Monday, 27 October 2014

Autumn routines

There's a few tasks that come around regularly every year, according to the seasons.  Planting out the Tulip bulbs is one of them.  They have red flowers, chosen to match the colour of the paintwork on the gîte, and they normally go in the tubs that are placed in front of the swimming pool.

We have three new tubs this year.  These are necessitated by the fact that the gîte is designated as a building that accepts the general public, and as such there are government regulations that apply, in order to make the environs safe for all kinds of disabled people.   So you can't have sudden changes in the level of paths, etc in case someone might fall over.   And so in our case we have put plant pots in such a way as to stop the unwary, unseeing or stupid from stepping where they shouldn't.

The bulbs have been hanging up in the shed since they were pulled up after flowering, to keep them away from mice.   Some will go in this flower bed (I will plant dahlias on top when they finish) , and the rest will go into the new pots.



Friday, 24 October 2014

Paint job

I'm in the middle of a fairly big painting job at the moment, repainting the window frames and doors of the grange.   I like to do a long job like that in small steps, and I'm doing one window or door per day, weather permitting.  That way I don't get too bored, and I can keep my attention focused on the job for the necessary time so I make fewer mistakes.

The paint is oil-based, or at least you have to use spirits rather than water to clean the brush, and the paint is immiscible with water.   So rather than use brush cleaner at the end of each day, I just dunk the brush in a jam jar of water.  That way the paint doesn't dry out, and the brush is ready for use the next day after a quick wipe with a newspaper.  Thanks to my immensely talented brother-in-law Julian for this tip.


P.S. What if the paint is water-soluble?  Wrap the brush in cling-film.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

St Catherine

I am reliably informed by a quick Google search that St Catherine's day is the 25th November.  According to the French, it's a good day for transplanting plants:

A la Sainte Catherine,
Tout bois prend racine.

That is, everything tree-like takes root (if transplanted) on St Catherine's day.   I take this to mean that generally, Autumn is a good time for transplanting things, and there is a certain logic to this.  The cool, damp weather means that plants don't lose much water through whatever leaves they have remaining, and the roots, being in soil that can be expected to stay moist until early Summer, has time to recover from the shock of transplantation.

I'm starting a bit early this year, but I'm hoping that Madame Catherine won't be too angry with me.  The hazelnut trees in my garden drop their nuts everywhere and even the industrious squirrels can't prevent the occasional ones from germinating into trees where I don't want them.  It seems a waste of a good tree just to dig them up and put them on the compost heap, so I transplant them to the field opposite, where I hope they will form the foundations of a little coppice.  I loosen the soil around the roots with a pick-axe, and then pull the tree out, trying to keep as much root with it as I can.  I transport them in the barrow over to the field, keeping the roots covered with soil so even the finest ones don't dry out.



I've tried a number of methods to get hazelnuts to grow there.  I started one year by sticking new-growth twigs into the ground, hoping they would root: a complete failure.  I spent ages one year planting a nut every six inches or so, again with no success.  The only thing that has worked is transplanting young trees and even that hasn't worked 100%.   Out of last year's plantings of maybe 12 trees, four are still live.  But still, that's better than any other method I've tried.

Young trees transplant easier than older ones.  Books will tell you to plant a young, small tree wherever possible: it will establish more quickly and will overtake the bigger, older one.  At my place the distinction is less subtle: older trees always die, young ones sometimes don't.

The field has been left to its own devices for a couple of years.  I have quaint ideas that it might be some kind of sanctuary for wildlife, or at least become one.  So I have to mow a line in the grass in order to get at the soil.  Then I hack a small area clear of grass using the pick-axe, and dig a suitable hole for planting the tree.  Young trees are a good idea here too, because they need a smaller hole that is much easier to dig.


Once planted, I water the trees by taking over a couple of containers of water.   At about 25 litres per container, that's a watering can-full for each of today's four trees.   If it doesn't rain for a while, I'll water again as necessary until the winter wetness sets in.   I did four trees yesterday and I'll do another four trees tomorrow.

The grass next to the fence at the northern edge of the field is short: next door's cows reach under the wire to eat it.



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Ding! Dong! Amazon calling!

I cracked.  I love the zoom on my big camera, but the thing is just too big.  I miss being able to stuff a camera in my pocket and set off, without having this great weight hanging around my neck.   The new compact cameras with 21x zoom have caught my eye, and with a trip abroad coming up, it's time for an early Christmas present.  The Amazon package arrived today;



It's a Samsung XB350F.  Rolls nicely off the tongue, don't you think?  It was launched at 250 quid or so, but is cheaper now, I guess they'll be bringing out a new replacement model soon.  But it suits my needs; 21 times zoom, decent reviews and it'll fit in my pocket.

It comes with a quick-start guide, but the full user guide you have to download off the web.  Odd. And Amazon helpfully tell you that people who bought this camera also bought this memory card.  Good idea I thought so I clicked on it without thinking too much, only to find out that it's a full-size SD the camera takes only a micro SD.  Argh!!  So a stop off at the local Super-U to get the right thing.   Here's the first two pictures taken with it; no zoom and max zoom.  Hand held, strong sunlight.  Not too bad.


Friday, 17 October 2014

House plant

A friend gave me this house plant as a few struggling leaves in a pot.  It's now doing rather well, but does anyone know what it is?


Saturday, 11 October 2014

L'abbaye d'Evron

The abbaye at Evron is right next to the basilica, in the centre of town, by the market square.  A huge combination of buildings and gardens, it used to be a convent up until a few years ago.   The nuns, I believe, became too old to manage the daily routine of life there, and moved out.  The building was empty, unused and for sale.

A big unused building like that, slowly decaying in the middle of town is a big problem for the local authorities, and they had been wondering for a while what will become of it.  They had thought about moving the council into it, but the cost of renovating the building and bringing it up to current norms was too high.

The problem was solved by the building being bought by the Communauté Saint Martin, an organisation that is part of the catholic church, in order to run a seminary there.   They have spent about five and a half million euros on renovations and refurbishment.   They had an open day last weekend so you could walk around and take a look (and learn more about the mission, natch).    Here's some photos.

The training and selection is rigourous, an annual intake might be 20-40 people, while maybe 5-9 will graduate.  The dining room tells the story: three tables for the first years, two for the second years, one for the thirds.



The dinner bell is operated by a rope that passes into the kitchen.   The dining tables were laid out to show the style of meals and of serving.   The little plaque above the door has evidently been rescued from the old building - dinner for 13.  I don't know if the water dispenser works, but in one of the rare displays of faulty workmanship, it is not quite vertical.

I was interested to see a book of sheet music iin the ancient style, displayed near the entrance.  I imagined that this would be some relic of past musical activity, but no.  I was surprised to see, in their modern, stark church, a clearly new book with the same musical notation.


Many parts of the building had been renovated, and those parts that are wood have mostly (not all) been done in oak.   The pews in the modern church were of a formal design, no frills, and gave a very quiet atmosphere, despite the crowds of curious visitors.


The gardens are quite large, with lines of fruit trees delineating different vegetable-growing areas.  These haven't been maintained by the nuns, but doubtless the arrival of young, fit and enthusiastic men will sort things out.   The community is supposed to be self-sufficient; they repair their own vehicles, grow their own food, and keep bees.


It was Anita who put all the clues together: it was the vicar in the garden with the lead pipe.


And finally, a few random pics.





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