April 4, 2021

Doubly successful

My Easter week-end was all planned out some time ago with a strict job list that made me tell my house buyers that I was sorry, but I didn’t have the time for them to come over and look around the house again this week-end. I’ve had to spend so much time recently on my Fleurac new-build project that I feel as though I’m slipping behind on the work I need to do in my present house to meet the promises that I made to the buyers, so it was in their interests really that I was left alone this week-end to catch up a bit.

And to be honest, it’s becoming really stressful. As I found when I left the UK to drive a truck containing my furniture and belongings over to France which I was still loading with just a few short hours remaining before I had to catch the ferry from Dover and was forced to shut its doors and leave some stuff behind, lead-times have a habit of fast disappearing even when you think you’ve got plenty of time.

So I have to be strict. Yesterday according to my plan, I cut my grass for the first time and tidied up my garden, which looked all the better for it afterwards. It was a fairly long and tiring day so I was looking forwards to a more relaxed schedule today with just the making good to do around the third and last small window in my bathroom. I was gazing out of my kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil when I noticed what looked like puddles of water in the entrance leading from the road down to my house and as there has been no rain for some time, I went to investigate.

Sure enough, they were puddles of water which were getting bigger as I stood and watched and to my concern, water was oozing out of the ground close to the cover of the concrete box in the ground that contains my house’s mains water stop-cock and water meter. I knew that this had to mean trouble and when I removed the cover it was full to the brim and water gushed out. Fortunately, I knew where the stop-cock was and was able to put my hand down in the water right up to my armpit and shut the flow off.

It was impossible to tell what had gone wrong without removing the water so I then began a lengthy bailing-out job using a plastic bucket. I thought that I’d waste as little as possible as I had plastering and other work planned so kept three bucketsful, the rest ending up on the ground and when I’d got the water down as low as I could, I found what the problem was.

The water supply to my house first has the main stop-cock and then the water meter. Between the water meter and where the main joins the underground supply to my house there’s some kind of small venting device. This is, or was, used by the water company to vent air out of the system if they’d been doing any work out in the road that had opened the main supply to the atmosphere so technically it should have been positioned before the water meter on the company’s side making them responsible for it.

As it was, when I called the Veolia emergency number to report the mains leak (after disconnecting once after about 9 minutes and eventually being connected the second time after about 12) I ended up arguing the toss with some young woman who clearly had no technical knowledge and was just working from her script, about who was responsible for the call-out and the work involved. In the end I couldn’t be bothered with wasting any more time and just put the phone down on her.

I decided that I’d check to see if I could do any kind of repair myself. The down-side was that I might have to leave my water supply turned off until Tuesday when I’d be able to purchase a new one of whatever was needed, in the meantine having to fill buckets from my neighbour, Chantal’s, hosepipe next door.

My main concern was that due to its age, the device that had failed was corroded through and would have to be totally replaced, but when I removed the spindle that opens and closes it, I found that this wasn’t the case, as it was made of brass. What had happened was that the little rubber washer on the end of the spindle that screws down onto a face with a hole in it to shut the flow off once the air has been vented out had disintegrated due to its age and was therefore totally ineffective.

It took me a couple of tries making a replacement, first cutting a new washer out of a piece of rubber strip that I had in my workshop which reduced the leak to just a drip, and then making a better one out of a washer out of an old faulty stop-cock, before I was happy that I’d solved the problem. So wasn’t I lucky that Veolia had been so useless in their response to my emergency call (typical for the French state-owned utilities I’ve found) as if they had turned up, I’d probably have ended up arguing with them over a huge bill for a job that only required a 2 cents rubber washer and 45 minutes of my time.

So then it was back this afternoon to the making good around the last small window in my bathroom which I must confess, after my experiences with the other two, I wasn’t much looking forward to. The plaster that I’d used was flashing off so quickly that the previous jobs had been a nightmare, but as it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

In the meantime I’d bought a new back of finishing plaster from Brico Depot and this performed exactly as it should have, going off at a rate that allowed ample time to get it into place around the window frame and smoothed off. Here’s a shot of the finished job this evening – the plaster looks dark because it’s still ‘wet’ ie not fully cured, and will turn to pure white when it’s done.

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So once again I’ve proven that it’s a dead-loss sourcing certain items locally. As I’ve found many times in the past, when I’ve needed plumbing fittings, for example, local suppliers allow the trays of fast-moving items ie the most popular, to become empty before reordering new stock so after heading off in one direction I end up going further in the opposite one to obtain what I need.

And the plaster I bought at Briconautes in Montignac was another example. It was obviously old stock that had sat on the shelf for weeks, or possibly even months, presumably because there isn’t sufficient local demand to turn the stock over. This is never the case with Brico Depot, and not only that but I ended up buying a bag there that was 50% bigger than the one I’d got from Briconautes and cost a bit less too. So no wonder they can hardly sell any of the stuff!