October 30, 2020

We’re right back in

In Covid lockdown that is. From today until at least 1st December, so it could be longer. And it was announced at short notice too, giving hardly anyone time to prepare, unlike the last time. So that means probably no more flying this year, a hold on any more work that I might have done on my house and possibly making it impossible for me to sell my Ford C-Max as I hoped to do in the next week or so, among other things.

I had to rush but I managed to have a productive day yesterday by getting in a blood test (after I’d been told that I now needed an appointment and none was available until Monday, which would have been too late), a shopping trip and two visits to the local ‘déchetterie’ (rubbish tip) at Rouffignac. These allowed me to dispose of all the rubble and waste that resulted from my recent ‘baie coulissante’ work which would otherwise have been stuck outside my window in a trailer for at least the next month.

Once again, not only can’t we travel, we can’t even leave our homes except under certain specified circumstances and when we do, we have to carry a signed ‘derogation’ stating why we are outdoors, on penalty of a fine of 135€ for breaking the regulations. But this is so infuriating and frustrating. Covid ‘cases’ may again be increasing in some cities, notably Paris and Marseilles, but in our area the risk of being infected by Covid is probably less than being hit by a bus. And they only run twice a day.

Although people who can do will still be allowed to work (with their ‘derogations’ in their pockets or handbags) and schools will be staying open (although parents taking their children there will have to do so carrying their ‘derogations’) bars, cafes and restaurants will have to close again. So pity the poor beggars who’ve been struggling to keep their small businesses going as although they will get some support, it’s inevitable that many more than usual will go to the wall this winter.

What precarious times we are living in and our ‘leaders’ seem to have no real strategy or clue how to deal with them.

October 25, 2020

Got there

Despite the weather having deteriorated considerably compared to yesterday and being subject to constant drizzle and harder showers while I was working outside, I still managed to get to exactly where I said I hoped I’d be with my new ‘baie coulissante’ work today. Firstly I had to finish off fitting the remaining side securing screws which was a bit tedious and fiddly as I just had to get the best fixings that I could by packing more plug material into the wall blockwork. I succeeded eventually but luckily the results will never be seen as they weren’t pretty and I didn’t achieve the tightest fixings in the world.

Then I had to move on to the external making-good. This included adding a small amount of stone in the top left corner where material had come out during removal of the old window frame, filling all of the ‘bad’ joints in the stonework next to the new window frame and adding material where the gap between the wall and the frame was too large, the latter two so I eventually end up with a sealing joint that’s as even as possible all around the frame. You don’t have problems like this with a ‘normal’ house but mine is far from that as I mentioned in my last post.

The final steps were then to do some of the ‘worst’ making-good on the walls inside to make the final making-good easier (remember, some of what were old external walls are now inside) and seal all around the frame inside to make the whole job weather-tight. I just used acrylic window/door frame sealer for that and it didn’t need to be too precise as the internal seal will be completely hidden when the walls have been made good. Here’s how things finished up at the end of the day.

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I’m very pleased with the results. The doors both slide really smoothly and despite yet again there being a dearth of fitting information, the door handles and locks work perfectly. I originally found that locking wasn’t working properly but I found that that was due to a small piece of sliding plastic mounted on the door edge not returning high enough to allow the pin that locks the handles from slipping into position but a few minutes of ‘adjustment’ using a small round file solved that problem.

I’m now having to get around to thinking about making the floor good which won’t be as easy as it sounds as sourcing matching floor tiles will be impossible, as I found when I did my fireplace work, and even getting ones that are close to what’s there will be difficult due to their age. I’ve found a couple of ‘possibles’ on the internet so far, but as I found when I did my fireplace, when you get to see them after driving possibly hundreds of kilometres, they look nothing like my existing ones or even the photographs of them on the internet in many cases. But that’s for later. The priority now this week is to get my winter wood organised and in my wood store ready for the cold days and nights.

October 24, 2020

Back on the ‘baie’

My new ‘baie coulissante’ that is. Today was supposed to be a piece of cake compared to yesterday but it wasn’t, far from it. Wim arrived at 9.30 am after I thought I’d have all the rest of the frame fixing screws in, but without exception every single one went wrong, so I decided to come back to them once we’d got the doors in.

In theory, all we needed to do was lift the doors up, offer them into the frame on a slant to slot the top of each door in and then lift the bottoms up and over and drop them onto their respective bottom rails. But it didn’t work out like that. It appears that the supplier of my new patio door likes to work to a precision of a millimetre or so and no matter what we did, after slotting the door tops into place, we couldn’t lift the doors high enough to get them over the edge of the bottom frame. And as they were already fully glazed and incredibly heavy, we also had to make sure we didn’t do any damage including dropping them while we were heaving and straining.

It turned out the the door tops were fouling on a fibre sliding pad that had been installed in the top channel during manufacture and also the heads of the fixing screws that we’d used to attach the frame top to the underside of the door beam. The only solution was to remove the screws, which was made more complicated by the fact that having been screwed in they didn’t want to come out again.

In fact we managed to get away with removing just the one in the centre by cutting it with a hacksaw blade inserted between the frame and the beam and replacing it with a large flat-headed one. Eventually, we finally managed to get the doors in after much extra effort that wouldn’t have been necessary if the manufacturer had reduced the height of each door by just a millimetre or so.

Here’s how the job looked at that stage.

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That meant that Wim was then able to head off and leave me to the finishing up, which included fitting the door handles, getting the locks working and adding the final trimming pieces, all of which was made more tiresome than necessary by the almost complete absence of meaningful instructions which has dogged us the whole way through the job. Nevertheless, I managed to get all that ‘sundry’ stuff done in time to go and do a bit of shopping in the early evening.

I didn’t take any pictures as I decided that I might as well leave that until I’ve got as far as I can do tomorrow, which will hopefully be with all the securing screws in, sealant applied around the whole frame inside and out and the whole job made clean and tidy. That will only leave the making good to be done which, as the job will by then be fully weather-tight, I’ll be able to do at my leisure.

We’ve been very lucky with the weather which has stayed fine despite a few light showers that haven’t disrupted us at all. If it stays that way until I’ve at least done the external sealing and making good, that’ll mean that I can get on and organise my winter wood supply. That’s now becoming a high priority, especially as this year I’ll again have to cut it myself down from standard metre lengths to sizes that my stove can handle. And as that’ll mean keeping the uncut wood outside while I’m cutting and splitting it to go into my store, I really do need for the weather to stay dry the whole time while I’m doing it 😕

October 22, 2020

At last!

The big leap forward with my new ‘baie coulissante’, my new sliding patio door. My good friend Wim arrived at 9.00 am this morning to give me a hand and we got cracking straight away. The first job was to knock out the old windows and door frame and after that I wanted to press on. However, Wim said that it would be a good idea to pause and erect a plastic screen to seal off my living room and although initially I thought that we could do it later, in fact it was a master-stroke as later on we generated a huge amount of mess and dust that would otherwise have flown straight in.

I knew that the job would be no pic-nic as sliding doors have to be mounted dead square and vertically in an almost perfectly rectangular aperture. This is OK when you’re dealing with a ‘normal’ house, but mine is far fom that having been converted from what was genuinely an old farm barn many years ago when the builders hadn’t needed to worry, therefore, about having everything plumb and square.

It had also made my measuring job much more difficult than it might otherwise have been, so I’d been keeping my fingers crossed that everything would work out OK when we eventually came to fit the new door frame into the wall. And it wasn’t easy – far from it. We had to cut quite a lot of really hard stone away on one side to get an edge that was clean, vertical and true. We started by doing it by hand with a club hammer, a cold chisel and a brick bolster but it was just too much effort, so when I went over the Brico Depot to pick up the materials that we’d need that I didn’t already have, I also picked up a multi-purpose cutting blade to go onto my large electric angle grinder.

This made it much easier and what could have taken an hour or more to do by hand only took a few minutes, plus it was also possible to shave a bit off at a time so as to get a nice neat fit without the danger of going to far and creating gaps between the aluminium frame and the walls. We finished up at the end of the day with the frame secured in place along its top edge where it meets with an oak beam and two screws in the lower corners of its sides. Here’s how the job ended up this evening.

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We could almost have fitted the doors but I want to get the remaining frame securing screws in place and a concrete bed installed for the frame to sit on first. I’ll do that tomorrow morning and we should then be able to fit the doors when Wim arrives in the afternoon leaving me free to do all of the making good and finishing off by myself afterwards. As usual, I couldn’t have got anywhere near this far on without his help and certainly not in the relatively short time that it has taken to get to where we now are.

October 19, 2020

Job done

Only my workshop rewiring, not the installation of my new ‘baie coulissante’, the work that I really want to see completed before the weather changes for the worse. Even so, it was a relief to see the end of the electrical work as it was well past due and in such a poor state that it could well have led to an accident at some time in the future. It took all day again, mind, and I didn’t finish until 6.00 pm having dashed down to les Briconautes in Montignac as planned first thing to buy the extra junction box that I needed together with a couple more short lengths of cable.

But I think that at the end of the day the effort was well worth it. The extra lighting will make the area much more open and it’ll be a great help having a range of plug points in positions where they’ll be much more convenient and usable. Here’s how the place looked after I’d given it a bit of a clean and tidy up. In fact this was the first time that I’d cleaned the bench top in the eight years since I’ve been here. It was already filthy when I arrived and I haven’t started on the area underneath it yet.

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The extra lighting in the rear will be a great help and once I’ve had a chance to have a bit of a clear out, it’ll give me quite a bit more usable space. I’ve got two more shelf units that I’ve not even unpacked yet so they will make welcome additions when I’ve got those set up in the back area.

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Here’s how the area near the door ended up looking with the revisions that I made. I left the light switch where it was but added an extra plug point (there was already one there) and both now have proper earths.

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The whole place now looks so much better even though I’ve only given it a bit of a clean up. It had mouse droppings all over but I recently got rid of a couple and I hope that’ll sort out my mouse problems for a little while at least. It’ll also help if I make a new door with no holes and gaps in it, but that’s another job that I’ll have to get on to later 😉

October 18, 2020

Another project?

I said in my last post that my next project would be installing my new ‘baie coulissante’, my new double patio door. But it turns out that I was wrong. I thought that before I cracked on with that I’d re-do the lighting in my workshop, something that I thought would only take a day yesterday, allowing me to get started on the patio door today. But as soon as I started looking more closely at the workshop wiring I knew that that was hopelessly optimistic.

I knew that the existing lighting was running of the workshop’s power circuit but that didn’t matter, it’s what I did when I put lighting in my wood store. I also knew that the one plug socket in there didn’t have an earth and it was only when I looked more closely that I realised why this was. Sure enough, the incoming power cable did have an earth but it wasn’t being used. Why? Because although there was a single bulb mounted on the cross-beam in the workshop, some fool had run three core cable from it up to the light switch and power socket near the door and used the earth cable as one of the pair feeding the light switch!

All I’d wanted to do was fit some extra lighting – one strip light each side of the cross beam to put light into the back of the workshop for the first time ever and another over the work bench that just had another single bulb hanging off a nail over it that had been daisy-chained into the light switch. So a real dog’s dinner and there was no way that I could leave it like that.

So I did a couple of things yesterday. First I fitted a new handle to my ancient sledge-hammer that I’ll need when I knock out the old windows and door on the back of my house ready for the new patio door and then I got hold of all of the materials (cable, plug sockets, junction boxes etc) that I thought I’d need to do the workshop wiring work. I didn’t do too badly given how I’d been more or less thrown in at the deep-end – all I ended up being short of was one junction box.

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After a long day, by 8.00 pm this evening I’d broken the back of the job, having done a proper re-wiring job with the correct weight of cable on each leg and with a proper earth system. I’m adding several plug sockets although their positioning will be mainly for convenience as the total load will be limited and it won’t be possible to run several heavy duty services (eg compressor and large angle grinder) at the same time. I’ve fitted two sockets onto the cross-beam and a strip light replacing the original single bulb. The junction boxes allow for a further connection to be run later on to another strip light on the reverse of the cross beam achieving my objective of lighting up the rear of the workshop and thus making it more usable and accessible.

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I’ve kept the light switch in its original position up near the door and the wiring is already in place for another one or two plug points in the same area plus the third and last strip light over the work bench. Unfortunately I couldn’t install them and connect them up because I needed another junction box to contain the connections.

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I really do now need to make a start on my new patio door as we should be getting a couple of fine days, albeit with a cold start each day due to having clear skies at night, but with wetter weather expected in the second half of the week. I think that if I make an early start tomorrow though, if it is a bit chilly I could pop down to ‘les Briconautes’ at Montignac, pick up another junction box and finish the job off. I’ll have to wait and see what the morning brings 😉

October 16, 2020

My next project

Nothing to do with ULMs, this one. I’ve just taken delivery at about 8.30 am this morning of what I need to get cracking on it. I’ve lived with the door at the back of my house for the last eight years since I came to France and every winter I’ve cursed because whenever a storm has blown in from the west, rainwater has come pouring into my living room. The reason is that it’s so old, rotten and full of cracks from having been dried out by the sun over so many years, you can see daylight through its joints.

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Well, enough is enough and at last I’ve got around to doing something about it and I’m now going to replace it with a double aluminium framed sliding door, what is called a ‘baie coulissante’ here in France. I ordered it over eight weeks ago but what with Covid and the French tradition of closing down for the month of August, it’s only just arrived.

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I’d hoped to get it before the weather began to cool down but there was no chance of that and now I’ve got to keep my fingers crossed that it’ll stay warm and dry enough to get the job done next week. I’ll have to make a start ASAP because the forecast is for storms in the second half and if I leave it until then, things will drag on into the next week when it’s bound to be becoming cooler and less favourable.

October 14, 2020

You learn something every day

Well, almost. This post may be of interest to other British ex-pats who do ‘D-I-Y’ things and even to anyone in the UK who is also experiencing satellite TV problems.

When I came to France over eight years ago I brought a Sky satellite kit with me that I’d never got around to installing while I was still in the UK. Even though I’ve never been a ‘TV person’, after arriving here I quickly fitted it and bought myself a new wide-screen TV so I could still watch UK TV on Freesat if I wanted to plus a collection of DVDs that I’d brought with me and also listen to UK radio (I’m a great Classic FM fan).

And it worked pretty well up until a few months ago when I noticed that my ‘HD’ channels began telling me that they had no signal and picture quality in general began playing up. Things finally came to a head a week or so ago when, after a fairly hefty storm, signal disappeared across the board. I checked everything inside and concluded that my Humax box was still working OK so then turned my attention to the satellite installation outdoors, thinking that maybe something had come loose and it had become misaligned in some way.

That wasn’t it though, and when I went up a ladder to take a look I soon found the source of the problem, as shown by the following image.

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The dish receives the signal from the Astra satellite hurtling around above the earth and focuses it so it can be picked up by the receiver mounted in its centre which is called the LNB. The latter is absolutely critical as the signal received from the satellite is incredibly weak and the LNB’s role is to collect it and pass it on so it can be amplified and sent to the satellite box in the house.

It was clear that after more than eight years on a south-facing wall, not only had my dish been focusing the satellite signal onto the LNB, it had also been focusing the rays of the sun with the result that the concentrated UV had caused massive damage to the LNB itself. The main problem was that the LNB’s end cover had completely disintegrated and disappeared as shown below.

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This is what an LNB should look like.

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The final result was that rainwater had been allowed to enter the LNB causing shorting of its internal components, so it was no surprise that it had stopped working. The solution, therefore, was simple. Just order a new LNB, snap it into the exisiting mounting bracket, reconnect the cable and the system should be back up and running.

Whoah! Just a minute, because this is where the catch comes in that this post is all about. You find when you go to purchase the replacement LNB that all of the ‘universal’ ones have a 40 mm diameter body, so that’s what you order. Then you climb up your ladder to fit it and find that it’s a bit snug in the old mounting bracket, to say the least. However, you persist in your efforts and within a couple of seconds, the old mounting bracket that has also been affected by the UV, snaps.

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And believe me, this isn’t much fun when you’re up a ladder several metres off the ground and are then faced with the job of removing the old bracket from the arm on which it’s mounted, which can only then be done with great care and brute force.

So what’s the reason for this? Well, it seems that the LNB that comes with UK Sky satellite kits IS NOT 40 mm diameter – it’s 37 mm, so a new replacement universal LNB will NEVER fit onto your Sky satellite dish. But no worries, a new universal mounting bracket will, so the lesson is this. Don’t do as I did and just order a new LNB. Order one together with a new mounting bracket because firstly the job will end up being more expensive (something like 50-60% more compared to if you order the two items rogether) but your system will be out of commission for longer and you’ll be up and down the ladder a lot more times than you’d otherwise have had to. And why do that (remember poor Rod Hull?) if you don’t need to.

October 10, 2020

La Vendange

‘Vendange’ means grape picking and in a recent post I mentioned that I had the privilege last month of being invited to the ‘vendange’ at my neighbours small vineyard. Nearly 50 of his family, friends and neighbours turned up on the day to pick and collect the grapes from his vines mirroring similar events that have taken place in much the same way for generations in this part of France (my neighbour’s family have lived in the same house since the 1600’s). Tradition also means that everyone who participated is then hosted to a slap-up meal by the ‘vigneron’ and in this also we were not disappointed.

My neighbour is much taken by my quadcopter video exploits and he suggested that I might like to be there and take a few shots of the day’s picking. I decided to go a step further and create a video showing the whole day but having done so I decided that I wouldn’t share it on Youtube or any other social media so as not to invade the privacy of the local people involved who are also, of course, my friends and neighbours. In the event, now that he’s seen it, my neighbour has said that he’s delighted to share it and he knows that everyone else will feel exactly the same, so now I can post it here on My Trike.

It was a fantastic day and immensely enjoyable. After the grape-picking was over – it only took until mid-day – we all sat down for an ‘apero’ and then the 30 who had stayed on shared the most hearty French meal that I’ve ever enjoyed. It started at about 12.30 pm and just went on and on. I left at about 5.00 pm and at least 20 were still there. I lost count of the courses. We started with soup then had shrimps, whelks, wild boar (I think) with haricots verts, cheese – they just kept coming. The haricots contained far too much garlic for me and I blamed them when I was as sick as a dog after I got home. The alcohol can have had nothing to do with it of course, but somehow every time my glass emptied it was magically full again with last-year’s vintage red wine, as did it also when we got onto the plum brandy at the end of the meal.

I was extremely touched as a ‘newcomer’ to be invited to share in the day and being regarded by the locals as ‘one of them’ is a great feeling. I was also very pleased with how the video turned out and I hope that it gives a good idea of the life down here and how warm the people in this corner of France are.