of driving to get to.

It was almost the same with the two items that I wanted this week, coupled with the fact that while I did not have a suitable large trailer, I couldn’t go for any of the advertised ride-on mowers! While I was searching for a trailer, lots of ride-ons were advertised and were snapped up and I thought, mistakenly as it happens, that I was missing lots of absolute bargains. I was looking for a double-axle trailer large enough to take a ride-on mower, which the small one that I have at present isn’t, that I could also use for carrying building materials and large items out of my garden. I spotted one that was perfect for my needs and at an incredibly low price last weekend and after trying and failing to get through to the advertiser’s mobile number, fired off an email message. It turned out that that message was my trump card.

The trailer was located down in the Tarn et Garonne, the other side of Montauban, but its price made the distance worthwhile. The seller replied to my message the next day and when he said that it was still available I said that I’d be down to see it the same evening. As soon as I saw it, I agreed to buy it and it was then that the seller somewhat ruefully told me that I had been the first to reply and showed me the scores of messages that he’d subsequently received from other prospective buyers. He said that he now realised that his price was far too low and I think he was right, but it didn’t stop me from paying it, though ๐Ÿ˜‰

So then I could continue my search for a ride-on mower. The old one that I bought for peanuts several months ago that is falling to bits (literally) nevertheless proved that I could use such a machine successfully in my garden and I not only wanted one to replace it (ie small enough to use in my garden) but also one that would be big and powerful enough to use over at Galinat. Christian, the owner, doesn’t always have the time to keep on top of the grass (and weeds) and when I flew this week, the runway was covered in long, straggly weeds and looked particularly ragged. It would help us both if I could pop a mower over there and just run up and down it a few times, but not just any old ride-on would do. I’d need one of at least 13 hp or so with a cut diameter of something like 96 cms so it would not be over-stretched and end up burning itself out, and such mowers weren’t coming up that regularly on LBC. And when they did, they were at somewhat elevated prices.

Then I had a stroke of luck. I’ve found in the past that not all LBC advertisers are totally literate, or to be more fair, sometimes make undetected spelling mistakes. When that happens, most buyers don’t find their items as a result of using ‘normal’ search terms, so it’s worthwhile trying a few spelling variations yourself when you carry out searches for what you’re looking to buy. And so it was that I came across a ride-on mower being advertised over in the Gironde in the Arcachon area. It had been put up a few days before and I was encouraged when I was told that it was still for sale when I inquired. Not surprising, really, as mine was probably the only enquiry they’d received, and it didn’t help much when the advertiser didn’t seem to understand much about engine power and cut diameter.

But I was undeterred because something told me that I’d lighted upon a little gem. The machine had been photographed inside a wooden shed in which it had obviously always been stored, unlike the majority of ride-ons in France that are left outside in the rain by their owners, so I decided to take the drive ‘out-west’ towing my new trailer to see what was what. I was met by the advertiser’s husband who then took me to his elderly but sprightly relative’s house where the mower was located and as soon as I saw it, I knew that I’d buy it even at the full advertised price.

The mower was only about 4 years old and had been very little used. It also had a 14 hp Briggs and Stratton engine and a cut diameter of 97 cms, so was exactly what I was looking for as it totally met my needs. The old boy took great pleasure in a lengthy demonstration of the machine in all its modes which I politely observed while all the time just wanting to cut to the chase of the price. When we finally did, I offered 50โ‚ฌ less than the asking price, and the deal was clinched. And so it was that I arrived back home with it on the back of my new trailer at about 10.30 pm last night, very tired but flushed with success.

Luckily, I checked the weather forecast having noticed building thunderstorms and lightening over the Dordogne on the way home (it was around 35 degrees again yesterday) and was able to get it covered up on my trailer against the overnight rain that was forecast, and indeed materialised. Here are a few shots that I took of both my new trailer and ride-on mower this morning after the rain had stopped and I was able to think about getting the mower back onto the ground without proper ramps.

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

null

The rain actually held off long enough for me to test the ride-on out by doing a complete mow of my front lawn. It ran beautifully and did the job effortlessly, so I think that I was incredibly lucky to come across it, let alone buy it for the price that I did. On Thursday, Christian said that he was going to arrange for a large tractor and mower to run over the runway at Galinat so this coming week I’ll have to check to see if he has been able to. If not, I might just give him a little surprise ๐Ÿ˜‰

August 14, 2015

Back in the groove

I got back a couple of days ago from my trip to the UK to what is now a rather soggy Plazac. When I left we were still enjoying temperatures in the upper 30s and the grass was brown and burnt. But in my absence and since I returned home, the heavens have opened several times and now it’s beginning to turn green again and the weeds are thriving more than ever.

I chose Dunkerque rather than Calais for my return Channel crossing in view of the current problems at Calais and even after stopping several times for meal, fuel and rest breaks, arrived there comfortably for my 10.00pm sailing despite not leaving home until after 10.30 in the morning. The roads on the French side were typically uncongested and free-flowing and the drive north could (almost) be described as a pleasure. There was a bit of a delay sailing from Dunkerque due to the disruption at Calais but that gave me a chance to finish off the salad that I’d prepared that morning and taken with me and take a short nap in readiness for my drive on the other side.

The contrast on the English side could not have been greater. Just getting out of Dover onto the M20 motorway on the fiddly narrow, winding roads that were more or less fully taken up by the international lorry traffic that had also come off the ferry was bad enough with roundabouts seemingly every few hundred metres, but that was only the beginning. The real problems started as soon as I hit what is now laughingly described as the UK trunk road and motorway network.

Getting up to any kind of speed on these roads is impossible because of the never-ending roadworks at most of which there were miles of traffic cones but seemingly no signs whatsoever of any meaningful ‘work’ activity. And in any case, you can’t get up to speed because you’re not allowed to on account of the seemingly ubiquitous ‘average speed check’ speed limits that have now been imposed on top of the never-ending road closures – yes, even on what are supposed to be main trunk roads – deviations and diversions.

The result was that my drive up from south-west France to the Channel took a comfortable nine or ten hours with plenty of opportunities for rest breaks etc in the myriad of delightful parking areas that are found all over the French road network while it took more than a further four excruciating hours just to get from Dover to Dorset.

It’s a wonder that any foreign tourists ever bother to visit the UK at all by road nowadays as it’s like a third-world country compared to France and other major EU countries. And whereas once we used to crow about our roads on returning from foreign holidays in years past, the UK is now very much the poor neighbour and looks as though it will remain so given the pathetic sticking-plaster attempts that are now being made to ‘modernise’ them.

While in the UK it was delightful to spend time with my family who I haven’t seen for many months, including my mum who will be 97 next birthday, and it was also great to be able to spend time again with old friends. I also got the welcome opportunity to drop into Specsavers to get my specs repaired, all of which had let me down within a few days of each other and which I’d had to cobble together with heat-shrink insulating rubber tubing and locking wire, a bit like the mad professor ๐Ÿ™‚

Then it came time to return home to France. My mate Ken kindly offered me some left-over roof insulation which totally filled up my car by the time we’d loaded it all up to the point that the view rearward was totally blocked and I could only see out backwards using my door mirrors. Another unfortunate outcome was that as I could neither move my seat nor recline its back by even an iota, napping in the car was impossible, so it left me with a Hobson’s Choice of driving non-stop through the night from Dunkerque to Plazac when I got off the ferry.

My scheduled crossing was at 10.00pm but when I arrived early at Dover, DFDS once again came up trumps and pushed me forward onto the 8.00pm sailing. This departed slightly late at about 8.25pm, so after the two-hour crossing and the time-change, I found myself driving out of Dunkerque at about 11.30pm local time. The drive south was once again characteristically uneventful despite, that is, for a slight fuel scare.

I’d tanked up with cheap diesel at a Carrefour that I’d found a few miles outside Dunkerque on my way up and I’d been monitoring consumption while looking for a ‘moins cher’ place to fill up again at one of the much more expensive main-road filling stations. My low fuel light had been on for several minutes but as the on-board computer was still showing that I could drive for another 55 kms before running out, I wasn’t too worried. That was until with the fuel gauge needle hovering over the ‘E’, the ’55’ suddenly became ‘0’.

Quel horreur, what a time to run out, in the early hours at some indeterminate location in the middle of rural France! I gulped a bit, dropped my speed and carried on with the lightest of right feet hoping that I’d get to the next service station before the otherwise inevitable happened. The next sign came up – 25 kms to go – oh crikey, would I make it? Why on earth didn’t I just drop into the last one when I had the chance? I did, of course, breathing a huge sigh of relief as I drove in, but whether I’ll learn my lesson this time, who knows ๐Ÿ˜•

I got back home again at about 9.30am after losing about half an hour on a little detour through a satnav misunderstanding. Despite having had no sleep the night before I didn’t feel too bad so I thought it best to see the day out without taking a nap and go to bed normally but a bit earlier than my usual time. It worked fine and after a bit of a lie-in, the next morning I was more or less back up to speed again. After a welcome drink with Wim and Sophie yesterday evening before we scattered in our various directions when storm clouds came overhead and the rain began to pelt down, I’ve spent much of the time since I got back reformatting my old laptop.

I’ve got an elderly Dell Inspiron 1501 which is well past it’s use-by date but which I’ve been reluctant to either dispose of or replace as I rarely need to use it nowadays. I mainly need it when I’m away from home so I can send and receive emails and stay connected to the internet and although it serves its purpose, it’s become increasingly frustrating to use. This is because it’s now very slow by modern standards anyway, but with Windows Vista installed, it took several minutes to boot up with it’s little disk drive seemingly to constantly be whirring away at 5800 rpm and when it wasn’t doing that, it seemed to be permanently occupied receiving and installing updates.

I had the idea a few weeks ago of attempting an ‘upgrade’ before finally giving up on it, by replacing the original hard drive with a SSD (solid state disk drive), increasing the memory from 1GB to 4GB (not approved by Dell, but possible) and installing Windows 7 Pro 64 Bit, which is why you can install the extra memory. For those who do not know, all of the hardware can be bought directly from China at relatively low cost, and the operating system can also be acquired similarly from Ebay Germany and in ‘activatable’ form if you choose both product and supplier carefully.

Dell don’t want people to be upgrading and extending the life of their old laptops as they’d rather that you junk them and buy new, so they don’t make it easy to find the drivers etc that you need. Nevertheless, there are lots of places on the internet where others who have succeeded in doing the same thing have posted details on methods and sources, and although many old links have disappeared in the usual way, it’s possible to get hold of ‘legacy’ Vista 64 Bit drivers, for example, that still work well with Windows 7. If you can find them, that is, and Dell’s own support area is the last place to go looking, as it sends you around in circles, quite intentionally I’m sure.

But as usual, Google and persistence pay off and as a result, my old laptop that used to take a full two minutes or more to boot up, now does so in 45 seconds, and as disk activities now occur almost instantaneously, it has been transformed for the kind of simple activities that I use it for. It even shuts down in just over 10 seconds, whereas previously you used to click the button and then go off to have your dinner, so who knows, maybe it’ll do me for another couple of years or so ๐Ÿ˜‰